HOWTOToastmasters are a courageous bunch. Not only do they come and give speeches in public – one of the well documented fears – but they are also prepared to receive open and public feedback in front of their peers. As evaluators, we owe it to them to do our very best. Evaluating a speech is the ultimate expression of mentoring for a public speaker. The evaluator is there to offer guidance, advice and encouragement, and their role is key to the speaker’s development. So, what are the skills that need to be developed?

Observation skills: a combination of careful listening, note taking and ignoring the inner voice which may distract us. By the time that the target speech has been delivered the evaluator needs to have noticed and recorded all the relevant points. Notice everything – major and minor points; strengths and areas for improvement. And focus your observations around the objectives for the speech.

Real time organisational skills: in most Toastmaster clubs we will have 15 minutes or so to write our evaluation before delivering it. This limited time requires the evaluator to think and plan quickly. It’s a good skill to develop, but it is challenging. Have a template or a proforma to use, and write up the notes into some order, rather than go to the lectern with all of the scribbles made when observing the speech.

Encouragement: the evaluation speech must be encouraging. Drawing out the positive aspects of the speech, noting how much progress the speaker has made, and painting a picture of where their speaking career is heading.

Challenge: the speaker will learn most from the recommendations made to them. These need to be relevant, meaningful and delivered sensitively. It is useful to have some phrases to introduce a recommendation, e.g. “my encouragement is to try xxx”; “perhaps xxx could be considered next time” “I was wondering whether xxx may work better”. Also, look for the less obvious points to note. Chances are that the speaker will be aware of their major errors, but may not know about the minor ones – nuances, often used “tell” words (you know, actually, now, so), and you will be providing a great service by pointing these out.

Managing our own anxiety: sometimes evaluators are reluctant to offer recommendations for fear of offending, or they make too many recommendations to demonstrate their own observational powers. What is important here is to overcome any reluctance to challenge a speaker – after all they have signed up to be assessed by an evaluator!

As well as evaluating single speeches, there is the opportunity to evaluate groups of speakers as the topics evaluator, and to evaluate the whole evening as general evaluator. All of the above skills apply in these roles, with some key additions. Structure is vital, as time is limited and the evaluator needs to be highly organised. Being comprehensive and ensuring that every speaker receives both praise and recommendations is also important. Finally, the best group evaluations will use different descriptors and adjectives for each speaker, and will give the audience a flavour of the collective activity as well as the individual speeches.

Use these skills to craft a well structured, helpful evaluation. Not only will you be providing an important service for the speaker, but you will be sharing learning with the audience. You will also develop your own skill which will help you become a better speaker. Good luck with it.

Charlie Warshawski – from Speakeasy 156 – February 2012