Applying feedback to a speech

Feb 15, 2021 7:22 AM

Toastmasters encourages positive feedback by making speech evaluations an integral part of the practice. Applying constructive criticism is valuable for improving speech content and delivery. How else are you supposed to know how an audience will react to what you say without fielding it in front of a live audience? In this post, I’ll discuss the process of receiving and applying feedback to a speech.

On Jul 22, 2019, I presented the first rendition of “Making a consistent cup of coffee” to the Mountain View Toastmasters club. I gave this speech twice as part of my “Evaluation and Feedback” project, where the objective was to present a speech on any topic, receive feedback, and apply the feedback to the second speech. Here is the speech.

Click here for a transcript of the speech.

Transcribed from this recording using HappyScribe.

[00:00:00.050] Hello everyone.

[00:00:08.900] So today I’ll be talking about making a cup of coffee. A couple of years ago, my dad gave me an Aeropress for my birthday. It’s kind of a nice contraption. This is the bottom portion of it. I’d put it in the same category as French bread. Sort of like some other fancy coffee maker that you made. It makes good coffee. It’s kind of tricky to use though. Show of hands

[00:00:35.110], has anyone here made their own cup of coffee?

[00:00:40.170] That’s more than half of you guys. I’m sure you all have had the experience of making a cup of coffee and the coffee not coming out quite right. Whether it’s a little weak or bitter or maybe even sour. And for those who don’t drink coffee, think about an experience where you’ve experimented with a recipe, you’ve tried it out and it doesn’t quite come out right.

[00:01:05.280] Today I really want to talk about the process of making a cup of coffee. My normal cup of coffee, but I think there’s a lot of other applications too. So yeah.

[00:01:18.590] So to set a baseline, let me talk about the worst cup of coffee I’ve never had. I was sitting at an all you can eat buffet in Las Vegas. And I asked for a cup of coffee. It’s early in the morning and like I just want it all pick me up. So I asked my waiter, hey, can I get a cup of coffee and she walks over to this industrial sized coffee machine. It’s full of coffee that’s probably been made yesterday. She pours out a cup. She comes over and she hands it to me and I bring it up to my face. The steaming liquid

[00:01:51.620] and like expectations of bitter coffee and it’s sour. Coffee is not supposed to be sour. Coffee comes from the coffee bean or the coffee berry and berries can be sour. But coffee is not supposed to be mouth puckering sour. So back to this Aeropress. I made it a few times when I first got it and when I made it it was sour. Coffee is not supposed to be sour. So the process that I used to make coffee that’s not sour is to do it once., look it over, and do it again.

[00:02:32.760] OK. So how do you make coffee with an Aeropress. First you read the instructions, like any reasonable person does. So what this is actually is this bottom piece is kind of like a filter. You have this paper filter. You put it down, you screwed onto like a cylindrical piece that’s not pictured here. You’ll, you’ll take a scoop of coffee. You’ll look for finally grown coffee because you’re making somewhat of an espresso. You take water, you boil it and you make sure that the water is one hundred seventy six degrees Fahrenheit or 80 degrees Celsius and you pour it up to this line.

[00:03:14.830] That’s two because two is the number I want. Then you stir for 10 seconds. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, ten. And then you take this plunger and you plunge it into this container for 20 to 40 seconds or however long like you can put up with it and out comes a thick coffee brew. It’s like espresso, but it’s not espresso because it’s not pushed through a machine where you’re putting very hot water to very fine grinds for a short amount of time, but it’s pretty thick and I add water to it

[00:03:54.770] to make an American. So take a sip. And yeah I screwed it up. It’s sour. I keep making sour coffee. And so this is the point where you’ve done it once and you’re trying to figure out why didn’t come out the way you wanted it to. So what you do is you go to Google and you type in, “Why is my copy coming out sour”. And I’ll save you the results and I’ve already kind of put it down into a small form. Coffee is sour if you under extracted it and you can screw up coffee in three ways: one the grind can be too coarse or too fine, the water can be too hot or too cold, or the brewing time could be too short or too long.

[00:04:42.300] So I followed the instructions. I think the brewing time’s fine. I heated up the water to — I don’t know, I don’t know what it was actually. It’s not boiling and I waited for it to stop making a noise and when it stops making a noise it’s roughly the right temperature. Finally the grind. Very inexperienced coffee, I grinded my own coffee. And I wasn’t really sure whether the coffee I made was good enough. So I looked up online. What you should do is five pulses, one second each and this gives you a very consistent grind.

[00:05:16.690] You can, you can kind of see what it looks like. So cool. The grinds are actually smaller than they were before. So let’s do it again. So I take a new filter, I put it in, I twisted on pour in my coffee grinds, I pour in hot water stir, for 10 seconds, plunge for 20 to 40 seconds, add some water, taste it and it’s OK. This is like my normal cup of joe. This is this is what I expect not sour coffee but just kind of a good coffee, whatever good is to you.

[00:05:53.830] So this process of doing it once looking over and doing it again is something that I kind of do in a lot of different places, not just coffee, although I’ve made this coffee now over 100 times and it’s come out consistent. It’s not sour. It’s not good. It’s like it’s not very fancy or maybe even particularly good but consistent and it’s not ever. So yeah I like doing this in all sorts of different ways. I think I’m researching about something. Kind of understanding what you’re doing and then being able to control the different variables when you’re making something is very.

[00:06:38.230] It’s a nice feeling. So I appreciate the normal cup of coffee and I hope you guys if you want can make your own brew too. Thinking.

During the evaluation section of the meeting, I was given feedback by a fellow Toastmaster, Steve, on things that I did well and things that I could improve on in the future. Despite this taking place over a year and a half ago, I clearly remember learning from his evaluation.

The first was that he noticed that there were oohs and laughing coming from the audience. I was surprised to hear that the audience enjoyed the speech; I was so tense that I never noticed the audience’s reaction. I’ve recently been getting better at gauging the audience, but it doesn’t come easy, especially in an online format.

He also observed my frequent use of the word “sour” to describe coffee. When I rewatched this recording, “sour” was very apparent. I dug up an old transcript I made of the speech and found that I used the word 14 times! That’s far too repetitive.

Finally, he challenged me to better incorporate eye contact with the audience to build rapport and engagement. I made this my primary goal for the next iteration of the speech. I’ve always acknowledged this as an area of potential improvement, so this next speech would be my crucible.

A scanned copy of my evaluation form. Thank you, Steve, for the feedback and permission to share this form!

Later that evening, at a club social event at Tied House, I got feedback from more members. One suggested that it was a bit weird just having the bottom piece of the AeroPress. Yes, that was probably true. Another told me that they were waiting in anticipation for a more profound message — and that I could have found a better word than “nice” to describe the experience.

With all of this feedback in my hands, I sat on it for a few months. When I came back to it again, I made some significant changes to the speech.

  • I rewrote and memorized my opening and conclusions. It helped me set the pace and provided room for a more thoughtful conclusion.
  • I made sure to actually bring my AeroPress. I planned to use the demonstration to make eye-contact with the entire audience by moving after each step in the process.
  • I practiced a lot more than I did the first time around. The results speak for themselves — I was at ease and spoke with a better rhythm.

I presented the second rendition to the club on Dec 2, 2019. You might be interested in this post on practicing from an outline for more details on the preparation process.

Though only a few months difference, these two speeches feel leagues apart in terms of quality. The feedback I received had a strong influence on how I approached the speech the second time around. The practice also smoothed the delivery. And, though not in my control, the camera angle was a bit better. It’s actually challenging for me to sit through the first rendition of the speech, but much more comfortable to watch the second one several times over.

I attribute my improvement to great feedback from the entire club and the effort I invested in learning from previous experiences. I hope this short arc proves useful to you. If anything, keep recordings and watch yourself move the needle toward competency. I often feel as if progress is a fleeting goal that can never be reached. It’s motivating to be proven wrong and to watch evidence of my growth.