Before the club meeting begins, get the manual from the speaker or leader and turn to the appropriate evaluation guide. Listen carefully and watch closely. Don’t let your mind wander or become distracted. Make notes on the evaluation guide if you want to.
After the speaker or leader has finished, begin preparing your evaluation. Complete the evaluation guide, but remember that you need not comment on every question. Then prepare your verbal presentation. You won’t have time to cover everything. Instead, simply select two or three points which you feel are most important and elaborate on them. Be honest. If you did not like some aspect of the person’s performance, do not say that you did. Mention something the person did well in addition to something which could be improved. Evaluate only areas that the speaker or leader has the power to change.
Be specific. If the speech organization was confusing at one point, say so but clearly address what confused you and offer a suggestion for improvement. “When you were talking about the truck, I wasn’t sure if you were referring to the new one or to the old one. Giving each truck an appropriate nickname and using it throughout the speech may have worked better. That would have made the references clearer to me and maybe even have added more humor.” Or, “I found the evaluation helpful. But I believe that limiting the number of helpful suggestions to three instead of five would have been more manageable and less overwhelming for the speaker.” If you were impressed, for example, with the speaker’s description of an object, say so. “When you described that fudge cake, my mouth watered.”
How You Say It
How you phrase your evaluation has as much impact on the speaker or leader as the content of your evaluation. When you mean well and have good ideas but use words that put the person on the defensive, your message is lost. Carefully select your words, using the following guidelines.
- Remember that you are speaking only for yourself, giving only your opinion. You are not speaking on behalf of the audience; in fact, your opinions may differ from those of the rest of the audience. Avoid saying “we think,” “we believe,” “the audience would have,” “the audience didn’t understand,” and other words that imply you are speaking on behalf of others.
- Likewise, avoid impersonal statements that imply someone other than you is giving the evaluation. Do not say “they say,” “one must,” “people are,” or make other vague references.
- Avoid judgment words and phrases, such as “good leaders don’t,” “that was the wrong thing to say,” “if you want to do it right, you must,” “you did,” and “you were.”
- Use words that describe your own reactions to the speaker, such as “I was impressed with,” “I was confused about,” “when I heard,” and “I think the speech’s purpose would have been clearer if,” and “I liked it when.”
- Don’t repeat a point once you have made it. Repeating a point can sound like nagging.
- Avoid words like “never” and “always.” These exaggerations detract from your message.
When you evaluate, you are giving your personal opinion in a friendly, direct, non-threatening manner. Look directly at the speaker or leader as you give your presentation. Smile. This is not a speech, and you should do nothing that calls more attention to yourself than to your effort to help the speaker or leader. Avoid exaggerated gestures or body language unless they are to illustrate a point you are making about the person’s efforts.
As You Conclude
The speaker or leader should always walk away from the meeting feeling motivated and eager to begin working on his next project. How you finish your evaluation often determines whether a speaker or leader is motivated or unmotivated. Conclude on a positive note that helps build self-esteem and self-confidence.
You could finish by pointing out a particular part of the person’s efforts that you really liked and the effect it had on you. If the person has shown dramatic improvement in some area, mention it and offer congratulations. Find something that affected you in a positive way and comment on it.
Follow Up with the Speaker
After the meeting, return the manual with your written evaluation and ask if he or she has any questions or comments about your evaluation. Make sure the speaker or leader did not misinterpret anything you said. If you have other comments you would like to make verbally, do it at this point. Ask if you could have said or done anything differently in your evaluation that would have been more helpful.
Follow Up with the Audience
As mentioned earlier, your evaluation is simply your opinion. You may want to speak with other members in the audience to see if your evaluation was indeed appropriate and accurate. Opinions may vary. But such feedback can help you the next time you are assigned to evaluate a speaker or leader.
Use the three R’s of evaluating: Review, Reward and Respond
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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Words for improvement:
- perhaps you could work on this for your next speech
- one thing you might consider
- I got distracted when you did or said this, so you might consider…
- I had a hard time following you at this point because your volume trailed off so maybe you could try to focus on clear projection in your next speech. (or if you hold your head up higher it might help your voice project more clearly. Something you could focus on…
- Speed up or slow down
- Vary your tone, vary your volume
- Pause for emphasis
- Eliminate filler words
- Eye Contact
- Use of notes
- Speak up or speak clearly
- Avoid the temptation to fill the space between words with umm
- Body language –will be addressed later but it is something you could begin working on now. Perhaps practice purposeful and deliberate gestures. It can also be effective to leave your hands at your sides at times.
- Opening – Your opening should be something that makes an emotional connection with the audience. It can be a story, a question, or a shocking static. It should not be an introduction of yourself or five minutes of thank-yous. David Parnell, the founder of an attorney placement firm who recently finished an 850-page book on the psychology of effective communication, suggests that any stories you use should represent your audience’s position in life and should use characters that are analogous to your audience.
- Body – Try to stick to your three most important points. It’s more important to engage the audience than to tell them everything you know. You will need to leave some information out, but it is likely that what you don’t cover in the presentation will come up when you take questions. Keep your outcome in mind. You don’t have to write out your presentation word for word (or worse, memorize it) if you just remember to keep going back to your main points and working toward your desired outcome. Be prepared to present both sides of an issue. You’ll appear more credible if you acknowledge your competitors or any opposing arguments. After you’ve explained the other side, you can spell out exactly why your company is better or your argument is stronger.
- Closing – The closing of your presentation is the last opportunity you have to give your audience something that will stick in their minds. You can go back to your opening or end on a clever slogan or a call to action. Parnell suggests that when making a business proposal, you end on a positive forecast. ‘Your forecast will provide fodder that can serve to validate any subconsciously generated optimism,’ he says.