I hope your season is off to a remarkable start and your students are adhering to all of the training you’ve instilled in them and the designs of your programs are BOX 5 ALL DAY LONG!!! (That would be a perfect world, right?? We can all dream!!!)

I wanted to take some time to talk about the DREADED CRITIQUE….I know for so many it can be highly nerve wracking, anxiety provoking, and low on your to-do list as you have buses full of students waiting to get home.
Some of us aren’t comfortable speaking one on one with people, especially when the dialogue deals with your team and your work, so we neglect going to critique, but I am here to tell you IT IS ONE OF THE MOST BENEFICIAL THINGS YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR STUDENTS!!

Here are some helpful tips on how to properly maximize your time and hopefully this will lay a solid ground work for you as you enter your critique session. Shirlee Whitcomb put out a great article years back about critique, and some of that info is included below, as well as a lot of tips that I have compiled together from my own experiences having sat on both sides of the critique table!

Typically the questions an instructor has are:

1. What issues in my show need the greatest focus or attention for growth?
2. Can you explain to me in further detail what you meant when you said….?
3. How do we compare to other teams in our classification that you have seen?

You can ask these questions, and judges will do their best to provide you with the answers. How you communicate your questions, is pivotal in establishing a dialogue of value.

1. When going to critique, be prepared, be focused and know specifically what you want to address in the very short time you have. The best and most effective way to narrow down the topics of conversation are to have listened to your judges commentary before entering critique. THERE ARE CASES WHERE YOU HAVE A LATE PERFORMANCE TIME AND THERE ISN’T SUFFICIENT TIME TO LISTEN TO ALL COMMENTARY. In this case, I suggest listening to the recap at the end of the tape to at least have some knowledge about what the judge read and took away from your program.

2. Be relaxed and “in control” of your fatigue, emotions and frustrations when you engage in this dialogue. REMINDER THAT THE JUDGES ARE HUMAN AS WELL, and they too, have had a very long, exhausting day. You will gain more from your time if your time is handled in a professional and respectful way. (Reminder…..these judges will more than likely see you again…..set the impression you really want to give….)

3. Speak in a calm tone of voice, use the judge’s name, look him/her in the eye and be direct in your questions. A smile and a cordial greeting will gain you more than you know, especially if it’s sincere. THEY HAVE MORE THAN LIKELY BEEN IN YOUR SHOES, and they remember how nerve wracking it can be, especially if you are a new director or instructor.

4. LISTEN to the answers. TAKE NOTES. USE YOUR IPHONE VOICE RECORD APP TO RECORD THE CRITIQUE. This is all allowed and can be highly beneficial to you when you need to revert back to commentary AND evaluate how you handled the communication as well. Not only will it let you reference the judge’s additional input, but it will let you evaluate your own communication skill.

5. If you disagree with a comment, say to the judge: “There’s an issue that we seem to be in disagreement on and I’d like to discuss it further”. Then be specific as to the area. THE JUDGES DON’T EXPECT YOU TO AGREE ALL THE TIME, BUT THEY DO EXPECT A CORDIAL DISCUSSION ABOUT SAID DISAGREEMENT. I always like to ask, “Can you give that section or moment a look the next time we see you? I feel you might get a different read now that we’ve talked through it” That is is perfectly acceptable dialogue and they panel appreciates an educated, respectful conversation. This communicates that you may disagree, but in a professional manner, and one that makes it a team effort for your students as opposed to a “you’re wrong, I am right” mentality.

6. Don’t be surprised if the judge’s recall of the details of your program is hesitant. Give the judge as much information as possible to get you both targeted on the same topic. The panel will jot down notes for each team as a refresher during critique, but remember that they have seen A MULTITUDE of teams that day and may need reminders and detailed information about what you referring to. GETTING FRUSTRATED WITH THEIR HESITATION ON RECALLING SAID MOMENT IN YOUR PROGRAM does nothing to assist you in making a better and more successful situation for your students, nor does it mean your program wasn’t important to them. You may also want to have an iPad ready with a video of your production (cued up to save time) that can be referenced during the session..this can be very helpful in assisting the panel to recall the certain moment is question.

I hope this has been a helpful memo about how to best handle critique as it is SUCH A VALUABLE tool and use of your time. DON’T MISS OUT simply because you are nervous, intimidated, or unsure. You want to give your students the best opportunities possible and critique helps you do that. You trust your students with your designs and training and they in turn trust you to get all the feedback you can to make it as successful as possible. Don’t miss out!!!

I am happy to assist further on a one on one basis if you still have questions AND if you see either myself or Trey Antonetti, Education Director at a show, DO NOT HESITATE TO COME FIND US AND ASK US FOR ASSISTANCE while you gather your questions and put together your dialogue.


Thank you all for being such an amazing source of life skills training to the youth of today!! We need more positive people in the world just like you!

Have a BOX 5 DAY!!!
Lindsey Vento