“My problem is that all of my topics are so negative.”
I was at the StoryBrand Workshop, trying to explain to Donald Miller why his marketing methods wouldn’t work for me.
Ignoring my baditude, he smiled — the kind of smile you give when you’re trying to be extra patient with a whiny child. And he said, “I don’t think it really matters whether your topics are positive or negative. What matters is that you offer people solutions to their problems.”
That was not what I wanted to hear.
I wanted him to say, “Cheri, you’re right! Those are terrible topics. Scrap them all and start over with new fun topics!”
But he didn’t.
And my prayers for new fun topics had gone unanswered as well. Clearly, hard topics are my topics.
Don’s words replayed through my mind:
“I don’t think it really matters whether your topics are positive or negative.”
Followed by a brand-new thought:
What matters is that my messages are transformative.
And I have proof that they are.
Years’ worth of audience feedback forms and listener testimonials tell stories of changed thinking, changed hearts, changed behavior, changed relationships, and changed lives.
3 Effective Feedback Questions
When I was a new speaker and needed testimonials for my website, I spoke to many groups for free on the condition that I could pass out a feedback form after my message.
Here are the three questions my form included:
- What 3 words would you use to describe Cheri’s speaking style?
I know, I know — this feels so awkward. But trust me: it’s really not fishing for compliments.
It’s asking your listeners to honestly reflect back to you what they hear and see in you, which is a crucial part of your branding process.
These descriptive words need to be on your website, your speaker sheet, and in your bio. But you can’t come up with them on your own. If you try, you’ll come up with words describing the kind of speaker you wish you were … rather than the kind of speaker you actually are.
- What’s one “ah-ha!” moment or key takeaway you gained from this message?
This question actually serves your audience. Just the act of writing down one thing that mattered will anchor it more deeply in their long-term memory.
It will also serve you well when you revise your message for the next time you give it.
You’ll know what to keep, what to clarify, and what you may want to cut. You won’t have to guess; you’ll know, because your listeners told you so!
(Pro tip: If nobody mentions a specific story or particular point you absolutely adore? Prayerfully consider axing it.)
- What’s one change that would make this message more effective?
This is a brave question to ask.
Only ask this question if you’re truly willing to hear, pray-cess, and act on the answers you get.
Generous audience members can help you become a far better speaker.
My generous audience members taught me to slow down. Cram in less information. Offer more practical applications. Smile more.
Yes, you’ll get some unhelpful feedback. Toss it. Forget it.
Don’t let fear of the overly-critical outlier prevent you from receiving generous feedback from the majority of your audience.
Your listeners want you to succeed. They want to help. They will make you better if you let them.
If You Can Only Ask One Question
If you can only ask one question, here’s the one I’d choose:
What’s the one thing you’ll remember a month from now and why?
What You Will Learn from Your Listeners
I wasted years whining about my negative messages and wishing God would give me better topics.
After my Donald Miller-inspired epiphany — what matters is that my messages are transformative — I re-read my audience feedback.
On my own, I would never have described myself as “a toe-stomper who encourages as she challenges, while giving practical tools I can use right now.”
But because I’ve learned to listen to my listeners, I now recognize that this is my signature style as a speaker.
As you pray-cess feedback from generous audience members, you will learn who you actually are as a speaker.
You’ll embrace your core transformative message.
And you’ll discover your signature style.