What You Can Learn about People from Self-Critiques

When I run my presentations workshops, I always begin the post-presentation coaching session by asking the presenter for their own assessment of how they did. It’s a sure-fire way to gauge their understanding of the elements of effective presentations, and it can also save time in the debrief. In addition, it provides a glimpse into who they are; almost invariably, they tell me something about themselves without being aware of it.

It seems like every workshop contains a bell-curve distribution of self-assessment types. Here’s a range of reactions that I get, starting at the right (good) side of the curve:

  • Those who did a good job in their presentations but can list the top three things they would like to improve.
  • Those who did a good job but admit they’re not aware of what they need to improve—and want to hear what coaches have to say.
  • Those whose presentations needed work and know it, and want to hear how to get better.
  • Those who did a good job and are therefore uninterested in hearing any improvement suggestions.
  • Those whose presentations fell short of expectations and know it, but they have a ready excuse, such as not having enough time to prepare, or they always do better in front of real customers.
  • Those who didn’t do a good job but thought it was great. And when they get coaching, they argue against every point that is made. They embody what psychologists call the Dunning-Kruger Effect, where those who are least skilled are most overconfident in their ability.

It would seem pointless to even waste my breath trying to coach those last two, but I always make it a point to give them very detailed feedback, even though I know they aren’t listening. That’s because without knowing it they are serving as excellent teaching tools for everyone else in the class who does want to learn. And the best part is, they don’t even know the valuable part they’re playing!

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