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May 2024
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The Invaluable Evaluator

This meeting role comes with powerful responsibilities.

By Greg Lewis, DTM


Well, you have finally done it! You delivered the speech you worked so diligently on. Now comes the moment of truth: your evaluation.

For many Toastmasters, the evaluation can be almost as nerve-racking as delivering the speech. However, it doesn’t need to be. In fact, a well-prepared and shared evaluation can do more to help members reach their communication goals than any part of the Toastmasters program. Yet with this influence comes a powerful responsibility.

A Cautionary Tale

Ryan McKeen, from Lowbanks, Ontario, Canada, recalls receiving a devastating evaluation of his Ice Breaker speech.

“I had only been a member for a few months and my worst fears came true with the very negative evaluation I received. The first thing [the evaluator] said was I shouldn’t have used cue cards, which my mentor assured me was perfectly fine for my first speech.

“I told my mentor after the meeting that I was quitting Toastmasters. What little confidence I had was shattered. Luckily, my mentor and another member whom I greatly respected took me aside and pointed out all the positive aspects of my speech, such as my eye contact and use of humor, which really helped me feel better about my speech.”

Their support, says McKeen, convinced him to stay in Toastmasters. He went on to become a confident, capable speaker. Now a successful construction company owner with nine employees, he credits Toastmasters feedback for giving him the confidence to run his business.

However, his experience clearly demonstrates why we must be careful in how we prepare and present evaluations, especially to new members.

Here are my thoughts on how to do that. First, consider one of the commitments in the Toastmaster’s Promise: “To provide fellow members with helpful, constructive evaluations.” There is a lot packed into those eight words. Especially “helpful“ and “constructive.”

Build on this guidance in your evaluations to offer actionable feedback that the speaker understands and can use.

As Toastmasters founder Dr. Ralph C. Smedley once said, “Faultfinding without suggestions for improvement is a waste of time.” So instead of saying, “Tony, I wish you had used more body language,” you could say, “Tony, when you yelled ‘Stop!’ it would have been even stronger to me if you had forcefully raised your hands in front of you.” Constructive comments like these will help the speaker learn, as well as feel encouraged and empowered.

Plan Carefully

Preparing a thorough, effective evaluation is much like preparing a successful speech. Start planning as soon as you’re notified that you will be an evaluator. Contact the speaker and discuss their Pathways speech assignment. Understand the speaker’s personal objective—what they want the audience to think, feel, or do because of the speech.

As a sidenote on connecting with your speaker: Don’t underplay this step. The isolation we’ve felt due to COVID-related restrictions and adaptations over the past many months has made regular communication between evaluators and speakers more important than ever.

When the speaker is finished, share your verbal evaluation, using an upbeat, supportive tone. Address what the speaker did well, offer some suggestions, and end on a positive note. Your goal is to help the speaker (and the audience) with useful feedback and leave everyone feeling empowered to deliver their next speech.

Be Authentic

I’m not suggesting that you “whitewash” areas the speaker needs to work on. We can’t improve without receiving feedback on areas for improvement. Just ensure your advice is constructive and, most importantly, appropriate for the speaker’s experience level.

One thing that is helpful to you as an evaluator is the Pathways evaluation form. It provides tangible, detailed criteria for you to assess the speaker, making it easier to deliver specific and actionable feedback. An evaluation form for every Pathways project can be found on Base Camp.

Complete and send your written evaluation to the speaker as soon as possible, ideally within 48 hours. Here you can dig deeper and provide more comprehensive feedback. Finally, follow up with the speaker after they’ve read your written review and address any questions they may have. Again, communication is key.

The Value of New Evaluators

For a new Toastmaster, the process of evaluating another member may seem daunting. However, you will find seasoned Toastmasters are only too glad to help less experienced members develop evaluation skills. If you are new, ask your mentor or another member you respect to coach you.

Also, something to keep in mind: The observations of a new, less experienced evaluator are just as valid as anyone else’s, because you are offering observations on what you personally see and observe. There’s no level of experience required to do that. Any authentic observation can be helpful to a speaker, no matter the skill or “qualifications” of the evaluator.

Ensure your advice is constructive—and appropriate for the speaker’s experience level.

In an online meeting format, a separate breakout room is a good place for the new evaluator and speaker to meet. If you choose this route, be sure to make room arrangements in advance with the Sergeant at Arms and update your mentor/coach on your plans.

Evaluators Grow Too

Applying yourself to the evaluation preparation can offer diverse and often unexpected growth opportunities, regardless of your Toastmasters experience. For example, Junko Yamaji is a member of Tokyo Bilingual in Japan; the club holds meetings in Japanese and English. Yamaji was very comfortable evaluating in her native Japanese. However, she discovered she had to really think about how to choose the right words in English to express her thoughts.

Practicing evaluations in English helped Yamaji learn to choose words diplomatically, which increased her own vocabulary. Through a process of trial and error, she learned to recognize the right words in English to express her thoughts. She often talked to the speaker after the evaluation to ensure her meaning was properly received in English.

These insights apply equally to all Toastmasters, even when we are communicating in our first language. An effective evaluator understands that words are powerful and can have unintended consequences when used carelessly.

Outside the Club

The evaluation skills we learn as Toastmasters apply equally outside the club. This is especially true in the workplace when conducting employee performance reviews.

“What a performance appraisal requires is for one person to stand in judgment of another. Deep down, it’s uncomfortable,” says Dick Grote, author of How to Be Good at Performance Appraisals. When handled properly, however—such as with feedback that is specific, sensitive, and constructive—performance reviews are more enjoyable and beneficial for both the reviewer and the employee.

Whether in an office or community setting, Toastmasters can demonstrate evaluation, leadership, and critical thinking skills. By contributing useful and constructive comments, we add value to the discussion and set an example for others to follow.

Overall, evaluations offer an ongoing growth opportunity for all of us. When we help fellow members achieve goals, we contribute to the club’s strength and viability. We also get to grow ourselves as speakers, listeners, and learners.

Editor’s Note: For more on evaluations and other meeting positions, visit Club Meeting Roles.


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