I’ve been presenting at conferences for years. Over 20 years to more precise.
One of the common occurrences is that someone points out a typo or grammatical error on one of my slides in the comment section of the feedback form. I recently had this happen in a Certified Agile Leadership class. One of the feedback post-it notes on the first day pointed out a few typos. While I appreciate the feedback, I often wonder if there is more feedback than simply minutia…
If you read the feedback on Amazon for my Scrum Product Ownership book, some of the reviewers say the same thing. They talk about copy edit quality and the errors. These folks are right. I should have spent more time and money on the editing process. But if you look at the vast majority of the reviewers, they seemed to have overlooked those mistakes and received great value from the book.
And the detractors really seem to rate the book much lower based on the simple errors, simply overlooking the real value of the book. It’s as if they can’t see the forest for the trees.
I was chatting with some colleagues after an afternoon session at our local TriAgile conference. I’ll call them Mary and David.
Mary had just delivered a session, which David had attended.
All three of us had worked together before and we knew each other fairly well. Mary asked David, how he liked her session. His basic response:
- Your mic was too low, so it was hard hearing you in the back.
- You spoke too fast.
- Sometimes you didn’t finish your thoughts before moving onto another topic or theme.
While Mary was thankful for the feedback, I was wondering something. Not once did David give her any meaningful feedback on the content of her material. And to be honest, this was a fairly compelling workshop. For example, he didn’t:
- Explain what moved him or what hadn’t, and why.
- Talk about any of the strategies she had discussed.
- Explain what he liked about the presentation.
- Give her ideas on things to specifically add, change, or delete.
While there is something to be said about getting editing / grammatical feedback for a book or delivery feedback for a presentation, I’m struggling with it being the only feedback.
It’s really the minutia. It’s the nits. And I wonder why some folks seem to get stuck there and not see the bigger picture or value proposition of the overall work?
I’m not staying that the minutia feedback isn’t valuable or correct. Clearly, it is. But when that’s the only thing you have to say, I’m wondering if you’ve missed something valuable…to you? Something that would have made an impact on your thoughts, strategies, tactics, or approaches to your profession or career? Something a bit more compelling than a slipped microphone or a misspelled word?
Did you notice the picture of the polar bears in the heading? Do you realize that:
- The picture is a little grainy?
- The water takes up way too much of the space?
- The lighting in the shot isn’t optimal?
- The bears aren’t centered in the frame?
- And, I wish we could see some background references to determine the location of the shot.
And while all of these are true, there’s a big picture here that I personally focus on. The picture reminds me of the effects of global warming. And how the behavior of man impacts our environment. And how these two bears put a face on that impact. And on the love and power of a mother trying to shield her cub from the danger and fear.
It’s a compelling picture for me that makes me think and engages my emotions. I’d like to share that with the photographer as well, beyond my nit-picking feedback above.
So, what’s my point?
I want to challenge anyone reading this who provides minutia-based feedback to also ask themselves if they were also paying attention to the big picture?
I think it a cop-out to only focus on the minutia and not pay attention to the forest as well. It’s easy to nit-pick. The feedback is easy to give. And it feels good, because it’s all constructively negative.
It’s much harder to pay attention to everything and to give balanced feedback that covers the minutia and the complex themes. That is both positive and constructive. That is delivered in such as way so that the feedback is received well and helps the presenter or author improve their strengths and weaknesses.
So, the next time you’re tempted to nit-pick your feedback, don’t. Take the extra step to be more thoughtful, balanced, and personally engaged.
Stay agile my friends,