Evaluation is a recurring club topic, and with good reason. Evaluations take up one-third of a typical Toastmasters meeting, and they are the main mechanism through which we learn, grow and improve. Without evaluations, we’d just be a bunch of people sitting in a room talking at each other.
Knowing how to evaluate effectively is one of the best things you can do to help your fellow club members grow. Consider these tips.
A conversation, not a monologue
A good speech evaluation is a multi-step process. It’s like a conversation, starting before the meeting and ending after it.
As you know, Pathways levels introduce new elements of speech-crafting and leadership serially, so that new skills are layered on top of one another. Each speech has a specific objective, which allows evaluators to specifically assess how well the speaker fulfills them.
The easiest way to decipher the speech objectives is to look at the Pathways project evaluation form. The speaker should provide you with the feedback form so you can fill it out during the meeting.
You can’t—and shouldn’t—critique every detail of the speech. Knowing the speech objectives will help you to focus your evaluation on specific, actionable feedback.
Know your audience(s)
Who is your target audience? “The speaker,” you say? Wrong! OK, not wrong—in fact, you’re right. But an even better answer would be “The speaker—and everyone else in the room.”
The target audience for a spoken evaluation is the club itself. Every member and guest should be able to take something from the evaluation and apply it to their next speech. A good in-club speech evaluation, then, should be full of universal feedback, backed up by specific examples from the speaker’s speech.
Here’s an example: “I’ve seen you speak three times, and each time, you’ve ended up with your hands in the pockets of your sport coat. Try to keep your hands out and relaxed.”
“A good club speech evaluation should be full of universal feedback, backed up by specific examples from the speaker’s speech.”
This is very speaker-specific; another member listening to this might think, This obviously doesn’t apply to me; I don’t even own a sport coat.
Contrast that with the following: “I noticed that your hands were in your pockets for much of the speech. To me, closed body language like this conveys a lack of confidence. Using more open, confident body language might help the audience to buy into your message even more.”
Here, the feedback is universal: closed body language shows a lack of confidence. The speaker now remembers what to do with his hands. Others will hear the observation and have additional thoughts, such as Don’t cross arms over body or Don’t hang on to the lectern so tight that knuckles turn white.
Super-specific feedback aimed at one speaker or one speech still has a place in the evaluation process, but it should come later in the written evaluation and/or a one-on-one conversation.
For example, imagine you are evaluating a non-native English speaker. During the in-club evaluation, you could say, “I noticed that you started speaking more quickly as the speech went on, and there were a couple of words that I didn’t quite catch. Take your time and articulate each word.” Other non-native (and native) English speakers can benefit from that advice.
After the meeting, in written feedback or in a one-on-one conversation, you can tell the speaker, “I noticed that you tend to say the word ‘essentially’ when I think you mean to say ‘especially.’” That feedback addresses an idiosyncrasy that likely wouldn’t help anyone else in the club. The speaker still needs to hear it, but the evaluation speech is not the right venue.
Do your homework and focus on specific objectives. Recognize the difference between universal and speaker-specific feedback. You’ll ensure the evaluations you give are effective and beneficial—not only to the speaker, but for everyone in your club.
Megan Preston Meyer is a member of TM International Club Zug in Zug, Switzerland, and a regular contributor to the Toastmaster magazine. She is an avid collector of jargon and the founder of Corporatery, a website that exposes the hidden logic of the workplace.