During the past year, I’ve figured out a few decent techniques to encourage people to give you a critique. This is something I still struggle with so I’d appreciate your ideas as well. A few things that seem to work for me:
ASK FOR JUST ONE THING
If you ask people to tell you ‘anything’ or ‘everything’ that you could improve upon, they’ll usually stumble about and not give you anything useful. But, ask them for the ‘one thing’ you could improve on and they’ll at least wrack their brain to come up with a single criticism. This is much better than getting nothing.
ASK PEOPLE WHO KNOW YOU WELL
The best post-presentation critiques I’ve received have come from a long-time coworker and my father. People who’ve been on the other end of your own stinging criticisms are much more comfortable throwing some back at you. This is great! My dad’s a really nice guy, but he’s both heard me carp at him more than a few times and he’s a seasoned university lecturer. He was kind but blunt with several pieces of good advice.
ASK DRUNK PEOPLE
Seriously. After a workshop at Future of Web Apps in Miami last year, I asked the attendees to give me some honest feedback and got a tepid response. But… that night, a couple of the guys were pretty drunk and (standing a little too close for comfort and with potent whiskey breath) gave me a healthy dose of totally unvarnished advice. That advice, which was to show more examples and to cover less material but in more depth, was fantastic.
ASK GROUPS OF PEOPLE
This seemed counterintuitive to me. I assumed that if you cornered an individual that you could get good one-on-one advice. But, if you can coax just one person in a small group to give you a single piece of advice, the rest sometimes sense blood in the water and will join in too — yay! Once the ice is broken and people see that you actually didn’t rip the critiquer’s head off, it’s much easier for the other people to add their own comments.
People are eager to please. Heck, that’s why they’re being too nice to you in the first place. If you seem genuinely disappointed that no one is offering you criticism, people sometimes throw you a bone to please you. Like in the previous point, once you’ve broken the ice…