A lot of people ask for feedback on their TED Talk topic, wondering if an audience will love it and if TEDx events will accept them.
If you’re like most people, asking for “feedback” is a normal thing and best practice for making anything. After all, it’s what everyone does. It seems like an effective method – ask people what they think, and they’ll tell you honestly. And yet, there’s something missing from “feedback” that can keep your TED Talk from reaching its full potential.
It seems like an effective method – ask people what they think, and they’ll tell you honestly. And yet, there’s something missing from “feedback” that can keep your TED Talk from reaching its full potential and can keep you from getting selected.
Asking for feedback on your TED Talks topic is holding you back for a number of reasons
1. Your inner circle knows you
The people that you’ll often ask for feedback know a little about your work. They may even be in your field. So, the things that they find basic may be fascinating to a new audience (eg: the one that’ll watch your TED Talk). Once you know something (eg: get familiar with your ideas), it’s tough to un-know it and see it the way a fresh audience will see it.
So, your inner circle will always have a different perspective on the question than a fresh audience does.
2. Your inner circle likes you
Duh. But why does this matter?
When asked to provide feedback, people have a need to maintain social order (Courtesy Bias), so they’ll be especially kind in their feedback. If there’s a potential for your topic to be interesting (eg: “my talk is about penguins”) they’ll think this unknown has the potential to be great, so they’ll be encouraging.
On the other hand, a TEDx organizer is making decisions primarily to appease their audience, not you. They don’t have a built-in tendency to see ambiguity optimistically. In fact, they’ll see it as a risk to their event as it indicates a topic that may not be fully thought through yet.
3. Feedback is absolute, but TEDx events evaluate talks relatively
When TEDx organizers chose speakers, they’re not judging whether an idea is inherently good or bad, they make a decision whether to accept it based on the other ideas. They’re judging relative value, not absolute.
Depending on the mix of applicants, an idea could be accepted or not (it also depends on the number of applications for a particular TEDx event). The same is true for a business idea – it could be a great idea to open a coffee shop in an area that sorely needs one, but a bad idea to open one in an area with no people and 10 other coffee shops. Asking “is a coffee shop a good business idea?” won’t really tell you whether it’ll be successful. The same is true for your idea.
It’s similar to a business idea – it could be a great idea to open a coffee shop in an area that sorely needs one, but a bad idea to open one in an area with no people and 10 other coffee shops. Asking “is a coffee shop a good business idea?” won’t really tell you whether it’ll be successful. The same is true for your TED Talk.
The same is true for your TED Talk.
4. The scope of the question is too broad
What does “what do you think?” mean? It could mean “is there anything you’d improve?” “Do you think the headline is compelling?”, “if you were given this information and nothing else, what would be the likelihood of being accepted for a major TEDx event?” and so forth. You get the idea.
Put another way, imagine I’m in the market for a new shirt. You’re great with fashion, so I send you an email asking for advice: “What do you think of blue shirts?” I say. It’s tough to know how to respond in a helpful way.
There are better ways to get feedback so you avoid our own psychological tendencies. Here are some ways you can apply them to your TED Talk.
What’s one way you can improve your topic? (eg: minimize the scope to pull out the most important opportunity for improvement)
[clickToTweet tweet=”‘What’s one way you’d suggest I improve this?’ -an effective way of getting feedback on your #TEDTalk #publicspeaking” quote=”‘What’s one way you’d suggest I improve this?’ -an effective way of getting feedback on your #TEDTalk #publicspeaking”]
“What do you think of this blue shirt on me?” vs “I’m getting this blue shirt custom tailored…what’s one thing you would change to make it look better on me?”
For a TED Talk idea, a similar question can be asked — “what’s one thing that can be improved about this idea?”. This eliminates concern for positivity bias since you’re not asking good/bad. When asked for one thing, many more people will feel free to provide ideas, since they’re being invited to specifically share at least one area to improve.
Which TED Talks topic (or title/outline/pitch) is best? (provide options and ask which is best)
“What do you think of this blue shirt on me?” vs. “I’ve attached pictures of me wearing 3 different shirts – which is your favorite?”
People have a difficult time imagining what’s not there (eg:
For a TED Talk idea, provide several options for ideas, pitches, titles, and so on. Ask which one would make the best TED Talk.
See how people react to your TED Talks topic (eg: see what people do, not what they say)
[clickToTweet tweet=”Don’t ask what people think, watch what they do #TEDTalks #publicspeaking” quote=”Don’t ask what people think, watch what they do #TEDTalks #publicspeaking”]
“What do you think of this blue shirt on me?” instead of wearing the shirt around and seeing if you get any compliments.
In physics, there’s a phenomenon known as Observer Effect. When you observe something, it changes. Applied to a TED Talk, if someone knows their feedback is being monitored, they’ll change it. If you own a business you’ve probably seen this in action if you ask someone if they’re interested in buying something from you, then these same people, when left to make a decision, don’t actually buy.
The same is true for a TED Talk. Asking people if they like something isn’t nearly as informative as using the multiple ways you can test it, without ever asking.
For example, create a video summarizing your talk (or summarize in written form) and post on social media – don’t ask for feedback, just see how people respond. Do they “like” and put comments like “well said!”, or do they engage, argue, add information, and share?
What are some effective ways you’ve found to get useful feedback?