4 ways asking for feedback on your topic is holding you back

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.

[social_warfare]

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.

why asking for feedback on your topic is a bad idea
What do you think of blue shirts?

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?

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Ryan Hildebrandt
Ryan Hildebrandt
Articles: 33
  • Feedback: An essential service but not to be overused, overamplified or engineered for the purpose of control, dominance over another in the food chain or as a flag wave/ show of how much of a team weare . 🙂 We cannot deny the fact that high level competitive arenas eventually risk turning essentials, like feedback, into opportunities for getting ahead over the growth of ideas and people. The rat race paradigm fosters this in people ,,, Many do well in this more combat/tough talk oriented model but few really gain as it is a narrowing approach that floats up certain personalities, ideas and infiltrates best human abilities, like feedback. Also feedback should be highly constructive, come from knowledge, and yes support, heart, over noisy and perfection principles . Random, thoughtless feedback is more harmful than good. Frequent pervasive overly simple feedback exhausts the filter systems and buoys doubt while giving everyone a false sunny feeling that we are “helping” each other as mediocracy floats , oil on water. Sometimes we are not using the feedback tool as a best practice only as a practice and yes, we should not shun, absolutely, feedback or devalue the strength of listening to each other , offering excellent perceptions as a way of opening thought or surprising the known for new levels of perception that are more than accurate but also profound. We work to go deep into our ability to help be our best, the best of ourselves inside community nation, ,,umm well Globe is huge, careful. …addictions rage, meds surge, and people cry. Can we, as individuals, be best if we are so “Worldly ” or do we grow flat , efficient, angry, tough, broken in order to exist in such an immense sphere. Do our feet come off the ground with all that reach’n for the heights . hmm Don’t know. But that is my feedback . Should we redefine or widen our ideas of strength if we are determined to be global. Means we need to be maybe nicer to each other with all that exposure and avoid stereotyping while staying with value systems . Yummy

  • It is also important to ask ‘what wouldn’t you change’ or ‘what did you like about it’…because too often, people receive feedback on the ‘what would you improve’ and they change the part of their story or topic that really worked for folks. So, learn to ask – what is one thing you would change, wouldn’t change or should consider including’ about my topic.

    Thanks for the time to reflect on this…. Bernadette

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