Don't be afraid of criticism. Use it to become better.

One of the realities of social media is that people talk back. They tell you if they like what you are doing. But they are equally quick to tell you what they don’t like about what you are doing.

This can be a painful thing. Anyone who has ever performed in public – and that includes all of us who lay out our ideas on blogs and social media sites – knows the sinking feeling of starting to read a comment when someone says your performance sucked or your ideas were just plain wrong.

For many of us, our first instinct is to run from that type of commentary. We rationalize that paying attention to critics will cause us to have second thoughts, to be timid, or to pull back from taking risks in the future.

Don’t be that person. Don’t shy away from reading and taking criticism to heart.

Photo by Jeremy Lim

Listening to and embracing criticism is one of the secrets of the true high performer.

This week, I saw that graphically illustrated when C.C. Chapman came to Canada to talk about Content Rules, the book he co-authored with Ann Handley, at Third Tuesdays in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver.

I had seen C.C. present at conferences over the past couple years. He’s one of the best. And he met my expectations right from the beginning of this week.

C.C. started strong with a great presentation in Montreal. He hit all the right notes and the audience loved him. In fact, his presentation and the question-and-answer session stretched over 90 minutes before it could be brought to an end.

The next night in Toronto his performance was again strong. But there was some chatter in the back of the room as some people’s attention drifted. I wondered what was going on, why the presentation wasn’t gripping this group the way it had the previous night.

We use to host the Third Tuesday event sites. Meetup has built-in questionnaires to ask users to rate and comment on the speaker’s performance. Overwhelmingly, the comments about C.C.’s Toronto presentation were positive.  But there were some criticisms. Some people were looking for more structure in cc presentation. A few event said they hadn’t found the content they expected from C.C.

The next night we were on to Calgary. As he started his presentation, I saw that C.C. had made some changes to it. He added an introduction that provided a quick overview of the content of the book and identified some particular points that he would highlight. In effect, he provided a structure and roadmap to his presentation. It appeared to me that C.C. had read the comments and used them to refine his delivery.

Thanks to the Meetup software, we received a fresh batch of comments after the Calgary event. Again, almost all were positive. A few made suggestions about how C.C. could improve his presentation.

On the final night in Vancouver, C.C. further tightened up his presentation, focusing on a few ideas that had made the most impact on the previous nights. He had again addressed all of the critical comments that had been left on Meetup or in tweets.

I had watched this unfold during the week. But I hadn’t said anything because I thought C.C. was in full flight and he didn’t need any additional kibitzing from me. However, in the taxi after the final event was over, I asked C.C. if he was reading the comments about his presentations as we went along. For sure, he responded.

Over four days and four presentations, one of the best presenters around listened to the criticisms and embraced them. By doing this, he turned an already great presentation into a presentation that received one of the highest ratings achieved in five years of Third Tuesdays.

That’s how C.C. has become a great presenter. Never get mad. Never run away from criticism. Grab it. Use it. That’s how it’s done. That’s something we should all do. In our presentations. In what we write. In our jobs. All the time.

  • Joseph, you are quickly becoming someone I love to read. Excellent points!

  • Thank you for sharing this Joe.

    While I of course spent a big part of every night after the events looking at and responding to what people said on Twitter, I didn’t know about this feature of Meet Up until I just read this so I’m very curious to head over after writing this to see what people had to say.

    As you said, I’m a HUGE fan of CONSTRUCTIVE criticism and always want to hear it so that I can make myself, my presentation or whatever it is that the criticism is for better. Sure, everyone can pat you on the back and say “nice job” but I also want to hear from the people who didn’t feel that way so I’m curious to read the comments you are referencing.

    I changed things up every night because this is the start of the tour. I’m not fine tuned on the presentation when I’m not presenting with slides and I wanted to make sure that it got better and better as I did it. It is why I’m a little sad that only the first night was taped.

    Thank you again to you and all the sponsors for making this happen. The support and encouragement means the world to both Ann and I and being empowered to share our thoughts and our book with audiences across Canada is an opportunity that I know we both appreciate.

    • Hi C.C., The Twitter comments were very much like the Meetup comments. But ephemeral, whereas the Meetup comments live on for later reference. And you did a great job of refining it. Great got even better during the week.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for writing this Joe. As great as the Pilot is it’s the one flaw, the presentation doesn’t always carry.

    I appreciate that CC adapts constantly to improve his presentation style etc. I think the chatter is not necessarily a reflection on CC and his skills as a speaker.

    It’s both fortunate/unfortunate that Toronto is a very social city, I wish I could tell you that people don’t stand at the back of the room and chat at other types of events, but it even happens at live music shows.
    It’s almost the norm to have to talk/present/perform above the chatter.
    It presents an interesting dilemma which baffles me constantly, but it would be hypocritical of me to say I’m never the one at the back of the room.

    I would love to hear what you think an acceptable solution for “crowd control”

    • Rochelle, you are absolutely right that the design of Pilot amplifies side conversations. And you’re also right that people chat at every event. It’s something all speakers have to contend with. Some get brittle or angry. C.C. was just the opposite. He maintained his cool, listened to the crowd and attempted to read them, always with a great sense of humour. What I found extra interesting was that he then refined his presentation after each event. A lot of speakers simply show up and present the same deck night after night. C.C. showed the importance of listening and learning.

      As an event organizer, I don’t think there’s any good way to settle people down. I know I feel embarrassed when I start to take on the role of “Dad.” 😉

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