Toastmasters clubs offer a friendly environment for members to practice public speaking. Evaluations provide positive feedback that helps everyone improve their communication skills. But sometimes evaluations can be negative, even destructive. What do you do if you receive a bad evaluation?
First, don't overreact. It's tempting for all of us - especially if we're afraid of public speaking - to believe that the negative opinion must be right. This is borne out of the fear that we really aren't that good and that the person is only speaking the truth that no one else will.
But is it really the truth? Or is it the evaluator's lack of experience? Many people don't understand how to give criticism positively, and it's a difficult skill to learn. They grasp the concept that they should be honest, but that's where the breakdown occurs. They think honesty is like medicine - it may taste terrible, but it's good for you. They don't realize that there is a difference between saying a speech is terrible and telling the speaker how to improve.
Of course, knowing that might not help you overcome your feelings when you hear the evaluation. Negative words can wound deeply, and can create a powerful sense of outrage that may make it difficult to think rationally. But it's important to remember the evaluator is only commenting on the speech. It's not a personal attack directed at you. Still, you may feel that it is. But you must separate yourself from the speech. Don't place all your self-worth as a Toastmaster on a single person's comments, assuming that "I must be a terrible speaker because John said so." Evaluations are some one else's opinion and may be based on a variety of things - possibly none of them having to do with your speech. Perhaps the evaluator had a bad day or a personal gripe against the subject. Or maybe he's still learning how to evaluate.
The opinion itself is not right or wrong, nor are you obligated to agree with it. If you find yourself reacting negatively, consider all the speeches you've made before. Suppose you've given six other speeches, all evaluated by different members. What did they say? Remember their words of positive encouragement. They thought you did pretty well.
You may need to take a step back and let your emotions settle down so you can see things more clearly. People have quit clubs on the crest of emotions, discarding their power to handle hurt and anger. What power? Confidence in yourself. One member, after being told that she would never get anywhere in Toastmasters if she didn't change her accent, laughed and gave another speech.
Talk to other members about what happened. You may discover they liked the speech and your delivery of it. Maybe the speech wasn't as bad as the person who gave the evaluation thought.
Consider giving the speech again, but this time with a different evaluator. At the very least, you may want to ensure that the negative evaluator doesn't evaluate any of your speeches again. A Toastmaster in California, after receiving the same negative comment on more than one occasion, finally told the Vice President Education not to schedule the man as his evaluator. In this case, the speaker was not offended by the negative comment but felt that the evaluator could not overcome a personal bias and thus could not offer useful suggestions.
What about confronting the negative evaluator? It's probably not a good idea. The hurt and rage you may experience over the bad evaluation could cause you to say things you don't mean and cause bad feelings. However, after the meeting, some of the other club members may take that evaluator aside and explain what he or she needs to work on. But what if it's a club problem? There are several ways you can help - and develop your leadership skills as well. Volunteer as General Evaluator for meetings. You can use the role to address the issue. The key is to lead by example, showing the proper way to do an evaluation. Offer praise for several things each speaker excelled at and offer one place for improvement. Finish with a compliment. And don't forget to praise the speakers.
Volunteer to serve as Toastmaster of the Day. You can invite an experienced Toastmaster from another club - or even your own area governor - to deliver a speech on effective evaluations. You also can arrange for a joint club meeting and invite the other club's members to do the evaluations. All of these set examples that will resonate in your club.
A third option is to coordinate a training session, using the materials offered by Toastmasters International. The Success/Communication Series offers an in-depth look at "The Art of Effective Evaluation."
Let's hope you never receive a bad evaluation. But if you do, ignore the little voice that says the evaluator might be right and remind yourself that you are a good speaker. And, if you see the situation arise with another speaker, use your own experience to lead by example.