After the Speech: Learning from the Audience

Learning Objectives

Explain how to solicit productive feedback from the audience after a speech.

It is very common for people to forget about their presentation once it is done. It is relieving to finish and move on. However, that is not how one becomes a better public speaker. To grow and learn and be asked to speak again, you should consider how the speech went.


One way is to survey the audience. This survey can be electronic or on paper. These surveys do not have to be elaborate. Two questions can be asked: what was done well and what can be improved? Other surveys can be more in-depth, like a course evaluation, which is a survey usually given at the end of the course about what worked and didn’t work to improve student learning. After all, professors need to know how they are doing with their presentations too.

If you decide to gather feedback through a survey, make sure you read the feedback and incorporate what you learn. Do not make judgements on a response. Instead think about why that response might be there and what kind of change is needed.

Informal Reports

A man holding up the number 3

Your feedback probably won’t be instant as shown here, but it’s good to solicit feedback shortly after the event.

Another way that you can adapt your speaking is to ask someone in the audience how the speech went. Ask that person to be honest with constructive ideas and as specific as possible. This allows you to open up a dialog about your presentation and learn what you really want to keep and what you will improve in your next speech. If you can, you can ask a friend to come with you to a speech and deconstruct how it went with that person. That friend can tell you their thoughts on how the audience reacted, whether they felt there was a connection, what might be improved, or what worked really well. Informal reports work best if they follow the following principles[1]:

  1. Solicit feedback in advance. If you let a friend or colleague in the audience know you’d like to ask for their feedback after the performance, they’ll be better able to keep track of concrete details about your performance. They can also be very helpful in offering another perspective on audience reactions.
  2. Be specific about what kind of feedback you want. Let your friend or colleague know what you’re most interested in working on. For instance, if you’re working on your vocal tone and pace, let your friend or colleague know to focus on that. Perhaps you want to know how your nonverbal language comes across, or maybe there’s a specific part of the talk you’re most interested in getting feedback on. The more this person knows about your main concerns, the better they’ll be able to help you.
  3. Ask for feedback right away. Details get fuzzy very quickly, so it’s important to solicit feedback as close to the event as possible.


Self-evaluation can be one of the most effective ways to learn from and improve your public speaking performance. To do it well, however, you have to follow a few principles:

  1. Self-evaluation must be immediate. Don’t wait a few days or weeks after your performance. As soon as you can, spend a few minutes writing down your impressions (a dedicated journal can be a great place to keep track of these thoughts).
  2. Self-evaluation must be structured and specific. Don’t just stop with “OK, that went well” or “Yow, that was rough.” Instead, ask yourself specific questions like “which parts of the speech seemed to land best with the audience? How do I feel about my nonverbal presentation? How did I do with the time limit?” In the video below, Allison Shapira describes the three questions she uses for self-evaluation: “What did I do well? What didn’t I do so well? What am I going to do differently next time?”
  3. Self-evaluation must be frequent. It’s hard to track progress when you only have one or two distant data points. Instead, try to begin a practice of regular self-evaluation around your speaking skills. Even after a relatively informal situation like a professor’s office hours, a discussion with co-workers, or a team meeting, jot down some notes about what you did effectively and what you’d like to improve.


Most people don’t like to see themselves on camera. However, watching a recording of your speech can be the best way to get a sense of what the audience experiences when you speak. You’ll be able to catch all sorts of details you wouldn’t otherwise notice, from filler words like “um” and “like” to awkward gestures or movements. You’ll also see a lot of the good points of your speaking style, and learn to build on your strengths to become a more effective public communicator.

Recap: Self evaluation

In this short video, former opera singer and public speaking expert Allison Shapira describes an easy but effective method for improving your public presentation skills through self-evaluation.

You can view the transcript for “How to evaluate your speeches and presentations” here (opens in new window).


  1. Tips adapted from Gonzalez, Meghan. "How to Get Feedback on Speeches." Global Public Speaking. 24 Mar. 2017,