Accepting rejection and rejecting acceptance

I’ve been speaking for a living for more than two decades. I’m still going at it strong and am booked each year to the extent I wish (and often times repeatedly by the same clients). So I must still be doing something right, as my client “Accolades”–well documented at ninaspencer.com will attest. Still, from time-to-time, it’s hard for any speaker–professional or otherwise–to please all of the people all of the time. And if you must present at professional or staff events from time-to-time, yourself–as an “other duties as assigned” obligation or task, rather than as your primary professional focus–your skin for receiving the odd negative evaluation may not be as thick as that of a seasoned professional speaker. Even with a good, tough thick skin, however, we’re all human and, therefore, underneath all that exuding confidence there just might be, from time-to-time, at least a little vulnerability to negative comments.

So how do you process and come to peace with negative evaluations after a presentation? Even if 90% of participants rate your presentation exceptional, how do you keep from being consumed by the thought that some people rated your efforts poorly? Do you adjust to try to please everyone, or do you merely surrender that there may always be some who rate you poorly? How do speakers internally process and move forward, after reading or hearing poor reports about their work, rather than dwelling on those negatives f-o-r-e-v-e-r?

Here are some silly and serious thoughts, suggestions and pearls of wisdom that just might help:

You must accept rejection and reject acceptance. — Ray Bradbury

  • Blame it on heartburn! Even if 999 people are “buying” what you’re “selling”–laughing at your humour, playing along with your audience participation facilitation, etc.–there’s often one guy sporting a conspicuous grimace who’ll catch and hold your attention. Just tell yourself, “That, pour old soul…he must have heartburn, and his lack of response and his miserable disposition–written all over his face–has nothing to do with me.”
  • Remember, there are people out there you couldn’t please if you twirled on your head spitting nickels! You may remind them of an ex-spouse or an irritating friend or colleague; they may have been forced to attend this event at which you’re speaking, or have a permanent chip on their shoulder for reasons that have nothing to do with you!
  • Go into your presentation or training anticipating one negative remark from at least one person; when you finally spot that one negative piece of feedback (for which you’re already prepared and braced) declare, “Yup, there it is…the one I expected!” Often times you can even tell–right there in the middle of your presentation–from whom you’ll receive such a comment. And lots of times you’ll receive only glowing reports and feedback about your contributions. Of course, that can happen, too! J
  • Take gushy, mushy over-the-top GREAT evaluations with a grain of salt, too. In those such cases, it could merely be that the participant waxes poetic about your presentation because you remind them of someone they love, or you said just the right thing at just the right time in their lives, or they may even be physically attracted to you! Let’s face it, all you have to do is smile at some participants and you’ll be rated highly (they don’t call ’em “smiley sheets” for nothin’!) Still read those “smiley sheets; sift for truth in those positive participants’ comments and compare their feedback to the majority of other evaluations. One good tid bit of advice, “Eat the meat and spit out the bones.”
  • Some speakers practice losing the top and bottom. That is to say: discard the top 10% and the bottom 10% of the evaluations and read and seriously consider the feedback from the rest.
  • To some extent, all evaluations are valuable. Remember, however, there are always one or two that are way out of line from all the others. I’ve always liked the expression: “Some will; some won’t; so what…next!” Saying “so what” isn’t meant to be arrogant or flippant about thos ethat “won’t (play along)…it merely offers the suggestion that it’s past now…can’t be fixed with that individual, so move on! If one criticism does continue to turn up, however, it’s time for some heavy professional introspection and examination of what you’re putting “out” up there on that platform.
  • Year’s ago I had a friend who hadn’t missed a day of work in 10 years and still her boss would NEVER give her a perfect score for attendance, declaring that no one ever gets “perfect; “perfect” is the unattainable…that which you use as a beacon but can never achieve! What kind of thinking is that??? In that same vein, remember, like the stingy boss, there’ll always be some people who just can’t bring themselves to give someone high marks, even if they really did enjoy and get tremendous value from your presentation. Perhaps because of the nature of their jobs/professions, e.g. like lawyers, they may be wired to look for flaws…to constantly be adversarial…to look for the argument…the rebuttal. Therefore, be aware of this possiblity and focus on the participants you’ve helped instead.
  • Remember this: Every day we meet and re-meet people we like and don’t like and we don’t necessarily consciously know why we feel the way we do/why they trigger us positively or negatively. It’s just so…a fact. The same can happen with a participant in your audience. The negativity expressed may not necessarily truly pertain to you, but rather, to them…perhaps transmitting their feelings towards themselves in relation to others, e.g. feelings of low self-esteem. Therefore, focus your efforts on the majority of the participants who appreciated your stellar effort and performance. Sometimes negative evaluations are just as much a reflection of the evaluator as they are of the person being evaluated (presenter).
  • To play a bit of devil’s advocate, however, consider that sometimes a participant’s negative evaluation may not be a product of their miserable personality but, rather, merely a well intended report letting you know that your presentation did not meet their expectation. Sometimes such comments can offer a fabulous morsel inspiring you to rearrange your presentation style or content for another time, causing future presentations to impress future audiences all the better. The “bad” news now can end up being the “good” news later that aids your professional improvement and growth. The bottom line…look for trends in comments and think about this sage advice: once is an incident, twice is a trend, three times is a pattern. If these negative comments come up on more than three percent of one event’s evaluations, or on three occasions, or with three different kinds of groups/professionals/industries, etc., it may very well be time to reconsider your presentation content and style of delivery.

Despite it all, if you’ve received a tough evaluation of your presentation, it’s always a good idea–if you’re open to it–to check in with your client/the person who booked you or invited you to speak in the first place. Although each participant in the moment of presentation is your client, in the end, it’s the root client–the “one who brung you”–who’s opinion really counts! That is the person with whom you contracted and made your performance agreements. Were they pleased with your contribution? In your conversation with that individual, you may remind: What you perceive you brought to the event and the manner in which you delivered what you promised; ask if they agree with your perception/see it the same way you. Ask : Did I meet your expectations? Consider: Despite the negative feedback, did you get any spin-off business or invitations to speak elsewhere? If so, that is a positive testament to your contribution (that counters the negative comments that may have weighed on you heavily). I’ve heard it said that, typically, 5% of any audience will not like you, just because. Deal with it. Accept that fact. Learn. Grow. And keep on enjoying and sharing what you have to offer…what you have to share.

To speak well in public–to hold an audiences’ attention for long lengths of time–is a skill and a gift, and takes a lot of gumption…most people would rather die than do it. Keep that in mind next time! And wear a bulletproof vest for those occasional negative comments.

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