CLE and CE Speakers – What kind of ratings should you be after?

I just had an interesting Facebook conversation with Sean Carter, a professional speaker, and Cecil Caulkins, a Facebook friend who shows me you don’t need to meet in person to become real friends.  I hired Sean when I worked for PBI, he is a wonderful speaker and I respect what he has to say. Cecil is retired from the CLE business, but much like my first boss, Roger Meilton, he is one of the grand men of CLE and so his opinion is incredibly valuable. The topic was about a seminar I had just completed, but it ended up making me think about what those scoring sheets that you fill out at CLE events and how providers and speakers should and do receive them.

I will digress to note, if you have ever wondered where I get my topics, Facebook conversations are often a great source.

CLE Rating

When you go to a CLE event, or most continuing education events I imagine, you are provided with a sheet that asks for your opinion. You might wonder why the provider hands that sheet out, and you might even completely ignore it, but the opinion sheet is actually quite important to any good CE provider. In Pennsylvania, the CLE Board requires all providers to ask specific questions at each program, and to report back the numeric information. But a good provider isn’t just going to ask those basic questions, she is going to want to know more information about how you received the seminar. Attendee opinions as to the quality of the seminar, written materials, facility in which the event is offered, and most importantly the individual speakers, is incredibly important, and a good provider will take note of what you write down.

Put the Scores in Perspective

When I worked for PBI, I was one of the few employees who not only created seminars, but spoke. Now, when I first started speaking, I was always quite scared, these days I still am, but not to the level I experienced when I was in my late 20s. One of the reasons I was exceptionally nervous is because I knew that when I spoke, Roger looked at every evaluation to see how I was doing. Now this isn’t to say Roger gave my speaking undue attention, he looked through all of the evaluations for every course because he took them seriously, but I knew I would have heard about it if there was a problem. And rightly so. Roger asked me to speak the first time because he thought I would be good at it. He continued to allow me to speak because I got good scores.

I used to joke with other speakers that they didn’t need to worry about  evaluations the way I did. I would say, “hey, look at it this way, you can only be a little embarrassed, I could get fired.” Now, that was a joke, I knew the worst that would have happened is that Roger would have asked me what was going on, but it does put the speaker scores into perspective for the average, non-professional speaker. It always helped with their nerves. On the other hand, the professional speaker, the one who gets paid, will get fired if he gets bad scores, so those scores are a pretty serious thing.

How do Providers Look at the Scores?

I forget who it was, but I remember a professional speaker who told me he never paid attention to the scores and just looked at the comments. I remember being surprised, because while comments are very useful, numerical ratings show a trend that can be a good guide as to whether a speaker should be invited back.

As a provider and a speaker, I appreciate comments. If someone was offended I want to know about it. If someone really enjoyed the seminar, I want to know about that too. Also, the quotes are wonderful for marketing purposes. If someone is going to pay me to speak, he wants to know what people think about me. I can easily share good quotes to let people know, yes I am a good speaker and you can safely put the reputation of your company in my hands.

When I was retaining professional speakers for PBI, I wanted those quotes, because they told me the person was a good speaker, but they also told the audience that he was as well. CE attendees are always looking for proof that a speaker is interesting and I would always put that information on the brochure. But I also called other providers who used the person before I hired him to make certain he was a good speaker. When I had concerns the provider normally had no problem sharing the scores with me.

The thing is though, as both a speaker and a provider, while I like the quotes and I appreciate any constructive criticism, what I really am looking for is objective trends. Some speakers and providers obsess over individual scores. I do not. As a provider, if I see that a speaker got a 1 (the worst score) I wonder what happened, but if all of the rest of the scores are 4s or 5s (the best) then I figure the person just didn’t like the speaker, was having a bad day, or really hates CLE. However, if I see a bunch of 1s and 2s, I see a trend that really worries me and I am not likely to invite the speaker back. As a speaker, if I ever saw a bunch of 1s and 2s I would be very disappointed in myself, think about what went wrong, and immediately try to fix it.

What Do Providers Want to See?

I can only speak for myself, but I think that I am probably in the ballpark when I say,  for a non-professional speaker, I was happy if I saw a lot of 3s, impressed if I saw a lot of 4s, and amazed if I saw a lot of 5s. For a professional speaker, I expected to see mainly 4s with a sprinkling of 3s and 5s.  If a non-professional speaker really had the knowledge, but was just boring so he got a lot of 2s and 3s, I would try to work with that speaker to see if we could improve presentation. If a professional speaker got mainly 2s and 3s, I wouldn’t invite him back. It is hard for non-professional speakers to learn to speak well. After all, speaking is one of the greatest fears out there, and most people just don’t have the knack to be great speaker. I never expected non-professionals to have the skill of professionals.

What Do I Want to See for Myself?

For myself, I like to see 4s and 5s, and that is generally what I have seen from when I first started speaking. Of course, I wasn’t a professional speaker when I started, but we are our own worst critics and have a tendency to expect more from ourselves than we expect from someone else. And this is actually what lead to this post. I mentioned that when I spoke yesterday for PBI on the subject of Social Media for the Elder Law Attorney, I got one 4 and everything else was a 5. Sean said “you go girl!” and Cecil said “[Y]ou have already advanced to the realm of smart speakers. The dumb ones would be obsessing about the person who rated you 4 instead of 5.” I cannot say if I would obsess over getting a 1 or a 2, because I never have gotten one. I think I might, and at the least I would wonder what went wrong. But I have never obsessed over a 3 or a 4, simply because, with my experience as a provider, I know some people just don’t believe in giving a 5 and some people will never give a high score. I simply don’t take it seriously. Nor should any speaker.

What Should You Want to See as a Speaker?

I have written previously about becoming a CLE speaker (and being invited back) and one thing that matters is scores. I am being redundant, but I think if you are a professional speaker, you should be looking for mainly 4s and 5s, and as a non-professional you should be looking for 3s. As a non-professional, if you get a lot of 4s and 5s you can guarantee you will be invited back, finding non-professional speakers who get scores like that makes a seminar coordinator very happy indeed. For the professional speaker, you may or may not be invited back with good scores, your return depends not only on the scores, but the number of attendees and the budget.


As a speaker, you should never obsess over your scores, but you certainly should take them seriously. Never let a negative comment or a low score hurt your feelings, sometimes people are just taking a bad day out on you.

If you are a paid speaker you should ask for quotes for marketing purposes, but you should ask for your average number too, it will give you a lot of information. As a non-paid speaker, if you want to be invited to speak a lot, you should focus on developing your skills as a speaker so you can obtain 3s and 4s. If you want to be invited to speak a lot, work hard to improve so you can obtain those 4s and 5s.

How do you improve? One way is to ask your provider for advice. Another way is to hire a coach or attend a course on professional speaking. One speaker I know does a great job of training speakers on how to speak is Faith Pincus. You can find her website here.


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