Speech evaluators are responsible for encouraging, supporting and coaching their assigned speakers. If they fulfill this role with sensitivity, skill and practical insights, they enrich the educational experience for everyone in the room. A powerfully good (or bad) evaluation also affects our potential members and guests.
Guests attend Toastmasters meetings because they have heard about our supportive and educational atmosphere. They are intently watching, eager to observe both elements. They pay special attention to speech evaluations; if support or educational value is absent, we'll likely not see those guests again.
Our challenge is to provide comprehensive, compassionate evaluations at every meeting. We are all students, practicing and refining the skills it takes to become good communicators, coaches and leaders. We are subjective and opinionated, attempting to expand beyond our attitudes and assumptions in order to develop lucid, objective viewpoints.
Alone, each evaluator has limitations and challenges; within our clubs, members possess diverse strengths and experiences to draw upon. In this article, I will describe how the evaluator's role can be expanded to include perspectives and insights from more than one person. Collaborative evaluations allow us the opportunity to tap the talent within our meeting and maximize the learning experience for all.
1. Speaker and Evaluator - the Primary Collaborative Relationship: When an evaluator begins the two to three minute talk with: "John asked me to address some additional elements in his presentation today," the speaker and evaluator have entered into a collaborative relationship. They spoke prior to the meeting, and will spend a few minutes together afterward to exchange final comments. The speaker will provide feedback to the evaluator, so that both can benefit.
It's often productive for the speaker and evaluator to share in a Consultative ("Tell and Listen") Evaluation during the meeting itself. I found this helpful when I was assigned to evaluate "Kathy," an experienced and talented member. This speech was far below her usual performance level, and I suspected she hadn't prepared adequately.
Rather than stating my assumption (which may have been wrong), I began by asking Kathy to share her own observations. Kathy was comfortable with this and readily pinpointed areas where she felt she could have done better. She also shared strategies she intended to use for her next assignment. This unusual approach allowed Kathy to demonstrate her experience, self-awareness and maturity in taking responsibility for her performance. It was of more value and interest to everyone in the room than my own report would have been.
Consultative evaluations may take a few minutes longer than a typical evaluation, so the evaluator needs to keep an eye on the time. A consultative evaluation is not recommended for new speakers, who need guidance and practical advice. Try it with your more experienced speakers, with their prior consent.
2. Your Techno-Collaborator - a Video Camera: Many clubs have access to video equipment. To track your growth, ask that your speech (and it's evaluation) be recorded on the video camera, or perhaps on your own mobile phone. Whether you watch the video alone, with non-Toastmaster friends or with your mentor, you'll have access to an objective record of your presentation.
Play the video normally to review your pronunciation, vocal variety, pace, logic and overall structure. View it with the sound off to study your facial expressions (Do they convey the appropriate emotions?) and your general movements. Fast-forward to catch problems such as repetitive, narrow gestures, fidgeting or lack of balance in addressing the audience. (These may be too subtle to notice when the video is playing at it's normal rate of speed.)
For the benefit of guests and new members, the Toastmaster of the Day should point out that the video camera is being used by members who want to document and analyze their progress. This educational resource is often viewed as a valuable asset, attracting new members to your club.
3. Collaborative Team Evaluations: Horizontal Evaluations are conducted by a panel of three or more evaluators, each assigned to observe and analyze specific elements within the prepared speeches. These would include:
After all speeches have been presented, each evaluator uses two to three minutes to deliver a summary report, including feedback for all speakers. This exercise encourages evaluators and the audience to isolate and explore several elements of public speaking. (Be sure to allocate sufficient time for all the evaluators who will participate in this session.)
The Two-Person (Content and Delivery) Evaluation uses two evaluators: One concentrates on content, and the other on delivery. When Russ and I tried this technique, we evaluated three speakers. Russ analyzed the content of the first speech, using one to two minutes; I followed with one to two minutes of my observations concerning that speaker's delivery. Then we moved to the remaining speakers. The next time I participate in a two-person evaluation, I will be eager to evaluate speech content.
Many data-driven people are familiar with focusing on content. Our initial tendency is to summarize the entire speech, but we eventually learn to step back and examine the speech's structure and the effectiveness of the speaker's points. This allows us to formulate and share strategies for developing ideas in a more logical and persuasive manner.
Other members are drawn to the vocal and physical aspects of public speaking. When we evaluate delivery, we need to go beyond simple enjoyment and learn to analyze and master these presentation skills ourselves. An evaluator's confident demonstration of effective gestures and vocal variety encourages other speakers to develop these talents.
Panel Discussion among several experienced evaluators is moderated by the General Evaluator. The panel assembles at the front of the room after all speeches are completed. Panelists are not limited to discussion of isolated speech elements or individual speakers; they share observations about all of the speeches. The moderator guides the discussion by posing relevant questions and ensuring that each speaker receives feedback from the group. The moderator must keep the conversation lively and productive. Since different perspectives are being shared, occasional disagreement may arise. As long as a positive, supportive atmosphere is maintained, disagreement is beneficial.
4. Audience as Collaborator: Round Robin evaluations also require careful moderation, but are led by the Speech Evaluator. This requires tact, experience and astute listening skills. Toastmasters pro Nicole begins her Round Robin evaluations by defining the nature of the comments she will solicit from the audience. "I want to focus on three elements in Dave's speech: gesture, voice and organization. Before I give my observations about Dave's gestures, who has a comment you'd like to share?" Nicole respects differing viewpoints, supports all participants and maintains a positive, nurturing atmosphere. She gently controls the discussion and stays within the agreed time limit of five minutes.
When a seasoned Toastmaster leads a Round Robin, everyone becomes personally involved in the evaluation process. It's one of the most interactive learning experiences and can be rewarding and enjoyable.
"Mini-Sandwich" Evaluations can also involve several audience members. After the assigned evaluator has finished, he or she can ask audience members to share additional comments. I call this a "mini-sandwich" because even in these brief comments, it's helpful for participating members to practice the "sandwich" technique. Rather than simply saying, "I think his chart was confusing," the member should be encouraged to place a single observation into a mini-sandwich of "praise - suggestion - praise." For example: "I can see that Rob knows a lot about tax law, but I would have understood him better if his chart had laid out the five points he was making. I want to remember those tips when I do my own taxes."
5. Silent Collaboration via Written Feedback: Feedback slips are the most common medium for allowing the audience to share feedback with speakers. We are fortunate that our members and guests have diverse opinions and knowledge. I am thrilled when someone includes an unexpected tidbit, such as "blue or purple would complement your skin tone better than the green you're wearing," or "The FAA just published the results of the study you mentioned." These comments probably weren't included in my oral speech evaluation, but they are thoughtful, helpful and enriching to my learning experience.
I believe every feedback slip should be signed. This allows a speaker, who needs clarification, to identify a comment's source. It also reminds the writer to take responsibility for his or her statements. The most troubling feedback slips I've received may not have been intended to confuse or discourage me, but since they weren't signed, I couldn't follow up with the writer to clarify the message.
Customized evaluation slips may be developed by your club to provide more space and structure for the feedback comments you hope to receive from the audience. Our preprinted feedback slips are small; a larger format (at least the size of a 3" x 5" index card) provides enough space for a "sandwich" evaluation. Here's one simple format:
"What I liked most about your speech was... "
"My main suggestion for improvement is... "
"Your greatest strength is... "
Your club may prefer a larger form with space to share feedback about organization, vocal variety, gestures, eye contact. Provide enough room for complete thoughts, and avoid any format that encourages people to classify speech elements as "good" or "poor." Limit the number of categories so that audience members are not overwhelmed by trying to provide too many comments for each speaker.
6. Master Collaborator - The General Evaluator: The General Evaluator's job is to evaluate the meeting, not speakers. However, when I'm General Evaluator I observe each speech as if I were the evaluator. I jot down my own notes about the speakers' strengths and weaknesses. Then I listen to the assigned evaluators and compare our observations.
As General Evaluator, my job is to coach the evaluators to excellence. I also must provide valid educational information to all persons in the room. I will praise a new evaluator and compliment an experienced member for the knowledge and skills demonstrated in his or her evaluation. However, if I feel that a critical element of the speech has been overlooked or that a strong and debatable opinion has been stated, I owe it to the evaluator, the speaker and the audience to address the issue.
For example, if an Ice Breaker speaker is told, "You talked too long about your father, so you did not fulfill the objective of introducing yourself to us," this evaluator's opinion could be misinterpreted by the speaker and other audience members as an important "rule" within Toastmasters.
The General Evaluator may say, "I enjoyed Lee's Ice Breaker speech. As Joe pointed out, Lee spent a lot of time focusing on his father. Joe, that may seem like an unusual choice for an Ice Breaker, but it can be an effective way to help an audience get to know the speaker. When someone describes what he or she values in another person and in their relationship, we learn a lot about the speaker's character and how they relate to other people."
Any of the above strategies and exercises can be used to create a richer evaluation environment within your club. Not every meeting needs to take a collaborative approach, but when used, it provides a refreshing change of pace and a valuable learning experience for your members.
Your club's Vice President Education should also be seen as a vital collaborator in this effort. If your meeting quality has been affected by a tendency among evaluators to be too harsh or to "whitewash" speeches, your VPE will want to address this as a club priority. Your officers may decide to schedule an educational module from The Successful Club Series: "Evaluate to Motivate."
Sometimes evaluations seem repetitive because several speakers are struggling to master the same skill. (You may have noticed that a significant number of members are reluctant to speak without notes, or that your meetings have a chronic problem of speeches running overtime.) If there is a specific challenge shared by many in your club, the VPE or another seasoned Toastmaster can deliver a customized speech to address the issue. The entire club will receive helpful suggestions for overcoming a common problem, and the presenter will have completed a manual assignment uniquely suited for its target audience.
Through enrichment of our evaluation atmosphere, meetings will truly embody the spirit of the Toastmasters Mission: "... to provide a mutually supportive and positive learning environment in which every member has the opportunity to develop communication and leadership skills, which in turn foster self-confidence and personal growth."