Evaluate to Motivate
Follow these tips to give a great speech evaluation
One of the best ways to improve your public speaking skills is Toastmasters. Founded in 1924 in Santa Ana, California, Toastmasters International has expanded to thousands of clubs worldwide. TM clubs are created locally by individual volunteers who form groups based on the Toastmasters program. Though each club has its own unique character and traits, all of them follow the Toastmasters program, which includes several manuals to help overcome your fear of public speaking - including the Competent Communicator and Competent Leadership manuals.
The hardest - and perhaps most sensitive - topic in Toastmasters is Evaluation. After the prepared speech session, individual members give evaluations on the speaker’s performance - including strong points, and areas for improvement. While some clubs feature evaluation for Table Topics - the impromptu speaking session - evaluation sessions are usually reserved for prepared speakers.
Evaluations can be difficult for several reasons. First off, many Toastmasters are inexperienced public speakers, and wouldn’t necessarily know how to approach it. This can be helped, to a degree, by including education sessions for evaluation in your club. Second, even for experienced evaluators it can be difficult to evaluate to motivate - AND provide substantial, critical feedback in the process. So evaluation often becomes a delicate balancing act, where Toastmasters evaluators often try to find the right degrees of both motivation and a critical viewpoint, without offending or upsetting the speaker.
Luckily there are ways to help you with the process. The following are some tips to evaluate positively and effectively, while still maintaining a friendly club atmosphere.
Discuss the speech with the speaker
An important part of the process that many Toastmasters members skip over is this - discussing the speech with the speaker BEFORE they give their presentation. Of course this may not always be possible, due to personal schedules and other reasons. However if you can, take a few minutes before the meeting starts and discuss the presentation with the speaker. This gives you a chance to listen to their concerns about their public speaking abilities, and you’ll know what to focus on. If they’re concerned about their body language, then you have something to focus on during your evaluation. If they’re doing later projects - such as Project 8: Get Comfortable With Visual Aids - then you have an idea about their experience level, as well as what they’re concerned about when it comes to their Powerpoint presentations. Talking about the speech with the speaker beforehand helps you give a more personal, effective evaluation.
Public speaking is already high enough on most people’s list of fears - there’s no reason to make things more stressful by being harsh. Pointing out the positive, and phrasing criticism in a diplomatic way is incredibly important for making a welcoming Toastmasters club atmosphere. There are a number of ways to do this. Some evaluators prefer to start off on a positively, so speakers get motivation right away. Others prefer to open up with the more critical portions, then leave the good points last, so as to end on a positive note. Regardless of which evaluating method you choose, being friendly and supportive is essential.
On the other hand, if you’re too positive, then the speaker is left with no idea on where they need to improve. An effective evaluation contains substantial tips for the speaker to work on. Otherwise Toastmasters is nothing more than a time consuming pat on the back. It’s not uncommon to see evaluations that contain almost nothing but positivity and motivation. While a positive attitude has its merits, it’s only going to help in the short term, as speakers will continue making the same kind of mistakes without critical feedback.
The Sandwich Structure
Experienced Toastmasters are no doubt familiar with the sandwich structure of evaluation. The gist of it is, to structure your evaluation like this - Positive Comments / Things that Need Improvement / More Positive Comments. The more critical aspects of your evaluation are sandwiched between the positive ones - making this a very effective structure for balancing the dual needs of positivity and criticism. Not to mention, it’s also great for the shorter evaluation format of two to three minutes that you have in Toastmasters.
Save the best comments for the manual
Because you’re given such a short time to present your evaluation, it’s best to leave certain comments for the speaker’s Competent Communication manual. While evaluating a person’s speech, they hand you the relevant manual and speech project page, and you fill out an evaluation form. It’s here that the most critical and detailed aspects of your evaluation should go, for several reasons. For one - bringing up the most critical parts of your evaluation in your presentation (in front of the rest of the club) could be embarrassing for the speaker you’re evaluating. Second, remember you’re providing the evaluation not only for the benefit of the speaker, but also the audience, who are just as eager to learn about public speaking. So make sure your evaluation speech is composed of the simplest, easy to digest parts of your evaluation, and save anything else for the Competent Communication manual.
Public speaking is a stressful experience for all of us, but especially those who are starting out for the first time. Toastmasters provides an excellent way to improve public speaking through prepared speeches and evaluations. With the tips above, you can no doubt improve your ability to provide a solid evaluation for your Toastmasters club.
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