Feedback is a Gift, But Sometimes Gifts Are Just Crappy

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By Phil La Duke

The feedback to my ASSP presentation came back and for the most were very positive. Thanks to all of you who attended and who commented, even those whose comments were hostile or insulting.  The problem with feedback of this nature is that you never get to respond to it and many people made valid points. I really would have liked to had a conversation with some of these folks but that wasn’t possible  so this week I thought I would do the next best thing and address some of them:

“Add in a bit more interaction and flair. You have an awesome personality and a great Mentor”

First thank you for your compliment. Awesome personality? Isn’t that what they say about the ugly girls? I am right there with you on these sessions being more interactive,  but interaction adds time (I do ask questions but it’s like pulling teeth to get people to answer). Unfortunately,  adding a full-blown activity into an hour presentation may be doable, but in so doing at (least for my presentation) it would have been at the cost of content.  I don’t know who you mean by my “great mentor” Siegfried or Roy? Batman? Charles Nelson Reilly?, but I can honestly say that no one mentored my speaking or even writing. Most people have been telling me to shut up most of my life. And whoever is claiming to be my mentor is full of hot steaming dung.

“Although he kind of looked like a little Truman Capote in his hat that he wore during the presentation I thought it was rude and unprofessional. His humour was not called for either. If he wants a standup job don’t do it at this professional conference. I would not attend any of his sessions in the future.”  

I didn’t like your shirt, I think it made you look paunchy.  I wore the hat because I liked the hat. I may wear it again. If you find it unprofessional find another session.  The ASSP puts on a heck of a conference and there were many in my time slot you could have attended as soon as you saw the hat.  As for humor, many people enjoy humor interjected into a serious subject rather than sit through a dry lecture, but what’s more, humor helps us retain the serious points that are made.  By interjecting humor, people are more inclined to listen and learn. I’m not changing my style so feel free to pursue other avenues of learning. Lighten up or get out. Be sure to buy my book so you can tell everyone how much you hate that, too.

“Awesome. Relevant info, engaged throughout session (sic). Would like to hear other Lectures.”

I would love to give other lectures.  I like ASSP because they tend to be really focused on keeping marketing or promoting a book out of the sessions.  Sure some slip by, but there are some that I have attended at other organizations’ conferences that are infomercials.

“Best subject I have heard since some to these PDCs.”  

This topic, causing safety, is one that I feel strongly about.  If we are agents of change and improvement we won’t feel so burnt out defending the workplace against risk and hazards.  We know what causes injuries so we know what causes safety.

“Common sense but a great way to review and bring concentration to the topics.Jobwell done! Thank you!”

Thank you, and you’re welcome. But let’s be clear, it’s only common sense because we were in a room full of safety professionals. We need to create a common understanding among the Operations leadership so that “common sense” becomes common practice.

“Content very basic. Presenter was engaging and humorous. Buy a new suit!”

I deliberately kept the content very basic, because a lot of people are resistant to the idea that we can cause safety.  Thanks for recognizing the role of engagement and humor as you may have read, there are still some staid, humorless drones working in safety. Ironically, I hate that suit, I feel like I look like Colonel Sanders when I wear it, but I chose to wear it because living in Michigan, I have a closet full of suits in which I would have just BAKED in; that one while ugly, is cooler than the others I have.

“Dynamic and entertaining.”

Thank you, and I hope in being so you were able to find value in my presentation.

“Excellent speaker. Funny and engaging!”  

Again thank you, it’s always a risk to use humor but I think it’s worth the risk. Here is a lesson for all the novice speakers out there: you can’t please everyone so don’t try. Humor for humor is sake becomes “infortainment”, a term we used to use in training to describe sessions that people enjoy but don’t really learn anything.  Humor is often a good way to get past people’s cognitive defenses and cause them to consider the message later. And contrary to the people who don’t care for humor, people who are bored by a humorless, bland speaker don’t take anything away from the session.

“Font too small for room size. The hat was a bold choice! Nice!”

Sorry for the font size, I had no idea they would have me in a room that size, but I will keep that in mind for the next time.  And thanks, I have something of a hat problem (over 50) and need something to keep the sun off my face while walking to and from the conference.  I left in on to the chagrin of one participant mainly because my hair would have looked like cats had been sucking on it, but I don’t think most people cared either way.

“Good presentation. Speaker is knowledgeable in the subject. He provided good Information”

Thank you, that affirmation means a lot.

“Great presentation!! Very engaging and dynamic speaker. Had good content and the pace of presentation was good.”

Again, I tried.  It isn’t always easy to succeed when you write an abstract almost a year before the conference but ASSP does there best to make it easier.

“Great speaker. Responded well to sticky questions.”

If you’re going to put yourself out there you have to be ready for irresponsible spokespeople of an opposing point of view. In this case, I think the person in question just wanted to talk.  I tried to remain polite and professional without letting him derail the Q&A although I talked to people later who said they left as soon as he started talking. He is a galvanizing personality which is why, like me, you see him at so many conferences.

“I couldn’t find the room”

ME EITHER! I went looking for it two hours before my session and only found it with 30 minutes to spare.

“Needed more time.”

I agree. It’s tough to cover anything of substance in one hour and have time for questions, which is where I think the real value lies. This is the real issue, does anyone want to sit in a session for 2 or 3 hours? On the other hand, the only way to conduct a session in an hour and allow time for people to gather, do the introductions and housekeeping, and allow ample time to answer questions forces me to keep the content fairly basic. We do the best with what we can but another 30 minutes would have been perfect.

“Nothing new or exciting. Disappointed in overall presentation. Much different than what he writes. Checked LinkedIn profile and no ground and pound safety experience to draw from.”

I don’t know what to tell you.  If I spoke like I write they would not allow me to speak.  Is that me copping out? I don’t think so, there is a time and a place for everything and my writing style isn’t appropriate for these venues.  As for ground and pound safety experience, it’s easy to dismiss as the inevitable sour grapes that one person who always gets snarky after a speech. There are always people who get puffed up thinking that they’re the real expert and it should be  the one who should be speaking. But anyone who reads my LinkedIn profile looking at it like it like one would a resume will be disappointed. I have worked in safety grinding it out on the site floor for over 30 years this month, At first I did safety training I did was based in the field demonstrating the desired safety skills and guiding the learners’ practice. It was done not only on the floor but in the context of the production, I did a ton of robot safety training, which included teaching the safety professionals how to write lockout procedures (a fairly new concept at the time) I did this kind of but  much of the work I do is highly confidential (companies don’t tend to hire me because everything is going swell) but I have worked on-site at paper mills, oil fields, factories—including being head of safety for several—distribution centers, and of course I was a production safety consultant for an action film—10 months of overseeing set build up and tear down and production for 36 film sets in Metro Detroit, sufficed to say my experience is broad, wide, and extensive. How does that compare to YOUR experience? If my experience isn’t to your liking don’t hire me, something tells me we wouldn’t be a good fit anyway.

“Overall an entertaining presentation on some basic safety concepts. Good job handling questions at the end of the session.”

Thank you, but I don’t think certain questions were intended to be as obnoxious as they were perceived.

“Phil was great. I even applaud him as he was put on the spot by another speaker who disagrees with his point of view on subjects.”

Yes, the other speaker and I disagree on the fundamentals of safety, but when he questioned the work of a man who received his Ph.D. from Yale and was on the staff of Princeton, by claiming the statement was not supported by data made him look like a fool.  I guess in some people’s mind getting a Ph.D. from Southern Illinois Carbondale (ranked tied for the 216th on US News and World Report’s 2018 list of best schools in America and being on the faculty of Virginia Tech (tied for 69th place) makes one more qualified and credentialed than someone who graduated from Yale (tied for third) and on the faculty at Princeton (ranked number one).  I, however, do not feel this way, but what do I know, my alma mater, The University of Michigan, is only ranked 28th? Given that the specific work I mentioned was based on the Doctoral Dissertation that Dr. Paul Marciano submitted to earn his degree from Yale, I think blurting out that “the research doesn’t support that” is almost slanderous.

“Room was hard to find. Arrived late…”

It was hard to find, I hope you still got something out of the session.

“The room was full in the last session of the day and stayed full throughout the presentation. That speaks for itself.”  

I was truly shocked and humbled at not only the size of the audience but how many stayed.  It was the end of the day, the beautiful riverwalk lay opposite of the room and people managed to make it through despite a crowded room.  Thank you all for doing so.

“The session was great. Dr Geller was in the audience and he pushed back on some of the points that Phil made. Geller was totally out of line on this. If he wants to offer a different point of view he should do it with the speaker one on one. If I wanted to hear what Geller had to say I would have signed up for his seedy. I have attended his in the past and they are great so I’m not some “hater”. Just think it was inappropriate.”

You aren’t the only one who felt that way, but Dr. Gellar did speak to me at length afterward and compliment my speech.  Perhaps he was just overly enthusiastic and wanted to get his comments out. But I’m sorry his attempts to besmirch the ground-breaking work of Dr. Paul Marciano’s book Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work strikes me as irresponsible, unprofessional, and petty. But beyond that, I bear him no grudge.

“The title was Cause for safety and the presenter only attributed one slide to the cause. I really didn’t take anything away from this session. The presenter tried too hard to entertain the group with sarcastic humor.”

For this one, I will leave it for you, the reader, to decide.  The slides and presentation are posted on this blog.  My style isn’t for everyone, but for the record, the title was Causing Safety, that little point may have made the presentation more clear, either that or you could have paid attention a bit more attention.

“This was second best (session) at this point”

That’s great to hear, there were some really terrific sessions there and to be in the top 10 would be a great honor.

So that is what the people who provided feedback had to say, but unfortunately, two-thirds of the people provided no feedback which is a shame. Most of the people would recommend that I speak at another ASSP conference and I intend to submit abstracts for next year’s conference but given the intense competition for speaking at ASSP it’s a long-shot that I would be accepted two years in a row.