Another project speech draws to a conclusion and the speaker returns to her seat accompanied by a round of well-deserved applause. In a few minutes you will be introduced, rise and walk to the lectern to present your evaluation of that speech. It is your first-ever evaluation of a project speech and, naturally, you are a little nervous. What will you say and, more important, how will you say it?
Evaluations are the life blood of Toastmasters meetings; they are what keep members coming back for more. New speakers depend on them for information, help and development. Long standing-speakers need them to prevent the onset of mental rust or complacency. The evaluation process separates Toastmasters International from any other organization offering public speaking coaching.
By definition, an evaluation is “the act of considering or examining something in order to judge its value, quality, importance or condition.” It is the job of an evaluator to find value in the speech, to examine the quality of its delivery, to consider its importance to the occasion and the audience, and to reflect upon its condition as part of the speaker’s development progression. Evaluators must also add some value by offering help, support and guidance to the speaker. However, there should be no use of the “C” word – Toastmaster evaluators do not criticize – ever!
Criticism is easy; we hear it all the time in every walk of life. However, criticism is the language of cowards. Criticism is negative. Even a critique (a term used by non-Toastmasters), being a critical analysis, almost sounds like a put-down. Evaluation on the other hand considers the value, the good aspects, and adds value with helpful suggestions for improvement.
For each project speech, the speaker must meet specific objectives and guidelines. The evaluator uses these to formulate a report. The verbal evaluation is a mini speech. In the two-to-three minutes allotted to you, you must create an opening, a main body and a conclusion. You must consider the objectives of the project and establish whether they have been met. In delivering your comments, you must choose the appropriate language, voice tone, body language and facial expressions. You must find words of praise for the good elements and words of help and encouragement in identifying the areas for improvement. And, finally, you must do this in a non-threatening, supportive way.
Use the three R’s of evaluating: Review, Reward and Respond
• Review. To give the best review you can, consider the speaker’s personal goals as well as the official Toastmasters evaluation guide. While the guidelines for evaluation are beneficial, the speaker may be more interested in developing skills not listed. Before the presentation, determine with the speaker what her goals are as they relate to the project’s objectives.
In your review you should answer the question, “Did the speaker accomplish what she set out to?” If she did, publicly acknowledge that fact in the evaluation. On the other hand, if you have doubts on this aspect, you may wish to include your comments in your written evaluation or discuss them privately with the speaker, later.
If the speaker agrees that she did not achieve her purpose, she may elect to repeat the project, though this is not required by Toastmasters. You might also offer to act as a mentor (if the speaker does not already have one) to help her make modifications to her current speech or to prepare her next presentation.
• Reward. Richly praise the aspects that were particularly good in the speech. Use words like exemplary, outstanding, effective, admirable, praiseworthy, pleasing or beneficial. Try to avoid overuse of vague generalities such as good, very good and excellent. It’s a good idea to explain why the aspect was worthy of note by quoting the exact words or re-enacting a gesture.
• Respond. Your role as an evaluator is to respond to the speaker’s message. Not by challenging what was said, but through an analysis of what you heard, what you saw and what you felt:
- What you heard. What words were used? Was the language descriptive and evocative? Did the speaker use ums, ahs or other fillers? Were there any grammatical goodies (alliteration or rhyming) or faux pas (“there was several…” or “some examples is….”)?
- What you saw. Did the speaker use effective gestures and appropriate body language? What facial expressions were demonstrated? Was eye contact maintained with the audience? Did the speaker step out from, or hide behind the lectern? Did the speaker go over the allotted time?
- What you felt. What emotions were felt by you as a listener? What images could you see in your mind? Were you moved to action? Could you empathize with the speaker? Did you experience happiness, sadness, anger or excitement – and did it seem like your reaction was what the speaker intended? Could you feel the speaker’s passion?
By far the most important aspect for you as an evaluator is to inform the speaker of the elements which, in your opinion, need to be worked on for the next assignment. You should also offer suggestions and provide examples as to how these changes can be made. At least one third of your speaking time should be devoted to dealing with the points for improvement. Failing to do so effectively negates your evaluation; you will not have met your own evaluating objectives. It is your duty to help and encourage the speaker by not only praising his good points, but also by indicating the aspects that did not work quite so well, in your opinion, and offering suggestions for ways to overcome the situation in the future.
Having composed your list of comments, now comes the time to walk to the lectern and deliver your message of support and development. But how will you deliver it? There are two trains of thought on the delivery style: the first-person style and the third-party style.
In the first person style, the evaluator addresses the comments directly to the speaker using the speaker’s name and phrases such as, “Your eye contact was directed to the left....”; “I liked your opening statement....”; “perhaps you could....”; or “I suggest you try to....” Often this approach is accompanied by direct eye contact with the speaker for 90 percent of the evaluating time. While this style may make it easier for the speaker to take note of what is being said by the evaluator (it becomes almost like a one-to-one coaching session), there are three major downsides:
1. Direct feedback in this way, particularly when talking about the points for improvement, can lead to conflict. The speaker may perceive an “I am better than you” threat from a combination of the words used and the direct eye contact, with no chance of a response as would happen in a normal coaching conversation.
2. The larger group may sense a loss of sharing. When a verbal evaluation is heard by the whole audience but is only projected directly to the speaker, everyone else feels left out of the learning element of the evaluating process.
3. The normal speaking courtesies (which are often discussed in an evaluation) are often ignored; eye contact to the whole audience, speaking to each individual, using effective body language. The process becomes a one-way conversation between the standing evaluator and the seated speakers.
Perceptions are important and should not be overlooked. To avoid the perceived conflict and “shutting out” effect, it is better to use the third-party style.
In this style the evaluator addresses the comments to the whole audience and uses phrases such as, “John had a very dramatic opening”; “Jane was able to convey humor”; “I particularly liked her alliteration”; or “Did you notice how his body language helped to convey the message?”
Eye contact with the whole audience is inevitable as the evaluator projects his message to everyone. Opponents of this style may say, “You should not talk about someone while they are still in the room” or “It is impersonal to give an evaluation in such way.” While this may be true, this method works far better for the individual and the group.
By using the third-party style, you are actually singing the praises of the speaker as you address the strengths. This makes most speakers feel good about themselves in front of their peers. You can comment on their points for improvement, and everyone will learn from your suggestions. Additionally, a person being evaluated will not perceive any threat of superiority from the evaluator and will be more receptive to the feedback as she sits and listens comfortably. She won’t feel that she’s in the hot seat.
In summary, this style has three major advantages:
1. There can be no perception of threat or superiority.
2. The evaluator is able to share the message with the whole audience.
3. Speaking courtesies are observed as the evaluator delivers the message in a natural manner using eye contact, voice modulation, body language and, probably, some gentle humor.
Don’t forget, the evaluation is your personal opinion. As long as your comments are given in a helpful and supportive manner, the speaker will accept your opinion. Similarly, whether you choose the first-person or third-party style is your personal choice.
Toastmasters develop into effective public speakers through a combination of practice and evaluation.
It is imperative to pass on the correct skills in order for our art to thrive. Using the techniques of reviewing, rewarding and responding will ensure that our speeches continue to improve and that every evaluation adds value.
David Hobson, DTM, is a member of Abbotsford Sun-down Toastmasters Club 965 in British Columbia, Canada. He runs training and coaching sessions on aspects of business communications.