Can you avoid wearing that Darth Vader suit in future?


I was doing a three-day website strategy workshop in Campbell, California, when one of the participants gave me this piece of feedback. Apparently I was wearing a Darth Vader suit. I looked down at what I was wearing, and all I could see was a perfectly tailored suit. There was nothing Darth Vader about it.

So what was the participant really saying?

The participant was giving feedback. She was saying that something about my suit made her feel uncomfortable. That suit cost a few hundred dollars. Was I going to just chuck it away because the suit intimidated this one participant? Was it the suit? Or was she saying something else? And how is it that a client/participant can get so up close and personal when giving feedback?

Feedback is jarring. Feedback is not necessarily a sugary testimonial.

Feedback is the screechy sound you hear when a live microphone is pointed towards an output speaker. It’s jarring. It squeals. It makes you cringe. And if you’re running a business, you need to cringe a bit, because it will give you the information that you sorely need to improve your product or service.

But just asking for feedback is a waste of time. Feedback should be a session by itself, with all the glory of structure involved.

So how do you structure a feedback session?

There are three core steps you need to take when getting feedback:
a) What did you learn? (from using our product/from attending the session/from doing the course)
b) What did you like?
c) What would you change–if you could change it? (Nothing is too bizarre or crazy. Or too big or too small).

The importance of ‘what did you learn’.

This is critical to measure perception and learning. You may think you’re getting a message across, but you may be getting the wrong message across. Or no message at all. The learning session enables you to listen to what the participants have really learned in the session, or in the interaction with your product or service.

The importance of ‘what did you like?’

This is important because of the psychology of humans. We just don’t like to complain. So if we’re given the chance to praise and then critique, we feel there’s a balance. So first give them a chance to tell you what’s right; the things they like about what you’re doing.

This makes the audience feel good and relaxes them a lot. It’s also good for you to know the things that people like. If they like it, you want to do more of it in future. And of course, it doesn’t hurt your ego one little bit. You need a pat on the back.

Then I move them to the critique part of things.

In this part, I always encourage a ‘feeding frenzy.’ I make sure that the participants know that it’s purely a brainstorming session. That anything and everything is valid. That no judgments will be made on the person giving the feedback, and no evaluation will be made on the spot.

Of course one way of doing this is to have a whiteboard and let the participants list everything they possibly can. You’ll find they have a big list. And often there will be bizarre elements on the list.

What could be bizarre?

In one session, participants came up with very sane feedback: e.g. Can we have a meet and greet session before the workshop or course itself. This as you can tell is a very reasonable sounding piece of feedback. But the bizarre ranges from ‘can we do a wine tour?’ to ‘can you not wear that Darth Vader suit?’

So did I change the suit?

You bet I changed it. It wasn’t the suit, you see. It was the intimidation of this deep black suit that was causing the discomfort. But how do we know if the feedback worked? The following year (when we had the same event again) I wore a plain white t-shirt and jeans. And a participant, who’d never been to our workshops before, came up to me and said: “I’m so glad to see you in this casual outfit. I was scared. Not sure what I needed to wear.”

And so the so-called bizarre feedback from one event was applied to another event. And so it goes: No feedback is truly bizarre if you really analyse what the client is saying.

Of course, that’s provided you dig deeper and get to the heart of the feedback.

But how do you maximise the depth of the feedback?

You always make sure you cover every aspect of your event. E.g. in a live event for instance, there’s the following:
1) The pre-sell running up to the event.
2) The information that gives instructions about the event.
3) The meet and greet section.
4) The speaker’s methodology.
5) The speaker’s technology used.
6) Venue and other event-related issues.
7) Any issues they can think up.

You need to split up every possible stage of the journey, right from the inception of the event, to the final moment when they’re ready to leave. And this of course can be done for both online and offline events/products or services. For online events, the feedback will be through a teleconference or Skype. For offline, it’s usually at a physical location.

Remember one crucial thing however…

You don’t and won’t get feedback if you make the participants feel unsafe.

1) You need to stress over and over again that they’re in a safe zone.
2) That the feedback is purely designed to improve the program.
3) That if they don’t feel like giving feedback in the live session, they can email you or call you or do whatever it takes, because you’re keen to improve things.

I put these points on my slides. I put them in my presentation notes. I put them everywhere, because if I don’t put them in, I may forget to tell the participants about these important points and then the quality of the feedback suffers.

Feedback is the worst feeling in the world.

It feels like a jab to the face. Then another jab. Then yet another jab.

No one likes brutal feedback, and yet it’s the brutal feedback that helps you move ahead faster and more efficiently than ever before. You may think you know every thing there is to know about your business and your customer.

You are wrong.
The customer always knows more.


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  1. says

    Thank you for this very practical reminder. I conduct seminars twice a week for various companies. And I do not always get the benefit of feedback.

    I will always remember this and I will include the feedback questions in my slides.

    To your progress,

    Jef Menguin
    inspirational speaker

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