Feedback loops that work for presenters

Feedback Loops title Presentation

Finding a good process

How do you go about practicing for your presentation? Is that really working for you? Or are you still nervous? Do also feel that you are not getting that much better? Maybe you are repeating the same mistakes over and over again. Wouldn’t you like to avoid that?

The typical process of most people when they create a presentation is as follows:

  1. Their boss or they decided that they need to create a speech.
  2. They create it.
  3. Then, they practice it.
  4. Finally, they deliver it. If it goes well great, if not well there will be always be a another time.

That is not enough. You need to a process to reflect on what you did and reduce “mistakes” to get better. But how do you do that? After all, there is no one right answer in presentation making.

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PDCA cycle for presenters

You can use an improvement cycle that is commonly used in Japan. It is called the PDCA cycle. It stands for Plan, Do, Check, Act. In the case of “Plan”, you would plan your presentation. For “Do” you would actually deliver the speech.

For “Check” you would check to see if the speech had the desired result. This means that during the “Plan” phase you need to know the desired result and what is required to get that result.

Based on that feedback, you will make the needed changes in the “Act” phase. It may seem weird since “Do” and “Act” mean the same thing in English. But we are talking more about adjusting what you have rather than doing it over. In any case, due to the idiosyncrasies of the time when PDCA was created, the Japanese went with the word “Act.” For this article, I will use “Adjust” just so you are not confused.

How do you “Plan” your presentation?

on stage

First, let’s look at the “Plan” phase. In the planning phase, there two basic schools of thought. One is to decide the key message first. The other is to brainstorm on the topic first. I tend to go with the latter approach.

Key message first or brainstorming first?

Deciding on the key message is important no matter which order you do it. It is the one thing that you want your audience to remember. It is the one thing that holds your entire presentation together.

Many people, including Craig Valentine, another World Champion of Public Speaking, or Grahman Davies, a well known speaker in the U.K., say that it should be short and concise. If you can fit it on the back of a business card, it is the right size.

I think that it is worthy to create one, but I find that people have a hard time creating one from scratch. Many people tend to have a lot of things they want to say about a topic. They may even think that they narrowed their topic to one key message. However, what ends up happening that the key message is so broad and vague that it can cover anything you want.

Ryo Sakamaki, a DX professional on the other also recommends to get everything out on paper first and then have an objective look at what you need. You get it all out of your system at first. Then you look at what is out there and cut out everything that doesn’t direct support your objective.

Basically, you take the KonMari approach to the material after you brainstormed. If it is purposeful and meaningful, keep it. If not then throw it out.

Brainstorming your topic

You can take two approaches to brainstorming. One is simply to get a whole bunch of post-it notes out and write all the ideas that you could think of about the topic. The other approach is simply to write all that you want to say on a piece of paper. It could be sentence form or bullet point form. Do whatever works the best for you.

In either approach after you think you have written all that you could possible want to talk about the topic take a short break. 20 minutes or so would be fine. At this point please don`t go for Facebook or YouTube.

Give your brain a breather. You can do some simple household chores if you like. After the time is over, try to write out a few more things. You will be surprised at what comes out.

After you got it all out, you can use it as a resource, not a draft for what you want to say. If act you may be able to use this for future presentations. It is just a question of what “ingredients” you want to use, and how you want to arrange them for whatever presentation you are working on.

What`s the objective?

Then the question then becomes what is it that you want the presentation to accomplish. In other words what should be different after the presentation is over. Also, how will you know you have accomplished your mission. You need to make these as clear as possible. Once you have that clear, it becomes easier to plan your speech out and it makes it easier to check and ask for advice.

Some speakers unconsciously make it a priority to impress either higher-ups, certain experts. This is so they can get the recognization they want and feel good personally. But in most cases, you are not here to impress someone with your wit and wisdom.

People don’t care about you. They care about them and what you can do for them. And in most cases, you need to make a sale or get people to understand a concept.

If you are still unsure about how to make your objective clear, please checkout the article on creating “victory criteria.” This should better point you in right direction.

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Preparation and practice

Once your objective is clear, then you plan out your speech and make a rough draft of your presentation material. I would not immediately start building Power Point. You can make “Paper Point.” That is much faster and less painful when you find out that you don’t need certain data or that cute picture that you spent several hours looking for.

In any case, you have a draft together and the next step is to practice. I still put this in the “Plan” phase. We are still not actually delivering the presentation in front of the audience that is intended.

You can practice by yourself or with friends and/or colleagues. If you are doing a sales presentation, roleplaying with a partner can also be helpful. But however you do it, make sure you put in the time needed so you can do this even if you had a baby screaming all night long the night before. As in sports, the practice should be tougher than the real thing.

Just “Do” it

interested meeting

Once you got the planning and practice out of the way, the next step is “Do.” This is where you actually give the speech. If you are just a beginner I would just do the speech as planned. I do recommend that you video record the speech so you can review it during the “Check” phase. The reasons are the same as recommending video yourself during practice. You will notice a lot by just reviewing. There can also be big differences between when you perform at practice and when you perform for real.

OODA loop for presenters

If you have more experience, I would practice using the OODA loop. The OODA loop is sometimes positioned as an alternative to PDCA, but I find them complementary. They are just good at different things and should be used for different occasions. OODA is good for when circumstances change and you need to respond quickly. BTW, OODA stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act.

One of the other reasons that you should practice your speech materials so well that you could do it even in your sleep because it frees you up to use the OODA loop.

What do I mean by that? A good speaker is one who observes his audience and makes adjustments as needed.

Observing your audience

In the case of the OODA loop, the speaker first observes his audience. If there is a video conference, it is best to ask for everyone to have their camera on. You should try to set up your system so that you see more than just your slides. That way you can work off of people’s reactions as they are watching you.

In Webinar situations, it will be harder to see your audience, so you will need to repeatedly ask for responses in the chat. Otherwise, there will be no reaction to work off of. There will be no indication of any not getting it. Also, some people may wander off to some cat video.

Orienting towards reactions

As you are observing, you could be noticing changes in the facial expression of people. If you starting to see too many puzzled or bored looks then you need would need to “Orient” towards that.

Is the number worthy of bored or puzzle people worthy of consideration? Is just one lost person or are there more? Why would they be puzzled or bored? Why are they starting to grab for their smartphones? Is it because of an unknown term? Is the explanation too above their heads? Maybe they don`t even understand the importance of what you are saying.

You will need to quickly analyze the situation and what you could do about it. Obviously, you can not change your PowerPoint slides. So the typical options are A)to ignore the problem and move on. Maybe even make a mental note about it for improvement later.

Or B) circle back on the material adding a story or clarification. At which point you need to monitor that your additional material is effective or not. If you keep adding references to things people do not get, you’ve done a very bad job on audience analysis. That will need to be remedy as soon as you can.

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Deciding on the adjustment in mid-presentation

Then the next thing to do would be to “Decide.” Which among the options seem like the best choice? When speaking you will not have a lot of time to decide, so there is no point in worrying about what if you do not make the best choice.

Getting a good feeling for what makes the best choice takes time and experience. You will make some bad decisions. Just accept that is the part of the game.

For example, suppose that a noisy air conditioning system suddenly turns on during the middle of your presentation. Do you mention it or ignore it? Do you make a quick comment or make joke?

That kind of depends on the audience and your presentation personality. It is usually after making a bunch of decisions in similar circumstances that you figure out the best thing to do.

Acting on the decision for your presentation

After you “Decide” then “Act” on your decision. After you act you should move back to “Observing.” Did the action work as expected or not? How have the facial expressions and reactions of the audience changed? Do you need to make any further adjustments? Is there any time to do so?

Depending on your level experience it can be hard act on making adjustments midway. You sometimes have to try “safer” modification that you know you can pull off. But once you got your material nailed, and you feel more comfortable on the stage, you can experiment with taking more actions based on audience reaction.

As you probably can see to go through the OODA loop requires that you do two things at once. You still need to be delivering the speech as best you can. But on the other hand you need to be observing the audience and yourself, evaluating the situation and making adjustments as needed. This will definitely require practice and plenty of time to get good at.

Checking your presentation

After planning and doing is the “Check.” This is what most people do not do well. For most part if the presentation goes go then that is great! If it doesn’t go well then either you are not cut out for this, or there is always a next time. Often there is very little reflection on the good points and points of improvement.

The reason for this is that most people do not know how to go about doing it. If you go to a Toastmasters meeting, you will find people giving feedback on other people’s presentations. This acts as a “Check.” I have mentioned elsewhere how it can be hard to do this right.

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If you have clicked on this article, perhaps one day you want to be a great pres.....

Self-evaluation of your presentation

However, getting good at self-evaluation of your own presentation is an important skill to have. It can allow you to improve faster. You do not have to wait on others’ feedback.

Plus you know what you are intending to do more than others. So, the self-advice tends to be more useful than from people who did not get your intentions.

Of course, since people are very close to their own material there will be blind spots. That is why it is helpful to get a second opinion from an experienced person. However, the more you can objectively look at your own material and effectively revise it the better off you will be.

To do this effectively you need to know what you are aiming for and have good empathy with your audience. These are both difficult things to achieve in the beginning. So, it just better to do the presentation, get direct feedback from the listeners, and reiterate as many times as practical.

As has been mentioned elsewhere, if possible record your presentation. Look back at it ans consider what you could have done better.

Also, look at the results of you presentation. Where were they out of alignment with your expectations? What can you do in the future to improve the effectiveness of your presentation?

As you go along, you may start coming up with a checklist of points to consider as you are reviewing your presentation. That prevents you from forgetting things to take a serious look at so I recommend start one if you have not already.

Adjusting your presentation

Apart from adjusting on the fly as in the OODA loop, there is the typical adjustment from the PDCA cycle. If you are delivering a one-and-done presentation, there is no point in focusing on what you could do to fix the presentation itself. If you are going to give the same presentation to other people then you do need to consider specific fixes.

In the case of one-and-done presentation, the focus is more on avoiding mistakes so you will not make the same ones in the next presentation. For example, if you presentation is a wall of text, then you may want to consider how to reduce the amount of text so people will be looking at you instead of the presentation.

Then you could list up the various things that you need to be careful of. Make sure you store that somewhere where you will not lose it. Also in a place you know you will look at when you make your next presentation.

It will not help you at all if you made a list and then do not refer to it because you forgot to look at it. So, make sure that it is in a noticeable spot for the next time you create a presentation.


When working trying to improve your presentation skill, getting good feedback is essential. But, the problem is that most people do not know how to do it well.

Because of this, it is important to put in processes on your own so that you can slowly build up your evaluation skill. By using the PDCA cycle and OODA loops you can put yourself on the path to become a better presenter.

If you do it right, you will will move forward instead of just repeating the same kinds of mistakes year in and year out. After all would it not be better to have 30 years of experience instead of 1 year repeated 30 times?

If you are interested in learning more about how to apply learning and evaluation loops to the art of presentation and other topics, please continue browser at other articles on this site. If you have questions, comments, etc. please leave those feel free to leave them. Also if you have a need for more specific help on presentations, debate, etc., please feel free to contact me here.

Matthew Ownby

Previously worked at NASA, Cisco Japan, and other large IT Corporation. Spent more than 15 years training businessmen and women to be better presenters. Good enough at Japanese help native Japanese speakers win speaking contests. Was fortunate enough to give a TEDx Talk in Kyoto also in Japanese ;). Also aims to build the toughest communication contest ever. That will not only include being good at business presentation skills, but debate, meeting facilitation, negotiation, coaching, and more. Also runs an online communication dojo where the focus is on practical skill application not listening to a sage on a stage.

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