Improving from feedback | Toastmasters evaluation project

Improving from feedback | Toastmasters evaluation project

Listening to feedback on your performance can be uncomfortable, but this feedback is essential to growth

Last night I gave a talk at my local Toastmasters club, Thame Speakers.

I filmed last night’s talk and uploaded it to my YouTube Channel as my daily video.

I have recorded my thoughts on progress, challenges, and ambitions every day this year as a way to keep me focused on my goal of becoming established as a motivational wellbeing speaker.

The talk itself was on a subject I’ve been writing and speaking about a great deal lately: how to do more of the things we already know we should be doing.

Toastmasters talks are generally only 5-7 minutes long, so part of the challenge is to produce a presentation that has a beginning, middle and end, and still delivers something of value.

I focused my attention on one aspect of the mindset seminar I’m giving in Thame next month: how to connect the WHAT to the WHY.


At a Toastmasters club meeting, each speaker has a ‘personal evaluator’, who makes notes during the speech and then gets up later on to deliver their feedback.

It’s proved to be an immensely powerful system for learning, and I have both received and given dozens of evaluations over the last 9 years I’ve been a member.

But that doesn’t make it any more comfortable!

Reflecting back what you already know

Having somebody reflect back what you already know, yet haven’t wanted to admit to yourself, is tough.

You thought you were getting away with it… that nobody was noticing… then you realise you were wrong.

The problem with not admitting faults and limitations to yourself is that you can’t do anything about them.

But when it’s articulated by another person in a way that is empty of judgement and full of support, no matter how uncomfortable it may feel it can now be addressed.

Points for me to work on

As it turned out, the evaluation from this particular talk didn’t make especially uncomfortable listening.

The main points for improvement were:

1)  There was a lot in there for a short talk; strip out some of the detail

2)  Use additional rhetorical questions to the one I used at the start, to keep the audience involved in the talk

3)  Include one or two more examples to help the audience put everything into context

Learning and growing

If you’re going to endure the discomfort of listening to feedback you owe it to yourself to act upon it.

The purpose of this particular project is for me to do just that.

Having delivered the speech and listened to the feedback from my evaluator, I now need to repeat the presentation at a later date and incorporate the suggestions.

Upon which I will be evaluated again, and no doubt receive more suggestions for more improvements!


Toastmasters is great for evaluations but there’s a huge amount to be gained from self-evaluation as well.

Every time I finish a talk, whether that be here at Toastmasters, at a company, in a school or anywhere else, I spend a few minutes reflecting on it.

I try to come up with 1 or 2 things that I felt went well, and a couple of things that I might have improved on.

3 of the things I came up with for this talk were these:

1) Vary my hand gestures more

2) Move more purposefully, spending more time ‘on the spot’

3) Slow down and pause more after main points

Feedback in ‘real life’

Toastmasters is an organisation set up to help members grow through constructive, honest and supportive feedback.

But where do you get that in other areas of your life?

Most of us don’t go around telling people what we really think in case it hurts their feelings.

If somebody hasn’t actively sought critical feedback and (crucially) is ready to take it on board as an opportunity for growth (think: ‘does my bum look big in this?’!), honesty isn’t always the best policy!

So if we want useful and truthful evaluations on how we’re performing in specific areas of our lives, we have to ask in the right way.

Honest people

My friend Gerry Duffy talks about having 5 different types of people in your life, with one of them being somebody who will always tell you the truth.

Usually this person has to be somebody you believe has an educated opinion; somebody you respect and trust in their judgement.

Even they won’t usually just blurt out what you need to hear.

Here are three checks to put in place to get the most out of your honest friend feedback:

1) Give them permission to be honest with you, making it clear that they are giving you feedback on your performance and not you as a person.

2) Be ready to ask questions so that you have clarity on what they mean by what they say

3) Make sure that you are feeling robust enough to separate the INFORMATION from the EMOTION.

If you’re feeling a little vulnerable or fragile, having somebody ‘be totally honest with you’ might not be the best thing for your state of mind no matter how much of a growth opportunity it is!

Thame Seminar

We’ll be digging deeper into the subject covered in the video at the Thame ‘Knowing To Doing’ mindset seminar on September 27.

Check out this short post for more information and other details including how to book a ticket.

Confidence: Knowing that you’ll make mistakes but doing it anyway

Confidence: Knowing that you’ll make mistakes but doing it anyway

Confidence isn’t just about being certain that you’re going to be successful. It’s about knowing you’re going to make mistakes but doing it anyway.

I went to Warwick Castle a couple of weeks ago as a parent helper with my boys’ classes.

There was about 20 minutes in between activities where we were just sitting on the grass and the teachers asked the kids to draw the castle.

I figured I’d join in the fun and discovered that I really like sketching!

Confident mark making

My wife is an art teacher who regularly talks about ‘confident mark making’.

Because I was drawing in pen there was no way to erase any mistakes, which meant accepting that it probably wasn’t going to be perfect.

The only way to avoid mistakes would have been to have not started.

People might have laughed at it, or worse expected me to have been better (nothing worse than not meeting other peoples’ expectations, right?)

Knowing it’s not going to be perfect

I wrote earlier in the year about The Beginner’s Mind as it applied to Jiu Jitsu.

Going into a new sport that I had no experience of, knowing that the only way to learn would be to willingly make mistakes.

I’m learning that the same concept applies to anything you try for the first time. Removing expectations of perfection or meeting what you believe to be other peoples’ expectations, and dare to make mistakes.


I drew my castle.

The perspective is a little off, the shading could do with a bit of work and I’ve not quite got the texture of the bushes.

But you can tell it’s a castle.

With a bit more time and a bit more practice I’m confident that I could turn some of those mistakes into more meaningful marks.

Confidence isn’t just about being certain that you’ll succeed.

It’s about being certain you’re going to make mistakes and doing it anyway.

Habit building with cardistry

Habit building with cardistry

A few years ago I ran an ultra marathon workshop in Dublin.

At the beginning of the event I brought in a close up magician who walked around as people arrived doing tricks (sorry, magic), and then opened the event from the stage by pulling a €20 note that Gerry Duffy had previously signed from the middle of a kiwi fruit.

The link was ‘there’s no magic bullet for endurance running’.

Clever, right?

Actually I just love close up magic and wanted an excuse to see some in action at one of my events!

Anyway, a couple of years ago I met a friend on a Retreat called Steel – an ex-special forces marine turned close up magician.

He showed me a few bits and pointed me towards some resources, and I tried to get into doing a few minutes each day of card magic with my daughter when I got back from the trip.

But it fizzled out after a few weeks until a couple of months ago, when I decided to try again but this time as an experiment in habit building.

Applying all that I know about starting new behaviours to see if I could turn this into an established habit.

And today I want to share some of the lessons I’ve learned so far with you… not about cardistry and sleight of hand, but habit building and skill learning in general.

#1 Remove the barriers

When I tried to learn before, I had a deck of cards in the lounge and set out to do 5 minutes first thing in the morning.

The plan was to build the habit with the lowest amount of pressure possible, and 5 minutes a day seemed doable.

But it felt forced, and I didn’t always feel like handling the cards every morning. This time, I’ve placed decks of cards all over the house. I don’t do it at any set time of the day, because whenever I feel like taking a break from work or just sitting down for 5 minutes, I pick up a pack and play.

The barrier for me was inconvenience.

Having a deck right by my bed means I can do a few minutes there if I want…

before I’d have had to have got out of bed to get the lounge pack, and that was never going to happen! How can you make your new behaviours more convenient?

#2 Unpack the problem and find the bottlenecks

I had a revelation last night as I was about to do my daily video.

I’m trying to learn a movement called a ‘single hand triple revolution cut’, and was really struggling with it.

I’d watched a couple of YouTube tutorials on it, but was still not getting it. Then I realised that I couldn’t not do the move…

it was only a certain part of the move that kept stopping me.

If I could unblock that bottleneck, I’d be able to do the move.

It sounds obvious, but how many times do we say ‘I can’t do this or that’ when really it’s just a part of the whole thing that we struggle with?

When I focused on the bottleneck, I was able to figure out a way to fix it and that unlocked the rest of the move for me. Find your bottleneck and focus on fixing THAT.

#3 Practice mindfully and purposefully

It’s not just doing something for 10,000 hours that brings mastery, it’s doing the thing with PURPOSE.

What that means is that you need to be analysing what’s working and what isn’t, in order to improve and establish the habit.

For me and my cards, I try to focus on what I did at each point when something actually works.

Where was I holding the cards?

How was I turning them?

Where were my other fingers at the time? By tuning into the detail of the process, I’m getting way more feedback for when I’m doing it right, than I would if I just celebrated the random successes.

I tend to do this on the fly because the repetition cycle is so short (I can complete hundreds in a relatively short space of time).

If your new behaviour or thing happens with less frequency, like getting to the gym or eating a healthy breakfast, a great way to achieve the same mindfulness is to journal.

Simply writing down what you’ve noticed about what worked for you starts to build not only a picture of how you can replicate the good stuff, but creates new pathways in your brain that turn this new behaviour into an efficient automatic process.

That’s the principle of Attention, Intention and Repetition… when we try to build habits usually we just focus on the Repetition part (e.g. 21 days) and ignore the importance of paying Attention to the thing (and giving it significance and meaning… AKA Intention).

The power of public commitment

So there you go: 3 lessons I’ve learned from messing around with a deck of playing cards for a few minutes a day, that you can apply to your own new habits or behaviours.

Oh, and without stating last week that I was going to talk about cardistry this week, I probably wouldn’t have come up with all that.

Stay tuned for my take on cold showers, and why I find myself doing something I swore I’d never do!

Saving the planet one starfish at a time

Saving the planet one starfish at a time


I posted on Facebook yesterday that I’d been doing some work on next week’s 21 day weight loss and mindset program.

The picture accompanying the post was the one with this article, where you can see me enjoying a peppermint tea in a takeout cup.

Not something I usually do, but I didn’t want a coffee and it turns out that you get a lot more in a large takeout up than you do in a tiddly little Costa teapot!

I really didn’t think anything of it, until I had a couple of comments and messages about the environment, and how I should be using a cup-for-life.

(Or putting up with the small teapot!)

I’m not any kind of environmental campaigner, but I had to concede that it was a very valid point.

I didn’t even have a problem with looking beyond my natural tendencies to rise up against being told what I should be doing, which surprised me.

Perhaps because when I thought about it, there wasn’t really a strong enough reason to sit in a coffee shop drinking out of a takeout cup.

And, to be fair, it would be easy enough to get a cup-for-life to keep in the car for when I’m in town and want a coffee to go…

Concept to practice

I’ve understood conceptually that there’s a problem with the impact that disposable cups have on the environment, but never really thought about what I can do about it.

I’m not on a mission to save the planet, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still make a difference.

The starfish story

It reminded me of a story I head a while ago of a man and his son walking along a beach.

They came across thousands upon thousands of starfish washed up on the shore, drying out and dying in the sun.

The man picked one up and threw it back in the ocean and his son said ‘What’s the point in that? Throwing one back isn’t going to make much of a difference!’

To which the man replied, ‘No, but it made a difference to that one’.

I’m sure that story has a slightly different original meaning, but I do still think that it fits.

Lots of small changes

Big personal changes are made up of lots of tiny little ones.

And big global changes are made up of lots of individuals making small decisions.

Like drinking out of reusable cups.

Finding Purpose | Purpose simplifies and drives everything I do

Finding Purpose | Purpose simplifies and drives everything I do

Finding a purpose

I spent an hour at my local secondary school yesterday morning as part of a careers workshop for 12 and 13 year olds.

I was one of a number of ‘Human Library Books’ and the kids got to ask us questions about what we do for a living, the qualifications we needed and if we had always wanted to do it and so on.

Unconventional route

My route into becoming a ‘motivational speaker, wellbeing & performance coach’ (as per my job description yesterday) wasn’t exactly conventional.

I studied maths, physics and business studies A levels at school which lead to a masters degree in engineering, even though I can’t remember a time where I ever dreamed I’d be doing that for a living.

I picked up my gym qualifications during my 4th year of uni and worked part time at the local leisure centre in my 5th year.

I didn’t even bother applying for engineering jobs after I graduated, and went straight into personal training in Reading.

That was 16 years ago and my business has evolved somewhat since then.


As I’ve grown, gained different experiences, and learned more about where my passion and purpose collide the way I share my message has evolved too.

Several years ago I spent some time getting really clear on my purpose, and I carry these words around with me in my wallet:

‘Inspire… to take action… to help them thrive’

That is my Purpose

It’s what I try to do in my emails, here on the blog, in my free online communities, in my group coaching program boost, with my private coaching clients, on stage as a motivational speaker… everywhere.

Everything I do comes back to this simple purpose.

Each word on that piece of paper is important, but the most important word is ACTION.

Taking Action

Nothing changes until something changes.

Ultimately it’s easier to remain in certain discomfort than it is to step into uncertainty even though it might ease the pain.

Transformational change isn’t a single great big leap.

It’s lots of tiny steps; the small and subtle changes that accumulate over time to create the illusion of transformation.

Capable of change

I fully believe that we are ALL capable of change.

YOU… are capable of change.

Take a few minutes today to think about some of the tiny adjustments you could make to your life that would have an accumulative effect over time.

Don’t just look to the top of the mountain, as it can sometimes seem an impossibly long way away.

Just look at where you’re going to get your next foothold, and go from there.