After years of working with organizations that perform an after action review following a major project or proposal, I’ve begun using the process in less formal settings both with teams and with individuals.
I also use the tool myself after giving a speech or a presentation.
According to Wikipedia, “An after action review is a structured review or de-brief process for analyzing what happened, why it happened, and how it can be done better, by the participants and those responsible for the project or event.”
You can use an after action review to help you understand and learn from any number of events: an interview, a meeting, a speech, a sales presentation, a performance review, a team project, a corporate retreat, even a difficult conversation that you’ve been avoiding.
To conduct an after action review, ask yourself these four questions:
1. WHAT WAS SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN?
What were your goals, objectives, and expectations? What was on the agenda? What outcomes and outputs were intended?
Evey speech and presentation has — or should have — a goal. What did you want the audience to do as a result of listening to you?
2. WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED?
Simply describe and note what occurred without comment or judgment. You might want to start by listing events in the order they occurred. Or you could focus on the key events, themes, or issues that developed.
So many things happen before, during, and after a presentation that contribute to its success or failure. Review as many of them as possible. Then ask yourself, did your speech achieve its goal?
3. WHAT ARE THE REASONS FOR THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WHAT WAS SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN AND WHAT DID HAPPEN?
The point of this inquiry is not to assign blame or to give a grade to the effort. Its purpose is to identify strengths and weaknesses, to propose solutions, and to adopt a course of action that will correct problems or improve future performance.
Analyze both the things that worked well and the things that didn’t work so well. Did your opening work?Did people laugh at your humor? Did the room set up work for you? Were you able to answer the questions people raised?
4. WHAT DID YOU LEARN?
What did you do that you want to keep doing or that you want to remember to do in the future? What do you want to do differently? What changes do you want to make?
Giving a speech is both an art and a skill. We can master it only by learning from our experience, by honestly appraising our performance, and by asking ourselves how we can improve.
What do you think? How do you review your speeches and presentations? What kind of questions do you ask yourself?
Photo courtesy of Matt Hutchinson at Flickr.