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Crit Happens. Be Prepared When It Does.

Crit Happens. Be Prepared When It Does.

As a part of the Rev Hardware Accelerator, guest experts and Accelerator alums are invited to speak to the cohort and share their experience. Whether it is a skill-building workshop or a startup story from a successful founder, these talks are meant to educate and inspire the Hardware teams as they prepare for Demo Day. 

Bonnie Sanborn, Communications Coordinator at Rev, addresses the Hardware Accelerator Teams on June 19 in Rev Ithaca Startup Works

Teams sat down on June 19 to a presentation by Bonnie Sanborn, Communications Coordinator at Rev: Ithaca Startup Works, on how to get the most out of a product critique session. The presentation was titled “So You’re Going to Get Crit: or, How to Endure a Design/ Process Crit with Good Information and Your Ego (Mostly) Intact”.

Sanborn opened by explaining that her goal was to address the fears and obstacles most people face when receiving feedback after a presentation. Since “crit” sessions are not a one-off procedure during a product’s development, but are repeated and continue even after a product has entered the market, Sanborn explained that it is critical to know how to get the most out of a crit session.

“A good crit isn’t one where you escape without comments, it is the one that improves your design,” Sanborn said.

Critique sessions are a necessary step in product development for entrepreneurs. They provide room for entrepreneurs to learn to summarize their products, receive third party advice and criticism about their product and, most importantly, to fail. In a crit session, different subjects might be addressed regarding expenses, marketing, practicality, technology and comprehensibility of pitch. Most advice will be helpful, some will not, cautioned Sanborn, but the presenter should never take the criticism of the product personally.

To help the Hardware Accelerator teams optimize the potential of their critique sessions, she provided three categories that everyone, especially entrepreneurs, should keep in mind when receiving feedback: the physical responses and social behaviors that may affect a critique, as well as how to debrief afterwards.

“If you want to succeed in a creative or innovative field, you need to learn to accept and even desire critique,” Sanborn said.

Sanborn explains why presenters shouldn’t try to listen and record at the same time when receiving critiques.

Nervousness and anxiety during a presentation or a feedback session often manifests as physical symptoms. Sanborn brought up the four “f’s” of the sympathetic nervous system: fight, flight, freeze and fidget. These common responses can significantly affect the audience’s perception of the presentation and, just as importantly,  the openness of a speaker to receive critique. To combat these nervous system responses, Sanborn suggested first, asking “what can you do to make yourself feel comfortable receiving a critique?” then using mindful breathing methods; taking a seat to avoid giving into your flight response; and engaging in active listening. One key piece of advice she gave was that teams should not try to listen and record answers at the same time. Instead, she advised them to designate the recording job to a friend, freeing them to listen and take in what’s being said.

The second category was labeled Social. It described the interpersonal interactions that can inhibit an audience’s feedback and make a presentation less effective, like when a person perceives criticism as an affront to their work, or advice as an effort to change their vision into something else.

“It’s not just entrepreneurs and innovators who can get defensive when their ideas are criticized. It’s a very normal response to stand up for your ideas and opinions and in many areas of our lives that’s a strength, but when you are developing an idea that is the time to let those defenses down,” Sanborn said.

Defensiveness is palpable, said Sanborn, and it creates an environment where no one feels comfortable to share their experiences or ask questions because they don’t imagine they will be heard.

“No one likes someone who cuts them off, they like listeners,” she said.

A way to cut back on defensiveness is to remain silent until the commentator has finished talking, especially if you feel the need to reply back to them in defense of your product. The audience was reminded that most people in a critique session are there to help; rarely is someone attending just to tear another person’s ideas to pieces. Remembering that you have nothing to defend (because the product is not yet complete) and nothing to defend against is key.

She reiterated that after a crit session time should be set aside to debrief, and also suggested using that time to vent as well.

“Get it all out,” she said, referring to the immediate and emotional responses innovators can often have to critique. “Clearing the air with a designated ‘vent session’ will clear the way to discuss feedback more rationally.”

Asking questions like: “Did it seem like everyone ‘got’ the point? Did the commentators seem to get hung up on a part? And what was the most frustrating/ exciting comment?” help process personal feelings, validate them, and move project development on to more important topics. Not every critique or comment is meant to be followed, but a good amount of a company’s time should go into analyzing what would make the company better, and weighing the advice of others.

“Would taking this comment lead you toward or away from our user goals?” and “Is this comment something we can incorporate into customer discovery interviews?” are questions Sanborn said entrepreneurs should ask themselves when weighing advice and critiques.

“If it matters to you, it’s going to make you a little nervous,” she said. “Anxiety is just energy waiting to be channeled.”

Although criticism evokes tension and anxiety, it shouldn’t be avoided. Crit sessions are responsible for making plans better, products better and the people putting it all together better. Crit sessions sometimes entail receiving unpleasant information in order to produce a better result; opportunities shouldn’t be missed just because of a fear of growing pains.


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