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Be ‘SMART’ - Feedback and Coaching can Raise the Standard

Most of us at some point during our lives will have been set SMART or at least ‘SMARTish’ objectives to achieve. These may be ones that we set ourselves or ones that our managers have set for us. Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of modern day life it is all too easy to overlook the standards we should be aiming for when the objectives are ticked off our list as complete.

So I share with you the Skype conversation with my son (2½ hours, I kid not) around his presentation for his Ancient History degree to emphasise the importance of not only completing the objective but completing it to a higher standard. Now I should say up front that by his own admission he isn’t one for stand up presenting and he always insisted to me that he would be reading most of the script he had prepared – unlike his dad whose job it is to train and coach! 

However let’s go with the SMART concept for a minute. The objective would fit this framework:
• Specific – definitely.
• Measurable – yes in this instance although it was not just about having a presentation ready for the agreed date.
• Achievable – no disagreement here, there was a reasonable amount of effort needed to produce and then present on the day and the topic was agreed with the tutor.
• Relevant – yes as he could certainly impact on the presentation and he had most of the skills necessary to complete the objective.
• Time based – on a number of fronts. The presentation had to be ready for a set day and had to last no more than 15 minutes. Now here’s a scary part. At 13 minutes you are given a yellow card so you know you only have 2 minutes left. At 15 minutes you are given a red card and must stop exactly where you are!

Well back to Skype then. Two lap tops open one Skype and one presentation.  Presentation design was great and animation was ‘appear’ so no text flying in all over the place. Good use of pictures and maps – all very clear copies. An initial run through came out at 15.20mins. A further two runs came in at 14.55mins and 14.58mins, perhaps a little too close to red card territory.

So I asked questions as to where time could be saved, coached a little on some of the sentences he was using especially those he stumbled on during the dry runs and he was able to tweak his notes as we continued the conversation. Next dry run was just over 14mins. So job done – or was it? 

What about the standard, what would make him feel even more comfortable presenting?  These questions from me revealed he would like to present the conclusion, see how long it took and he would then have a clear marker of when he needed to be three slides from the end. Great result on next dry run - 13.20mins. So again job done? 

Well no as we’d still not talked about standard. It would have been easy to finish here knowing that the objective of a 15 minute presentation would have been met and ticked off the list and to a reasonable standard. A few more questions from me on standard revealed that he had a check list outlining what levels he needed to reach to gain a certain grade in 5 key areas - from the use of Powerpoint, to his presentation skills and knowledge of the subject. One by one we worked these key areas and through feedback and coaching rated each 2.1, 1st, 2.2 etc. Where his ‘mark’ fell below the standard he felt he should achieve we worked on that element until he believed he would attain the mark his efforts deserved – a touch of ‘being realistic’ also included here. 

On presentation skills he identified 5 slides he would know off by heart and be able to look up and engage the audience, he changed some words in his conclusion slide to make it even more powerful and added a piece of animation he’d used earlier to emphasise his concluding points.

Job done?  Yes! Through feedback and coaching he had been able to not only critique his own presentation to improve the overall standard he had also identified slides where he could look up and engage the audience, therefore raising his own standards of presenting.

Result on the day as I’m sure you’re intrigued to know? Just under 13.50mins and because the tutors knew he was on the conclusion they didn’t even show the yellow card!  He had good feedback from the other students and even made the tutors laugh as he had used, unknown to me, one of their map slides – he just smiled politely at them when he heard the “That’s my slide” comment from the back of the room.

And what about the coach? Well I learnt much about Greeks and Barbarians and how their cultures became blurred - in 2½ hours it is surprising how much you can pick up, even the difficult names! Although more importantly a reminder that it is all too easy to overlook standards when we perhaps rush to achieve the many objectives that we or others have set and how feedback and coaching can raise the standard others can achieve.

Finally: The objective for me?  Easy really – no yellow or red cards on my next presentation! What a test that could be for all of us who present. Feel free to give this yellow and red card challenge a go!


May 16 2013Malc Lewis

Malc Lewis

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