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My company recently gave a series of presentations regarding its progress and what their plans are for the next couple of years. As we have no large rooms to do a presentation to everyone at once, one of our colleagues in HR whom I'm on good terms with - 'Mary' - is giving the presentation to 10-15 of us each day. We can attend any session so long as we go to one of them.

It started as a summary of the company's progress and what our financial projections for the next couple years are. Unfortunatly the rest was filled with too much jargon and almost no meaningful information; references to the likes of 'fostering synergy' and 'managing roadmaps', but without going into any detail about how these apply to us as individuals or to the company. In case it was just myself misunderstanding things, I asked a few of my colleagues (across different departments) who were at the same meeting and they were just as lost for words as me. I attended one of Mary's first sessions and so she has emailed a few of us asking for feedback. As she seems to have only emailed a few of us specifically, it's not likely I can ignore her.

If I cared not for the consequences, my honest feedback currently would be "The first five minutes could have just been put in an email. I guess the rest will be fleshed out later?". Aside from the obvious, I would be reluctant to give feedback like this because:

  • Mary is technically my superior and was seemingly confident in what she talked about. She may not be pleased if feedback points to most of a talk making little sense.
  • Mary might have been asked by someone above her to give an hour-long talk with five minutes of material and she tried to pad it out.
  • Mary herself might not have known what she was talking about and I wouldn't want to come across as 'calling her out' on it.

My question is; how can I effectively give constructive feedback to a presentation or event with little meaningful or relevant information?

  • 1
    This question seems to boil down to whether you should honestly give a negative feedback or lie. – Dmitry Grigoryev Jul 4 '18 at 16:13
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You explicitely ask for constructive feedback. There are actually fairly simple rules and steps to achieve that:

  1. State what you have observed
  2. State what was good
  3. State what could be improved (not "what was bad" but "how could it be improved")

While giving your feedback, you should:

  • Stay objective. Focus on description rather than judgement.
  • Describe observations from your point of view. ("I didn't understand" instead of "Nobody understood")
  • Balance positive and negative feedback, as well as the overall amount of your feedback. Don't overwhelm the recipient.

In general, following these rules will improve the chances of your feedback beeing percieved as professional and actually be accepted. The receiver will not feel devastated because you found positive things to say about the presentation. The receiver will not feel attacked because you concentrate on your personal experience of the presentation, not general judgement.

You can do a google search for "constructive feedback" and find more elaborate instructions.

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As someone who's had to sit through 70 page plus powerpont presentations in the past, I feel your pain.

You can give feedback and suggest a different way of doing something with one simple sentence.

Thanks for the presentation - can you please circulate the document/PPT to the team - I'm not sure about anyone else, but I find it hard to read presentations and listen at the same time and take everything in.

This subtly passes the point that the presentation was too word heavy.

Hopefully, you can then lead on to suggest better ways of presenting this information in future. More diagrams, less reading through of thousands of words, more questions/discusion in the presentation.

If the long presentations continue, consider inviting a senior manager to join the audience.

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My question is; how can I effectively give constructive feedback to a presentation or event with little meaningful or relevant information?

Not really.

These kinds of presentations, unfortunately, are common in many orgs. They're generally a waste of time because the exec-level people who really care about the content already know everything and the rank-and-file either don't care, or can't do anything with the info.

If you have a very strong relationship of trust with Mary, you can give some direct feedback. In particular, feedback about jargon might be useful. People in finance/accounting tend to use jargon heavily and are blissfully unaware the normal folks don't live-and-breath the language of quarterly reports. The person giving the presentation might not even understand what they're actually saying. So, you can make some remarks about needing a bit more clarity and plain language.

I expect, however, that an HR person will only be interested in giving a polished presentation that fulfills the requirements of upper management to disclose some pieces of information to the company's staff. The info was likely compiled by whatever scant information the c-level staff provided.

Don't be optimistic that your remarks will be at all actionable for Mary.

Additionally...

Circulating slides is a no-no. Such things have a tendency to get emailed to people outside of the org and that leads to a lot of problems for the company and the hapless soul that did the emailing.

If some piece of information is obviously missing, it is probably ON PURPOSE. Making inquiries about that can lead to problems for the asker.

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