What can we learn from negative evaluation comments?

Cheer up – you can make use of all the negative comments on that happy sheet, says Bryce Sanders.

Trainers are only human. When we review evaluation sheets we congratulate ourselves on the positive comments and often discount the negative ones. Evaluation comments can be influenced by many factors. 

If you are the last speaker and the program is running late, people may take off points because you spoke too long, although you stayed within the time limit. It’s that ‘butts on seats’ impatience thing.  But what can we learn from negative feedback?

Twelve positive lessons from negative audience feedback

Based on reviewing evaluation summaries from training I’ve delivered, here’s a list of negative comments and lessons learned. These were listed under ‘What did you find least valuable?’ or ‘General Comments’.

They have a different role

What they say:

  • ‘It didn’t pertain much to what I look for in (role). It was great for traditional folks.’ (New Orleans, LA)
  • ‘Just not information specific to my practice.’ (New Orleans, LA)

Lesson learned:

Hopefully the majority of people in the room fit the profile for the material you are presenting. You could ask at the beginning: ‘How many people have been doing this job for under five years? Over 10 years? If there’s lots in the second category, mention how parts might be useful.

Prefer best practices

What they say:

  • ‘More real life experiences.’  (Philadelphia, PA)
  • ‘Would prefer best practice content of successful financial advisors.’ (Salt Lake City, UT)

Lessons learned:

Practitioners want to learn from other people in the field. Explain how the examples were gathered. Reference a name or two, if possible.

Wanted more, wanted less

What they say:

‘Not enough time.’ (Philadelphia, PA)

‘Too long of a presentation, lost interest.’ (New Orleans, LA)

Lessons learned:

‘I wanted more’ is a compliment in disguise. ‘Too long’ can be solved by recognising most people have a three-minute attention span. Link together many ideas taking three minutes or less. If they don’t consider it relevant, they ‘zone out’ until the next idea. Everyone should walk away with something.

Speaker delivery

What they say:

  • ‘Could slow down more.’ (San Antonio, TX)
  • ‘Speaker too animated for me.’ (Vancouver, BC)

Lessons learned:

Although you might have been specifically hired for your style, different parts of the country process information at different speeds. There’s the ‘get it done now’ vs. the ‘relaxed approach.’ Know the characteristics of the audience composition.

Audience participation

What they say:

  • ‘Not enough interaction.’ (New York, NY)

Lessons learned:

It’s difficult to go wrong when you involve the audience. Bear in mind this adds onto your delivery time. At the least you can pose questions and ask for a show of hands. Pick out someone from time to time. Ask them to elaborate.

I need something different

What they say:

  • ‘What do you do if you are younger and the event is filled with older members?’ (Philadelphia, PA)
  • ‘Presentation geared towards established advisors.’  (Philadelphia, PA)

Lessons learned:

Hopefully, these comments are in the minority. Announce audience members can call and ask for advice about specific situations. Let them know this is free. Make the contact information easily available.  However, if 5% of the audience ever reached out, it would be a lot.


What they say:

  • ‘I could use more help on the next steps.’ (New York, NY)
  • ‘Good ideas, but hard to translate the ideas in session into business.’ (Philadelphia, PA)

Lessons learned:

These comments often come when you have presented only one part of a larger program or you have a shortened slot on the program. If you have written articles or a book explaining the parts you haven’t covered, tell them about it. Also, provide an action plan at the meeting. Many people need a roadmap to show how to get started.

Common sense

What they say:

  • ‘It was good information but a lot of it is either stuff you know or you don’t. If you don’t, you have to be self-aware of a plan to improve and would probably require some coaching.’ (Philadelphia, PA)
  • ‘General, common sense ideas regarding social setting.’ (Philadelphia, PA)

Lessons learned:

It sounds like a belittling comment, but many people don’t use common sense. Pose questions to the audience: ‘How many of you have been in this situation? What did you do next?’

Quantity or volume of material covered

What they say:

  • ‘So much information so quickly. Hard to focus on how to transition.’ (Newtown)
  • ‘A little overwhelming.’ (Salt Lake City, UT)

Lessons learned:

You packed a lot into the program. You might have spoken too fast. Let them know where they can access the material (articles written). Invite them to call with questions.


What they say:

  • ‘Would be good to have all the slides and info available to us.’ (St. Louis, MO)
  • ‘Not all slides were in the handout.’ (Philadelphia)

Lessons learned:

You might not distribute your slides because they are proprietary. You are concerned what might happen if they are passed along to third parties. However, there was a lot of data they can’t get elsewhere. Explain you don’t distribute your slides, but if anyone would like to copy down text or numbers, you will put the slides back up during the break. 

They can also call and you will tell them what the slide in question says, line by line.


What they say:

  • ‘I’ve used these ideas.’ (Brookfield, WI)
  • ‘Dealing with friends. If they want to do business with me they will call. If not, I don’t want them.’ (New Orleans, LA)

Lessons Learned:

This could be an ‘I’m tired and want to go home’ issue. They are resistant. There’s not a lot you can do after the fact.


What they say:

  • ‘The breaks. Unnecessary. Fantastic material.’ (Philadelphia, PA)
  • ‘The lunch.’  (Various)

Lessons learned:

This is usually beyond your control. All comments get included in the evaluation summary you prepare. The organiser will see the comments.

We are often resistant to reading negative evaluation comments. They can teach us valuable lessons.


About the author

Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. 


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