An exercise in giving feedback

By Limor Shiponi
Sourse: Dreamstime

Just back from a storytelling training session with something I want to share:

When training, participants expect me to give them feedback, which I do. Often I can sense they are flabbergasted, “how does she know how to hit the nail on its head?” while on other occasions they’ll be wondering, “that’s what she chose to say when there are other, much greater evident issues?”

What I choose to say answers one specific thought: what do I need to tell this person, that will help him or her move with their storytelling one small step ahead?

One thing at a time, because that’s all a person can intake and really do something about. If I say more, I’ll confuse them.

I tend to push my students to give feedback – about their own work, about others’. Often, when I ask them to do so, they set off on an elaborate voyage, lacking real language to express what they see, where the gaps are. Out of fear to heart a fellow student or fear of retaliation, they eventually reside to “niceness”. It is often useless and grows elephants of various sizes that dwell in rooms. If they do say something useful they often get caught in preaching about the way they would do it – which is obviously better – in their eyes. This leaves the objective of their feedback feeling rather empty and patronized, if not hurt.

So this time I decided to tell them about the way I do it, paraphrasing it a little:

“What is the single thing I can see, that if would be done different, would make the storytelling of this particular story by this particular storyteller, a little more compelling – to me?”

The nice outcome of this exercise was – no more feedback with subtexts that sounded like, “look, to tell you the truth, I think you better go have plastic surgery.”

The good outcome of this exercise was – they were specific and to the point. What they said had a high level of usability. You understand where it needs to get to, but no one is forcing your choice of action about how to get there.

The great outcome of this exercise was – one of the students taking her words back to reconsider the feedback she just gave. She suddenly realized the feedback was something she would like to hear if she was making the same mistakes, not truthful to the request, “would make the storytelling of this particular story by this particular storyteller, a little more compelling – to me”. ¬†“Me” being¬† – an audience member, not the storyteller herself.

One recommendation: for each participant, let up to three people give feedback. After the storyteller receives their input, collect the three ideas into one main issue that needs to be addressed, practiced and solved. As I’ve mentioned earlier – we can’t do very well with more than one issue to look into at a time.

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