Speaker Evaluations and #SHRM18

by Matthew Stollak on Friday, March 23, 2018


Last year on the SHRM blog, I bemoaned the sorry state of affairs of speaker evaluations by those HR professionals who are supposedly experienced in the art of giving feedback.  Too often, the comments given to speakers are rarely helpful, or, frankly, downright rude.  

Once again, I served as the Programming Co-Chair for the 2017 Wisconsin State SHRM Conference, and had the opportunity to review the evaluations and comments given to speakers.  All responses (in italics below) are from real HR professionals who took the time to actually make these statements.

"Ok." Fine." "Disappointed." - One word answers are the bane of performance evaluations.  Does anyone want to hear any of these words? Is there any context or explanation as to why or how the audience member reached that conclusion?  Even "fine" has turned into a negative. Give the speaker more constructive information to help him or her understand how the session or material could be improved.

"Pretty basic information." "Basic knowledge, no new information." - As above, does this help the speaker become better?  What does the speaker do with this feedback? Further, what's basic to you, might not be basic to someone else.  


"Had a horrible coughing fit and had to leave"

"Overslept" (for an early bird session)
"Wrong room." 

"Room was way too hot"
"Room was freezing"
"Was not aware of the room change for the session I planned on attending."
- Imagine being a speaker;  You've spent hours preparing for your session, and traveled a significant distance to serve the HR community. You open up the results, and these are the kind of comments left as feedback.  Surely, there are other places on the evaluation sheet to provide this kind of lucid commentary.


"EXACT same session and material as the year prior." - so why did you attend?  There are a number of sessions being offered simultaneously that you could've attended instead.  With over 1,200 attendees in WI (and over 12,000 at SHRM Annual), offering repeat speakers and sessions provides an opportunity for others who might have missed a quality speaker the first time around.

"Not what I thought it would be." "The session was not what I was expecting." - This is my new favorite evaluation phrase.  Once again, there is no context for the speaker to react to and adjust. What exactly were you expecting?

"The presenter did a good job, but it wasn't what I was expecting and was not at all applicable to my organization.  In other words, it was more my fault." - an improvement, and actual acknowledgement of blame.

So, as your get ready to attend the SHRM Annual Conference, keep the following guidelines in mind:
1.  Not all sessions are going to be winners.  SHRM did its best to select the speakers, and those speakers are certainly not there to make you feel bad.
2. If you are not enjoying the session you are in, leave.  The speaker will not be insulted. 

3.  Be cognizant of what you are saying about someone else.  If you felt the session missed the mark, provide constructive information that would be useful in making it better. 

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