When You Are The Evaluator
Toastmaster Magazine Jan 2005 Talia Ehrlich Dashow CTM
1. Listening Tips
Look at the Speaker
Looking at the speaker helps you focus on what he/she is saying. It also lets you see the speaker’s posture, eye contact, emotion and connection with you and the rest of the audience. Looking at the speaker also gives him/her a receptive audience, which is encouraging. This also reminds you of where you are and what you’re doing, which helps keep your mind from wandering.
Mirror the Speaker’s Feelings
If you smile when he/she smiles, frown when he/she frowns, lean forward when he/she moves forward, shake your head at his/her sad story, you help create a stronger connection between you and the speaker. Mirroring allows you to experience the speech on a more visceral level, accessed by your emotion and physical response. You also give the speaker a sense of being heard and understood.
Another major distraction for evaluators is trying to remember what they want to say. Even a five-to-seven minute speech can include a lot of things to comment on. However, it’s not so long that you’ll forget everything about it. You don’t need to write extensive notes, just a few key words to help you remember what you were thinking. The danger of writing notes is that they take your focus away from the speaker. Knowing that you’ll have something to trigger your memory can help you return your focus to the speaker more clearly.
2. Speaking Tips
Make it Subjective
The truth is, we can’t give an objective evaluation even if we want to, because what we think is filtered through our own opinions and feelings. Make the most of that. Talk about the impact the speech had on you. Did the opening capture your interest? Did the closing make you want to run out and do something? Did you feel uncomfortable when the speaker lost her place, or happy when he/she smiled at the end of the story? The speaker doesn’t know, and wants to know, all of these things.
Talk About What You Liked
We all tend to be harsh self-critics, so learning only items an evaluator didn’t like is enough to send a new speaker screaming from the room. People remember what earned them praise and will try to repeat those things in the future, so praising a speaker’s strong points will help reinforce them. Be sure to talk about what you liked – even if you’re sure the speaker knows. Emphasizing the speaker’s strong points can also teach the rest of the audience what you thought was successful, so they can try it too. It helps to start with a positive attitude, and then look for the parts we liked.
Sandwich Growth Between Praise
We are asked, as Toastmasters evaluators, to give the speaker one or more suggestions for improvement. Resist the temptation, especially with someone we think has a thick skin, to list a large number of perceived faults without balancing them with successes. People find it much easier to absorb criticism when they are also praised. Plus it makes change seem easier, and less overwhelming, to hear that some parts are already pretty good.
Saying ‘That was a great speech!’ doesn’t tell the speaker anything. ‘Your opening really drew me in, your pacing held my attention, and your conclusion inspired me to go home and write to my political representative,’ gives more information. Better yet, be specific about words you liked, gestures that illustrated a point for you, setups that made a joke funny, places where the speaker paused and let you absorb some piece of information before going on. These details give a speaker a lot more information about not just what worked, but why.
Be specific about what worked and what didn’t. It’s hard to change when told, ‘your conclusion was weak.’ It’s easier to improve when told, ‘I expected a sentence or two more about the subject to draw together the opening and the body of your speech. Without it, your conclusion felt a little sudden.’ It’s also important to be just as specific about what worked. Saying ‘I liked your humour’ and then going into specific detail about what didn’t work makes it seem like the first part was just to make the speaker feel good. Tell them in as much detail what worked, since otherwise they won’t believe you.
Yes, your evaluation must be from your point of view. However, it is not about your opinion of the speech topic. Some speeches can be controversial. You, as evaluator, are not there to give your opinion of the debate, but to talk about how effective the speech was. Did it tap into universal human emotions? Did it have a compelling message, even if you did not personally agree with it? Maybe the speech made you very angry. If so, it certainly tapped into something. Articulating why it angered you can give both you and the speaker some good insight into what worked in the speech.
When we are offering both positive and negative feedback, it is very easy to put ‘but’ in between. ‘Your opening was compelling, but the body didn’t back it up.’ To the listener, everything that precedes the word but gets negated. It is no longer sounds like having a compelling opening matters, since ‘the body didn’t back it up.’ Making them two separate sentences, or connecting them with ‘and,’ will help make it clear that these are two separate pieces of feedback. ‘Your opening was compelling. I felt the body wasn’t as compelling.’ ‘Your opening was compelling, and I was hoping the body would back it up. I thought it fell short’.’ Also beware of but masquerading as however, nonetheless, and other similar words.
3. Thinking Tips
From What to Why
These are some advanced tools, which are especially useful when evaluating a polished, experienced speaker.
Talk About The effect On You
The more you can get at why a part of a speech is effective, the more helpful your evaluation will be. Maybe the tone of the speaker’s voice really conveyed sadness, or maybe it was the drop in volume, or both. Don’t give up, even if you don’t really know why. Start with the effect you felt or saw, then brainstorm about what might have made it so effective.
Explore Other Options
Try other ways of getting the same effect, or ways to get different effects. Maybe you liked tha casual intimacy the speaker conveyed when moving around the room. You can try talking about the effect it had, and then exploring other effects the speaker could have tried for. Maybe the speaker’s pacing gave a feeling of energy to the presentation. Perhaps the speaker could try standing still for the beginning and start moving midway through to build up to a high finish. Or the speaker could move for some parts and stand still for others. Or the speaker could try to convey the same intensity and energy without moving his/her legs, as a challenge to try something new. None of these approaches indicated that the speaker did anything wrong; they just explore different ways to try new techniques.
If you focus on the speaker and speak explicitly about your own experience of the speech, and how and why the speech worked, you will soon give powerful and useful evaluations.