A former colleague asked for critique and feedback for a talk she was to present at a Washington, DC lounge. The informal event’s dynamic was inspired by The Moth’s compelling story-slam style and community.
I was so curious how this really casual venue and audience could impact engagement for my colleague. So ‘Sure!’ I gladly attended her gig which was hosted at nearby lounge and (sometimes) jazz club. The storyteller lineup, a neighborly group of social advocates, often gather casually for this purpose to share perspective.
It was a lot of fun observing her and the venue’s energizing stimulus (and tech imperfections too!).
My colleague Jan’s presentation & storytelling focus addressed how social tech is creating a counter culture from her point of view. She was pretty new to this group of people, presentation, and public storytelling in general. So it was a pleasure attending to offer support and feedback.
Most of the critique (shared with her directly via email; …she is “the you”) follows below.
Jan’s content & structure; tenor (and conveyed, unspoken messages from that tenor); her physicality; and a few other factors. The energy of these types of short talks can be so enlivening and community-rich.
- Boldness: your creative confidence are bold. They were evident from stage despite the strange technical issues with sound.
- Technical failure (and how you handled it): the inconsistant audio and video tech distracted, in my view, from you achieving consistent audience connection. It seemed you were cognizant of this as well. People in the audience including myself were physically leaning in and sometimes sighing from frustration. Given this audience squirm-like reaction (and the tech issues being beyond your control) – you brought perceived steadiness and (mostly) sense of command. Congrats! This can be so hard to do.
- Assertion of vocal volume and ideas: Your sense of command came across as flustered at first (briefly, once you realized how off-putting the audience found the poor audio tech to be). But overall, to reiterate, you appeared centered. Audio is paramount as you are aware, and when it fails especially in front of a robust nighttime audience, drawing from pure inner resolve can be the only accessible tool to relate. You raising the volume of your voice and even slowing down more helped the audience better register your concepts (a lot). Very effective.
- Content structure (with a suggestion): It was clear a lot of big picture consideration went into your ‘five ways tech is creating a counter culture’. I craved however a tight, clear reference to those five things up front — a simple forecast of what was to come from your point of view — before you elaborated on them further in the body of your talk. As a raw example potentially for next time:
- “I want to look at inclusion, democratic themes, leveled hierarchy….and how these factors lead to a culture we couldn’t even imagine before our social tech era.”
- That’s my rough vernacular I realize vs your authentic voice. But given the energetic crowd and you being the last act, I sought knowing what your five things were very early on, again in a brief way, as to fortify my retention rate by the time you explained each one directly. This structural choice gives the memory a chance to identify and better sequence meaning. It helps the audience’s brain recall, connects, and mentally cement core elements i.e. “Ah yes she’s mentioned this term or phrase before – I’m with her…”
- Your use of the term ‘counter culture’: It’s a bold and assertive term. At the end of your talk however, I didn’t believe your progression/lead-up to this type of term was clear. It left me curious, and somewhat unresolved about what you meant to communicate.
- Potential visual distraction (your hair): You brushed your hair from your face at least three times — which is not the end of the universe by any stretch! The hair style certainly is flattering. Given your confident and animated expression however, I wanted to engage with you visually -without- visual interruption from hair and related hand movement to brush it away. Please consider pulling the hair back in future.
- Word of caution for when your ‘inner voice’ escapes with self-referentials: A few times you expressed self-referential phrases like “Yes I’ve had three kids with this bod”, with a few others yet those didn’t linger in my attention span like this ‘bod’ reference. This phrasing comes across as playful, but also as an unintended escape by your inner voice. As your (friendly but resourceful!) storytelling coach, I want to emphasize that these self-referrals are a verbal distraction from consistent audience connection (and also a deterrent from your content’s overall progression). You may try – before your next talk – an intensive practice run of this specific transition in your talk. Try repeating this chunk from the one preceding concept to the next for at least 10 times in succession. This repetition exercise gives your brain’s linguistic nerves a specific outlet, and helps to alleviate the pressure off your mental ‘inner voice’ wanting to escape.
Photo attribution “Final thesis critique” by adam under Creative Commons license