Useful Feedback or Toilet Paper: You Decide – The Three Types of Useless Feedback

Whenever you give a speech, people will inevitably give you feedback regardless of whether you’ve asked for it or not. Sometimes the feedback will be something you can actually put to use to improve your presentation. But frequently, it’s not helpful and in some instances can be harmful – especially if it gets you thinking about it (for one reason or another) to the point where it becomes a distraction.

Before we get into the three types of useless feedback, let me first preface them with the fact that all feedback must taken within context of the situation. Several factors can contribute to a person being unusually soft or extra harsh with their feedback so you need to take these things into consideration before wasting time dwelling on a piece of feedback.

Useless Feedback Type 1: Extra Soft

Extra soft feedback is the least damaging of the three types of useless feedback, and in some cases may even be somewhat helpful. It’s dangerous in the sense that you may think you’re at a level that you’re not quite at which can potentially get you into situations that you’re not ready for. In other words, it might cause you to bite off more than you can chew. On the flip side, it can provide you with the hope and confidence needed to fuel your determination to succeed — provided it’s somewhat accurate.

People are soft with their feedback for a variety of reasons. If they care about us, they don’t want to hurt our feelings or discourage us from pursuing a dream. Other times, the situation warrants soft feedback such as an evaluation at a Toastmasters meeting or public speaking class. Plus, some folks simply aren’t comfortable giving constructive criticism.

The key here is to never let positive feedback go to your head and always strive to improve.

Useless Feedback Type 2: Extra Harsh

Unnecessarily harsh feedback is more of a concern in the sense that it can stay with us and do damage for weeks, months and even years. I received an evaluation at a Toastmasters meeting back in 2006 that irked me for a while. A woman took issue with me saying “just because you win a speech contest doesn’t mean you’ll make it as a professional speaker” and provided feedback that I felt was unprofessional and unnecessary. I now use the story as an example of dealing with negative feedback in my public speaking classes, but prior to that I found myself bothered by the woman’s arrogance and lack of tact.

This topic comes up frequently in my classes and I’ve had students share stories of feedback that has negatively impacted their careers. Imagine someone saying one sentence to you and you allowing it to change the course of your life for the negative? It happens more often than we’d expect and it’s a real tragedy.

People are overly harsh for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, we’ve touched a nerve (as I did in my example) and other times the person feels better about themselves by putting others down. Some people are just plain jealous while others have more malicious intent – perhaps they are vying for the same position or clients as you. There are even times when the person has good intentions but they are trying to push you into working harder or giving it your all.

Regardless of why you received the unnecessarily harsh feedback, the best option is to forget it. If you have to let it all out first, go ahead by sharing your feelings with a friend or writing it down on paper. Get it out of your system and be done with it.

Now that’s often much easier said than done and I’d be lying to you if I were to tell you that I always take that approach. Instead, I try to prove the person wrong in my mind. Keep in mind that you’ll only make things worse by confront and trying to make your case to the other person. They may not care and then it’ll just torment you more. Using my own example from earlier, my students always ask how I dealt with the feedback. I explain that my speech was about getting paid to speak and that I’ve earned more money from speaking in the five minutes it took me to tell the story than she’s made in her life from speaking. I don’t know if she knows I make money speaking and I doubt she even cares, but in my mind, I made her tirade null and void.

Useless Feedback Type 3: Does Not Apply

Of all the types of useless feedback, this onw has the potential to be the most dangerous. Even though most of the time the person providing it has good intentions, it canbe irresponsible in certain situations to provide feedback without the proper expertise. An extreme example of this is telling someone to not cement in the posts to hold up a deck because you think it’ll save money, even though you have no construction experience.

Now in public speaking, your risks will be different. The worst case would be having someone advise you to use inappropriate humor because they find the joke funny. But you’re more likely to hear things like “grab their attention in the first two seconds” or “use more stories to relate to the audience.”

We all want to believe we’re experts so many folks think that because they joined Toastmasters or took a public speaking class, that they know more than everyone else about public speaking. It’s funny because sometimes they’ll tell you to do something that you did (such as use stories) but they didn’t catch it because they were in lala land during your talk.

The best way to handle this is to have a chuckle and move on. And again, you’re not obligated to follow the advice. I few years ago, I was working out with a friend when someone interrupted our workout to tell us that we were doing an exercise incorrectly and showed us the “correct” way. After the guy (who looked like it was his first day ever in a gym) left, I explained to my friend to ignore the advice because his way put all the stress on the back instead of working the shoulders like we were trying to do. I had him try it both ways so he could see for himself.

The Bottom Line:

It’s up to you to decide what you do with your own life. Unless you’re paying someone for a piece of advice, you should never feel obligated to take it. Always thank the person that provides you with advice for caring and taking the time to help you (this will drive the person crazy if they’re trying to be malicious). Then go off and do what you were planning on doing.

It’s your life so live it your way.

10 thoughts on “Useful Feedback or Toilet Paper: You Decide – The Three Types of Useless Feedback

  1. david

    James I think this is an excellent and highly-relevant topic for both public speaking and “life in general” as I’m sure you intended it.

    In teaching classes on presentation skills and public speaking myself, I’ve seen that typically the group is like-minded in wanting to improve and help the others improve and I’m often impressed by the level of high-quality feedback given.

    And one of the techniques I’ll often have my group employ is the “feedback sandwich” where the feedback is given in 3 parts: first a statement of something specific that was done well, followed by a statement about something that could be improved, capped with a general positive statement.

    That could seem a bit contrived at first blush, but the critique/criticism and suggestions for improvement really are much better received than otherwise, and can be very useful in a lot of situations (with kids, co-workers, family) other than public speaking trainings and classes.

    Thanks for this well-written article!

  2. James Post author

    Hi David,

    Thanks for commenting, you bring up some excellent points. I agree about the sandwich technique as it begins and ends with the positive. I’ve also heard of the PIN technique (Positive, Interesting & Needs improvement) but I’ve always felt that it’s better to end with a postive.

    I like your idea about using this in different situations as both of these techniques are commonly used in Toastmasters (my experience where the woman had nothing positive to say about my talk was the exception, not the rule) but in the real world, it seems like half the time people either provide only positive or only negative.

    Thanks again for commenting,


  3. Pingback: Why You Should Care About Susan Boyle | Overnight Sensation - Public Speaking, Communication and Personal Development

  4. Pingback: Toastmasters is More Than Just Public Speaking – My Toastmaster’s Journey | Overnight Sensation - Public Speaking, Communication and Personal Development

  5. Pingback: The Trouble with Hearsay | Overnight Sensation - Public Speaking, Communication and Personal Development

  6. Pingback: Give People a Break When They’re Trying to Change | Overnight Sensation - Public Speaking, Communication and Personal Development

  7. Pingback: Avoiding The Angry Response | Overnight Sensation - Public Speaking, Communication and Personal Development

  8. Pingback: Ten Things I Learned About Speaking Beyond Toastmasters | Overnight Sensation - Public Speaking, Communication and Personal Development

  9. Pingback: Watch Your Language | Overnight Sensation - Public Speaking, Communication and Personal Development

  10. Pingback: How an Email Can Ruin Your Career | Overnight Sensation - Public Speaking, Communication and Personal Development

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: