[Conference] feedback is a gift, huh? Then GIVE it to me [on paper]!

I’ve heard so much about feedback in my life. It’s a gift, always say thank you, continually ask for it…But let’s be honest, giving good feedback is kind of a pain and it’s hard to be good at giving it, especially in a “form” setting. I’m talking about conferences, and coming out of Agile2016 I’m assuming many of you know what I’m talking about.

I’ve spoken at probably 10-15 conferences in the past three years. Some ask for feedback from participants, others don’t even try. So what’s the big deal? The big deal is that speaking is a big deal. Speakers want to share ideas they are passionate about, but writing good presentation is not an easy undertaking, especially if you are doing more than one or it is your first time. This is where proper feedback is key.

When I started speaking and at some of the smaller conferences they used paper feedback forms. Yes, I know this is admin hell, but guess what?! People fill them out! I’ve seen dot voting, sticky notes, index cards that can be put into bags for bad, meh, and good. I even saw something cool in the Orlando airport that was just three buttons about security feedback: 🙂 😐 and :-(All of these seem to get a better response rate than our fancy feedback apps. At both my presentations in Atlanta, I probably had 50-60 people. I got feedback from 8 out of each session…a measly 13 percent.

Yes, I got some great verbal feedback, but that in and of itself is a bit misleading. Most people are not going to come up to you and say they hated your session. They will make the time if they liked it. If they didn’t, they will probably leave feedback. And that’s the hard part. The people who loved it may leave great feedback and will most likely try to talk to you, the people who hated it will leave poor feedback, but what about the “meh” camp? These are the folks I desperately want feedback from!

I’m not worried about those who loved it, they’re happy. Those who hated it probably have valid points and I will see that in their feedback. But those who couldn’t decide whether to stay or go are who I want to be talking to. What could have made it pull you in? What pushed you away? How can I get you from “meh” to “wow”?

No wonder our feedback is skewed, we’re missing an entire population (sounds like voting, huh?). The apathetic ones who don’t think their opinion counts and it’s a waste of time. I assure you it’s not. I take all feedback to heart. I may not implement it all, but I do read it and think about it.

That’s the other point. When giving feedback, truly try to be constructive. You don’t like my presentation, fine, but WHY? What would have made it better for you? You don’t like me? Fine – maybe you never will, but was there something I did that totally turned you off? You loved this part? WHY!? How did it resonate with you? What are you going to take back?

I greatly appreciate all the feedback I receive, even the stuff that hits me at a personal level. One of the talks I did, Objectivity or Subjectivity? Owning your Bias and Interactions, was a deeply personal talk. I made myself vulnerable to create a safe space for people to self-reflect. It was the first time I did that talk so I was hoping for a lot of feedback because I think it’s an important topic. No, I’m not a researcher or PhD on the subject, but no one else is talking about it, so I tried to tackle it and put myself out there. Maybe I missed the mark for the 7 people who left me constructive/negative feedback, but I want to make it. I want to try again, and that feedback hurt, I may have cried. But I will be incorporating it into the next session of it I do (in September at AgileNYC) to make it more plausible for my audience.

Yes, I know conferences are long and there are so many presentations, but please try to give feedback on the forms or verbally. If you don’t want to use the form, write a post it and give it to the speaker. I guarantee they will appreciate it because most of us repeat talks a few times instead of making an entire new one for every presentation (I’d say between submitting the talk, tweaking the abstract, writing the talk, creating the presentation, practicing, and actually giving the talk it’s at least a 40 hour time investment- and most speakers do NOT get paid for it or for their travel – think about an hourly rate).

And for those who put on the conferences, I know it’s hard to keep people engaged in their feedback apps, but you know what? I’m fine getting a stack of paper feedback I can go through on my own. If I could have gotten a 50% feedback rate that I had to parse on my own I would have done it in a heartbeat! So that being said, my feedback is to bring back paper feedback because the response rate is so much higher (sorry trees, I will recycle)! And I in turn make a solemn pledge to treat it as a gift – even when it gives me a paper cut.

04. August 2016 by Natalie Warnert
2 comments

Comments (2)

  1. +1 in support of paper feedback forms!

    I struggle as an attendee to provide meaningful feedback using electronic apps during conferences because I just don’t like typing long messages on my phone. I know I’ve walked out of sessions because I didn’t have the energy at that moment to stay–it is absolutely nothing against the speaker or the topic. Self-care during a conference is important. Speakers might not get feedback from the folks who left a session early if they felt it did not meet their expectations though, and that could be useful information to change the abstract or presentation.

    Just yesterday I reviewed a PDF that contained scanned feedback forms from a conference I attended last year, and it’s immensely helpful in planning next year’s conference because we got written comments from so many people. Deciphering handwriting is worth it for the value provided by those comments.

  2. Pingback: Why I can’t always give real time feedback | Natalie Warnert: Confessions of a ScrumMaster

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