When you sit in a Toastmasters meeting, you often hear speeches that ignite passion, inspire action, or simply entertain. However, after the applause dies down, comes a critical phase: the evaluation.

At its core, evaluating isn’t about criticism. It’s about growth, mutual learning, and elevating the speaker to new heights.

Before I joined Toastmasters, I was a Communication Arts teacher, a debate coach, and a speaker. It is evaluation that made my Toastmasters experience remarkable.

Consider an example: Imagine Jane, a new Toastmaster, giving her first icebreaker speech. She’s nervous, her hands tremble slightly, but she shares her story with genuine emotion.

As an evaluator, do you focus only on the trembling hands or the power of her story?

The Essence of a Good Evaluation

Evaluations are about balance. If you were to tell Jane only about her trembling hands, she might feel demotivated. But if you acknowledge the emotion and authenticity she brought, and then suggest techniques to manage nervousness, you’d be helping her grow.

Preparing for the Evaluation

I once heard an evaluator say that he can evaluate any speaker without hearing him or her. He was not joking, because after a week he evaluated someone though he was late in the meeting and did not see it. From that time on, I refused to be evaluated by him, even when he is around.

Evaluation is no joke to me. We need to prepare for it. Here are simple ways.

a. Listen Actively

It’s not just about hearing words, but understanding the message. For instance, during Jane’s icebreaker, she mentioned her love for classical dance. An active listener might tie this into feedback, suggesting she use dance postures to ground herself and manage nervousness.

b. Understand the Objectives

Every Toastmasters speech has objectives. You can find these objectives in Pathways. And it’s crucial to know what the speaker aims for. This guides your feedback.

Crafting Your Evaluation

I often remind people that an evaluator is not a teacher who gives grades. We are more of a helper. We help each speaker to improve. It is important therefore that we provide the best help.

In a sense, most evaluation are impromptu speeches. You are given too little time to compose your ideas. But it does not mean that you can say everything you want to say. You only have three minutes to share your ideas. Craft your evaluation for clarity and impact.

a. The Sandwich Approach

Remember the old saying, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”? Feedback works similarly. Start by praising Jane’s emotional depth, then address the nervousness, and conclude with her potential as a speaker.

I call this method commend, recommend, and commend. Another method I use is good, better, best.

b. Be Specific

Instead of saying, “Your speech was good,” dive deeper. “Jane, the way you narrated your childhood was captivating. It made me feel like I was right there with you.”

c. Prioritize Feedback

Given Jane’s first speech, it might be tempting to offer feedback on every detail. However, overwhelming a speaker can be counterproductive. Choose 2-3 key points that will make the most difference.

d. Balance Positivity with Areas for Improvement

This isn’t about inflating egos, but about genuine appreciation. When Jane hears positive feedback intertwined with areas of improvement, she’s more likely to act on it.

Delivering Your Evaluation

An evaluation is a speech to educate and motivate. Though we are evaluating only the speaker, we are also educating and motivating everyone in the room. It is important to keep this in mind.

a. Mind Your Body Language

Imagine giving positive feedback with a frown. Confusing, right? Your body language should match your words. When you’re praising, smile, and maintain eye contact.

b. Voice Modulation

If you sound monotonous, even the best feedback can fall flat. Modulate your voice to emphasize key points and convey enthusiasm.

c. Ask Questions

Instead of saying, “You seemed nervous,” ask Jane, “How did you feel while delivering the speech?” This promotes self-awareness and can lead to self-improvement.

Post-Evaluation: Fostering a Supportive Environment

I like to write my evaluation, even if the speaker does not ask for it. There are many things that I cannot say in three minutes. I also want to get the feedback from the speaker and answer her questions.

As I have mentioned, an evaluator does not give grades. But we can provide the speaker an idea of where she is now and what are the opportunities for her to improve faster.

Here are simple suggestions on how to do this.

a. Availability for Further Feedback

After your evaluation, approach Jane and let her know you’re there if she has any questions. It shows you genuinely care about her growth.

b. Continuous Learning

Seek feedback on your evaluation. Remember, the journey to becoming a better evaluator is ongoing. Perhaps another member noticed something in Jane’s speech that you missed. Learn from it.

Evaluating is a skill, an art form even. As evaluators in Toastmasters, we don’t just aim to critique. We strive to elevate, uplift, and guide speakers to their best versions. And in doing so, we too rise, learn, and grow.

Personal Touch: The Value of Relatability

In all your evaluations, try to connect on a personal level. Share a brief anecdote or a similar experience. When Jane hears, “I remember my first icebreaker; my legs felt like jelly!” she’ll feel less isolated in her experience and more understood.

Examples: The Power of Visualization

Humans are visual creatures. Instead of saying, “Your pace was fast,” you might try, “Imagine your speech is like a serene walk in a park, not a race. Slow down, let us stroll with you through your story.”

Such vivid feedback tends to stick and make a bigger impact.

The Bigger Picture: Beyond the Club Meetings

Toastmasters isn’t confined to the four walls of your club meeting venue. Encourage speakers like Jane to practice their speeches in different environments. A different audience, be it family or friends, can offer a fresh perspective and help them refine their skills further.

The Follow-Up: Showing Genuine Care

A week after you’ve evaluated Jane, ask her how she feels about your feedback. Did she find it helpful? Is she working on the areas you highlighted?

This not only shows her that you genuinely care, but it also keeps her accountable to her growth.

Continuous Growth: Workshops and Further Reading

Always be on the lookout for workshops, webinars, or books on effective evaluations. The world of communication is vast, and there’s always something new to learn.

Share these resources with your fellow Toastmasters, fostering an environment of collective learning.

Embrace Diversity: Every Speaker is Unique

Jane’s background, experiences, and style are unique to her. It’s essential to tailor your feedback to the individual, recognizing and celebrating their unique voice. Avoid pushing them into a one-size-fits-all mold.

Conclusion: Elevating Together

In the world of Toastmasters, we’re all on a journey – a journey of continuous growth, learning, and empowerment.

As evaluators, our role is pivotal. We don’t merely comment; we catalyze growth.

Remember, every time you evaluate, you hold a piece of someone’s self-confidence in your hands.

Let’s make it our mission to always evaluate to elevate.

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