It’s vital for anyone seeking critique to trust the person they’ve asked to give it. It’s not that they need to know that person well but they need to trust that their opinion and expertise is valid and that the critique will be delivered purely to make the content and delivery stronger – not to flatter the ego or make either party feel superior. I think it’s a mistake to ever try and seek true critique from a stranger, unless you happen to know that they have an expertise that is pertinent and relevant. Someone you know by reputation, even if you don’t know them personally.
If you’re the person being approached about giving critique, it’s incumbent upon you to find out what that person really is asking for. If somebody says to you ‘what did you think?’ then that’s probably a request for feedback, not full-on critique. If somebody asks ‘what worked, what didn’t work?’ then that’s more likely to be a request for critique. Once you know that, you can respond appropriately.
Delivering critique takes time, so ensure both you and the recipient have time put aside so it’s not rushed, there’s time for them to ask questions or for clarification. One of the one of my golden rules is that I will give basic feedback but not critique within an hour of somebody coming off stage. It’s why I sit and make notes all the time is because when people come offstage, they’re in no mental state to accept any more than ‘well done, that was great’. They’re not in a position to listen to, let alone absorb or act upon critique at that point.
I think there’s huge benefit to waiting a few days, too. A few days later both I and the recipient have had time to reflect on the speech. I will know what has really stuck in my mind, which messages I have remembered and actions I have taken. I may also still have a very strong memory of what was missing or didn’t translate from the stage. That then allows me to be much more strategic in giving that critique.
Making notes is important, so I can be specific, and I’ll make notes on most speakers I see, even if I have no intention of giving them critique, because I want to learn from every speaker I hear from. I rarely approach someone unbidden to offer critique – but if they want to come and ask me for it, I’m happy to share my thoughts. Unasked for feedback or critique can be hugely damaging and I think is often downright rude.
If you want to seek true critique, not just feedback, you need to understand that you need to seek critique from the right people at the right time. And you need to be prepared to listen with an open mind. That’s not to say you can’t disagree (and ultimately ignore it, if you so choose) but if someone is giving you the benefit of their time and expertise, be open to what they have to say. If someone approaches you when you haven’t asked for it, thank them for their offer of feedback or critique but be choosy about whether this is someone you want to engage with – and whether now is the right moment.
The right critique, from the right person and at the right time, however, can be a game-changer for your speaking and thus for your audience.