Discussion: A speaker wasn’t very good, and they’ve just asked you what you thought. What do you say?

What do you say when a fellow speaker asks you for feedback and they were awful?

What if they ask for coaching and you can tell from one session that they haven’t got what it takes?

What if their dream is to be a professional speaker and you can tell they won’t make it?


Yes. Be honest and tell them.

Tell the truth, gently. Offer advice, tactfully. No dilemma. -Peter De Jager

If I was that speaker that you thought really wasn’t going to make it, I wouldn’t want you to sugar coat it. I’d want to know. -Graham Frost

I would tell (and have told) people if in my opinion professional speaking is not for them. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t speak to audiences, but that either their topic or approach is not commercial. Of course, it’s only my opinion, and I urge them to seek other views. As a speech coach as well as a speaker, I never take money from people that I believe I cannot help. -Alan Stevens

If you want me to provide feedback, I’m more than willing, but it’ll be honest and frank. -Peter De Jager

“I can definitely help you to get more gigs, and it would involve a longer conversation,” is what I would say. -QJ Jay

Being mindful of not only WHAT you say but HOW you say it will mean a lot. They may initially be hurt but if they have the potential, they will embrace the feedback as a gift and make a choice from there. There are many types of speakers, as you know and perhaps keynoting is not their thing but it could be something else is their gift. -Debbie Peterson

It’s always best to be as straightforward as you can be and make it clear that you are giving your opinion and it’s possible someone else may see it differently. -James McGinty

You can speak only from your own perspective. Be honest and the reaction is their’s and it will give them a chance to decide if they want to continue, perhaps with more training, or have a change of direction. -Ian Jarvis

To paraphrase Frank Carson “It’s the way you tell them.” I agree with Alan Stevens never take money from someone who you do not believe will make a professional speaker. Never be cruel to be kind and encourage without raising any false hopes -Mike Segall

Ask me questions. I’ll tell you no lies. -Bryony Thomas

As a professional speaker, I think it’s my responsibility to be honest with people. It’s the same as an athlete or a singer being told they are not going to make the grade. Actually, I think it’s unkind to give people false hope. We obviously differ, but there is no need for abusive remarks. -Alan Stevens

Tell people that even if right now you can’t refer them, they could improve by doing this or this. Never shoot them down, we all started from scratch. -Pauliina Jamsa

If you call yourself a professional then you have to give them your honest opinion but you can do it with compassion and humility. You should first give it context — “These are the things that I look for”, “This is how I evaluate people”, “This is what I believe is required to be successful”. Then you give them your feedback against the criteria you have explained, so you are not just given them an opinion but giving them an understanding of how you reached your assessment. Finally, you explain that this is your view, others may see things differently and they should seek some other opinions before they decide what to do next (you might want to warn them about people who will play on their aspirations to take large sums of money off of them and perhaps suggest some others to speak to). You should also say that you’d be happy to talk to them again once they’d got some other viewpoints. This is an issue for anyone who trains or coaches people in a particularly skill set. If you show that you genuinely have their best interests at heart then your advice, whilst it may not be what they wanted to hear, should be appreciated for it’s honesty. -Colin Newlyn

Sometimes one needs to be blunt! -Martin Brown

Tough love works! — Alvin Law

I don’t see the ethical dilemma, because honesty is the only policy here. It only feels like a dilemma because it’s such an uncomfortable position to find yourself in. When I’m asked for feedback on a speaker, I have 2 things in mind before I offer limited advice: (1) What can I say that is truly positive & will be motivating? And (2) What can I say that will be truly constructive or inspiring? Unless I’m mentoring the speaker, I avoid going over ALL the issues. I also don’t believe someone may not “make it”… there are hundreds of examples of famous performers, athletes, music artists & actors who were told they never would, but we know they did because they became famous & now inspire us. I believe everyone has the potential to succeed in their chosen passion. It’s up to them to do what it takes & overcome the odds — by being honest, we give them a place to start. -Rhonda Butler

Punch them playfully on the arm, smile and say: “You old bastard! You’ve done it again!” -Tony Coll

When asked the question — tell the truth as kind as you can. -George Torok

It is unwise to make such a sweeping judgment on a person’s potential. Everyone can improve if given good sensitive coaching. The question boils down to how long the person has available to develop themselves and how can they feed themselves while that development takes place.

The very first step on that road is to receive and act on accurate and timely feedback. Withholding feedback is mean and cruel. -Cyril Mannion

No. Keep it to yourself

People can be surprising, which is why I try not to pre-judge, even when it’s really hard not to want to tell them! -QJ Jay

“No good deed goes unpunished.” Oscar Wilde. Either way, the advisor won’t come out clean. What is unethical if you’re a ‘speaker trainer’ and you continue to take money from the trainee when you think he/she won’t cut it. And, if we’re really honest with ourselves, most of us who have been in the game for a while, got a lucky break. It wasn’t due to our skill and talent. So, maybe give folks a lucky break and keep your counsel to yourself. Even Cavett Roberts only started his keynote career at 60. And his first stab at starting the National Speakers Association flopped. -Jacques De Villiers

I would never tell someone they will never become a good speaker, and anybody who would is arrogant in my opinion. I would tell them the truth and would say it could take a long time. Everyone could be a good speaker if they choose and put the effort in. -Lance Beste

Personally. I would return the question to them, depending on what they say I would respond to that. I don’t think we can ever say to anyone, never, I would encourage keep trying, they will need to find there own answer. -John Sherry

I haven’t the heart to tell them, they seem to be enjoying the journey, so no harm done in my opinion — I leave them to it. The PSA is made up of all sorts! Ha! -Neil McCoy Ward

As a well wisher I would not say I found your talk and content weird but I would say, “Let me help you in upgrading your presentation. It was good but let’s make it better.” I would never dishearten any one with regards to grading skills and talents and that is why My students in public speaking find me very friendly and warm and if i point their error they know that it is a very serious thing because I am not blunt. -Nisaar Y. Nadiadwala

This is a gray area, and you should consider somethings

Are they totally beyond any sort of coaching or practice of improvement? It’s one thing to say “sorry mate this isn’t for you” and quite another to say “you need some major MAJOR work on this and here are some places to start.” -David Newman

I’m intrigued what makes a good speaker? Apart from the obvious. What should be done and what shouldn’t -Tom Morley

Always give encouragement regardless of your opinion. One person’s view is a dot in the ocean and means nothing. — Lance Beste

Improvement is available from most effort, but a LIVING in speaking requires the natural ability we ascribe to other successful exponents of sport, entertainment etc. Not everyone can do it IMHO, though, as with other pursuits, plenty think so. -Andy Edwards

I think most people have something to offer, there are just alternative ways to deliver their message and different arenas, so there is room for all potential speakers. -Michelle Mills-Porter

To look at the question another way, is it fair to allow people to be robbed of thousands of pounds by charlatans who claim they can make them Into a “six figure speaker” if they take their courses? -Alan Stevens

Show them a brochure on some college courses. Digital marketing is all the rage now -Shukeel A Chohan

Quizzical enquiry. Curiosity about them and their goals and ambitions. Guided discovery to a place that meets those goals in a way that matches their skills. If you are prepared to put the time in of course, but if not well then …. -William Buist

“To speak or not to speak that is the question Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous speakers Or to take arms against a sea of hecklers And by opposing end them To die on stage while they sleep” -Mike Segall

“There are a lot of companies out there who promise to “make a speaker” take a lot of money and really the person does not have what it takes. But from a different perspective it depends on the definition of success? Some may want to speak to create an impact in their community and may not be driven by money. As a speaker coach I will only work with people who share my values and I believe in. I turn plenty away as I don’t want to take their money if the aren’t coachable.” -Lisa Evans

“Double check whether they want feedback, or want to be told they were great.” -Resli Costabell

“If someone wants to be a professional speaker and asks for feedback then we should all aim to give constructive help. Unless they’re asking you to pay for their coaching in which case by all means tell them they haven’t got what it takes.” -Ros Conkie

“Feedback is great, you just gotta know HOW to take it.” -Jay Allen

“There is nobody that “does not have what it takes” as long as they have strong desire.” -Eric Edmeades

Should you say something, or not?

When it comes to offering feedback, looking at why they are asking you is very important.

Do they just want some encouragement from someone who is more experienced?

Do they value your opinion and are able to take criticism?

Where are they in their speaking career?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you will probably have a clearer idea of the kind of feedback you should, or shouldn’t, offer them.

What has been your experience with sharing, or not sharing, feedback with a speaker who wasn’t very good? We’d love to hear your story. Contact us here.

SpeakerHub would like to acknowledge the various speakers who shared their views on this in the Speakers’ Corner Facebook group. Want to join the group? Join here.

This was originally posted on the Speakerhub blog.

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