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How to take your contest evaluations to the next level.

The sandwich approach to evaluation is a great way to learn the basic tenets of evaluating a fellow Toastmaster's speech. It also does the job of providing the speaker with an encouraging yet useful speech critique. However, if you want to take evaluations to the next level, you'll need to go beyond the sandwich approach. This article will show you how to kick it up a few notches - enough to win at evaluation contests, or at least a few ribbons at club meetings.

If your goal is to win evaluation contests, realize this: winning a con-test means that you can't do what everyone is doing; you have to differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack, and that means using a slightly different evaluating approach. Also, one of the "magic" ingredients to winning a contest is to entertain or captivate the audience. Since contests are judged by

people, even if they have evaluation forms listing areas they need to judge you on, it helps to sway them emotionally too - and humor is often the best approach.

There are two areas that your evaluation needs to cover: the content and the delivery of the speech. The content of the speech is handled primarily during the introduction and conclusion, while the effectiveness of the speech delivery (e.g. vocal variety) is dealt with during the body of your evaluation.

Step 1: Preparation - Before the speech starts

On a sheet of paper, prepare the categories to look out for when listening to a speech. This should loosely follow the judge's speech evaluation form (appearance, vocal variety, facial expression, gestures, etc.) and also include space for "strengths" and "improvement suggestion." Leave lots of space so you can write legibly.

Step 2: What to do during the speech

Jot down, in the prepared categories, notes that you feel are pertinent. Remember, your evaluation speech is only two to three minutes long, so you only need to jot down at most three major points each for strengths and improvement suggestions. There is no need to spend the entire time distracted by scribbling down too many notes that you can't use - you can and should take in the speech and enjoy listening to it! All the while, start thinking about how the speech connects to you personally, in a manner in which the judges and audience can relate to or engage in. This is the main fodder for your introduction and conclusion.

Step 3: What to do after the speech

Step 4: Delivering your evaluation

At the contest level, anyone who hides behind the lectern or uses notes is significantly penalized for doing so. So memorize your key points! When you get up to make your evaluation, there are usually two opening approaches:

For example, "It was past midnight and I was surrounded by blazing fire every direction I turned. But the only thing I could think about was where my children were in my burning house, and not about my own safe escape. Fear engulfed my mind as my heart pounded in panic - I was frozen and did not know what to do (pause). We have all experienced fear, but Joe's speech about fear tonight really highlighted something I could identify with (pause). Mr. Contest Chair...."

Throughout your speech, work the room with eye contact. If you notice anyone writing something down, chances are that she or he is a judge. Make it a point to maintain eye contact with him or her for at least a phrase or a full sentence. Make sure no section of the room is left "unattended" with your eye con-tact. It also helps to smile and maintain a friendly persona during the evaluation rather than come across as overly serious or austere.

For the body of your evaluation, you could make it seem very organized, memorable and easy-to-follow by using numbers to guide the audience through your points.

For example, "Joe demonstrated three strong suits throughout his speech (then elaborate). Joe, I have two suggestions for improvement for you: (elaborate)."

If you have time, you can do a quick recap of the numbered points - without further elaboration - just before you embark on your conclusion. This also helps to signal the audience that a conclusion is coming up. Avoid ending with "in conclusion," as it's too contrived.

When you close, always try to round back to your introductory story, as that never fails to give the audience a feeling that your evaluation was really polished, replete with a nicely packaged conclusion - it's the icing on the cake that creates a lasting impression.

For example, to use the story mentioned earlier, you could conclude by saying, "During that night of the fire in my home, if not for the firefighter's quick arrival, my family and I might have perished. If I had learned earlier of some of the tools to combat and manage fear that you had outlined in your speech, I might have been able to help myself and my family better during that frightful night. Listening to your speech tonight might just save a life down the road! (quick pause) Mr. Contest Chair."

The way to indicate that your speech is over is to say "Mr. Contest Chair." (You could extend your arm in his general direction to shake his hand. Don't forget to smile! Do not end your speech with "Thank you.")

Finally, don't leave the speaking area until the Contest Chair or Toastmaster has shaken your hand; otherwise it looks as though you're nervously running off the stage. Then confidently walk offstage to your seat to await the news that you have won Best Evaluator for that meeting or contest.

By Regina_Jaslow

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