Mastering the Art of Evaluation
If you’re a Toastmasters regular, you will know how important evaluation is to develop your public speaking skills. To ensure you continually grow and learn from experience, consistently evaluating your performance is key, as constructive feedback is essential for improvement.
Often an evaluation can feel uncomfortable, and both the speaker and the evaluator can even feel a little awkward about the process. However, the benefits of meaningful, tangible, and actionable insight about your speech should far outweigh any discomfort.
At Toastmasters we live by the motto, ‘if it is a speech, we evaluate it’ and everyone receives some feedback to support their growth journey. As a public speaking group, the Toastmasters learning pathway facilitates a safe environment for people to test, trial and challenge themselves to improve their oratory skills in front of an audience, and evaluations are an essential part of this education. In fact, we would go as far as to say evaluations are critical to the function of Toastmasters.
If you genuinely want to improve your public speaking and leadership skills, you must learn how to deliver and receive supportive and encouraging evaluations.
Becoming an evaluator
Evaluations are incredibly powerful and give you the opportunity to uplift, enrich and empower your peers. If you’re watching a speech, you have the chance to be an evaluator and to give someone recognition and feedback to help them on their speaking journey.
Whether you deliver the feedback verbally or via written suggestions / a report, you need to take the opportunity seriously and reflect not just on the content of the speech, but all the key characteristics that make up a powerful performance.
● Speech content
● Speech structure (including intro / ending)
● Language and tonality
● Movement and body language (including eye contact)
● Use of props and supporting material
In some cases at Toastmasters, a speaker may ask for feedback on a specific area, such as utilisation of presentation slides or comment on descriptive language. However it’s also important you comment on a variety of the characteristics to provide a complete evaluation on the strengths and the areas for improvement.
Top tips to takeaway for the evaluator
Evaluations are about supporting the speaker to positively look forward to progressing onto their next speaking endeavour. At Toastmasters, we utilise evaluation forms to award and comment on each speaker based on their project criteria, however here are some useful tips that apply to all evaluations.
If you’re evaluating at a Toastmasters meeting, try to get in touch with the speaker before the session to find out if there is a core characteristic they would like you to focus on when evaluating. You can utilise this experience to shape your communication style to suit the speaker, for example if this is their first speech you may want to adopt a lighter, more uplifting approach to a well-established speaker who may want more direct feedback.
Pick a core word to describe the speech and ensure you use it in your introduction and to close your evaluation – this should be something uplifting such as ‘confident’, ‘inspiring’ or ‘emotive’.
Pick 2-3 of the characteristics outlined above to provide a positive comment on, such as ‘great use of eye contact’, ‘loved the descriptive language and the metaphors really brought the speech to life’.
Follow the strengths with 2-3 characteristics of the speech that the speaker could work on, such as ‘try to utilise the space more when speaking’, ‘try to vary your vocal intonation to highlight or emphasise some passages of the speech’.
Where appropriate, you may want to challenge the speaker to try something in their next speech, for example standing instead of sitting or introducing a prop.
Try and relate all of your feedback to specific areas of the speech, to really personalise the evaluation for the speaker and to make the comments more tangible and therefore actionable going forward.
Ensure to keep the evaluation uplifting and positive, supporting your peers’ growth. It often helps to use phrases like ‘I feel’ or ‘In my opinion’ as often us listeners have differing views of the performance and the evaluation is just one individual’s perception.
Top tips to takeaway for the speaker being evaluated
Although we are often our harshest critic, it’s important as a speaker to reflect on your performance and receive feedback with an open mind. At Toastmasters, all members of the club have the opportunity to offer supportive comments, alongside a formal evaluation. This gives you the chance to reflect on individual preferences and to build a plan for progression that supports your own individual goals.
The speakers that practice humility and open themselves up to the evaluation process often reap the rewards, so be open to all comments. However do remember that these are opinions and you can shape the value that you take from the comments ahead of implementing any recommendations.
Look for trends in the feedback, as this can help you to address the areas that the majority feel could be improved on, such as eye contact, movement etc.
Practise self-reflection alongside your evaluation. Think about how you feel it went, if you remembered all the key points, what areas you felt could be improved for next time.
Your development is infinite
At Toastmasters we’re strong believers in continual growth and there are always new ways to challenge ourselves. Our learning does not just come from our own evaluations, but in conducting evaluations for others and by listening. As a species we learn a lot from the events and actions of those around us, and seek podcasts, books and training to support our growth. Listening is just one of those tools and at Toastmasters there is a lot to learn from others as witnesses to their public speaking journey.
As effective communicators and leaders we need constructive feedback, evaluations and experiences that continue to enrich and enhance as we strive for personal and professional growth. The key to being a great public speaker is in the art of mastering evaluation.
If you are interested in joining us at Strictly Speaking Harrogate to see evaluating in practice, get in contact today!
President at Strictly Speaking Harrogate Toastmasters (2020-2021)