an evaluation experience

My first Toastmasters competition. Result. Second place and a chance to represent Victoria Toastmasters Club in the Area G2 Evaluation […]

My first Toastmasters competition. Result. Second place and a chance to represent Victoria Toastmasters Club in the Area G2 Evaluation Speech Contest on 17 September. Quite pleased with that. I gave some thought to how I would approach this competition – particularly with it being my first. Here’s how I embarked on it and I hope you might find it useful in scaling those lofty heights of Club-level runner-upness!

First up, what I identified as my six key stages to success:

  1. Review your previous club evaluations

  2. Observe other Toastmasters evaluating in competition

  3. Be 100% clear on the objectives of the evaluation

  4. Know the judging criteria

  5. Practice: it does make perfect (well, 2nd place anyway)

  6. Adopt, and stick to, a definitive evaluation strategy

Review your previous club evaluations

I’ve evaluated Table Topics twice, and one CC manual speech. I found Table Topics evaluations frankly a bit of a nightmare, rather unique, and to be honest they didn’t really help me much in preparing for this competition. Conversely I think what I now know will help with future Table Topic evaluating. I recall that when I gave the CC manual speech evaluation I approached it in a very ‘checklist’ manner. You can find iterations of these lists all over the web. They look like this or this. They are quite useful for crystallising the points you should be looking for but in practice if you use these during the speech they are probably going to distract. You won’t be doing justice to the speaker’s efforts. What I found previously was that after the limited time available for preparation that all I actually ended up with was the checklist, remixed. And this translated in retrospect, I think, to a very piecemeal evaluation. This isn’t a fair return on the energy the speaker invests in his speech preparation. The speaker deserves more.

So based on my club experience there’s an obvious take-home message. Evaluation is as important as the speech being appraised. But, given that there’s very little time to prepare it on the night 75% of it must be formulated beforehand. How to do that?

Observe other Toastmasters evaluating in competition – go to YouTube

Giving an evaluation that’s worth a damn. This guy’s run-through of evaluative techniques is very down to earth, very practical. And there are many, many videos of competition-winning evaluations online. There is quite a range of styles; they go from being to-the-point, to slightly over-the-top, to almost upstaging the speaker. So, plenty of evidence for there being more than one way to skin a cat. While always being conscious of my own style and comfort zone I tried to look for aspects that I could take on board that might accentuate my own strong points while drawing me out of that zone a bit. Incidentally, there’s an annoying guy in a pop-up ad with a what-the-judges-don’t-tell-you 200-page bible of evaluation top tips. Yep. Life’s too short. He’s made millions though. Again… yeah.

Be 100% clear on the objectives of the evaluation

What is an evaluation, exactly? There’s a pretty well established formula. But it can be represented in different ways, one or another of which might particularly appeal to you.

  1. (a) Organisation; (b) Mechanics; (c) Emotion
  2. (a) Structure; (b) Delivery; (c) Message
  3. (a) What you heard; (b) What you saw; (c) What you felt

(a), (b) and (c) are all equivalent but I like the way it’s expressed in no.3. It neatly captures the idea that your evaluation should be a response to a set of stimuli. After all, if a speech is effective shouldn’t it be stimulating your senses?

Whichever description takes your fancy judging criteria are very clearly defined so let’s take a look at the a’s, b’s and c’s.

(a) Is the speech well-organized with an opening, a body and an ending? Did the use of language evoke the speech objective? Was there innovative use of metaphor and other rhetorical devices? How about ums, ahs or other fillers?

(b) How are the speaker’s delivery skills? Did the speaker use effective gestures and appropriate body language? What facial expressions were demonstrated? Was eye contact maintained with the audience? How was time management?

(c) Is there a message/value in the speech/clear objectives? Is it of any interest to the audience? What emotions were felt by you as a listener? What images could you see in your mind? Were you moved to action? Could you empathize with the speaker? Could you feel the speaker’s passion?

Again, coming back to my earlier point, this is where over-use of forms and standard checklists I think can see you bogged down with ticking here and checking there and not really listening or soaking up the speaker’s offering. Ironically, this probably leaves you in a worse evaluative position than the rest of the audience, which is sitting there relaxed, attentive and open-minded.

Know the judging criteria

Seventy percent of available points are based on the analytical quality and recommendations. This is where those checklists come into play and why you need to know intuitively which aspects of technical excellence or transgression to spot. As already mentioned, I found that by focusing too hard on these minutiae the overall thrust and fluency of my only previous evaluation was compromised. The remainder of the points are split equally between technique and summation. Technique can be rehearsed and the summary points are surely a given so long as you don’t throw them away by forgetting to clearly transition to a reiteration of the key points in closing.

Practice: it does make perfect (well, 2nd place anyway)

You can’t guess the speaker or anticipate the topic but you can rehearse your own evaluative style and vocabulary. I thought it would look slightly cynical if for example I recommended a speaker’s vocabulary could benefit from a little more colour if in the process of evaluation I was bringing no adjectival novelty of my own. I’m not sure that in the event I did, but its worth having a few descriptive alternatives in reserve. Back to YouTube then; try evaluating a competition speech.

Adopt, and stick to, a definitive evaluation strategy

So having absorbed the checklist components I dispensed with them for the competition. I resorted to a very simple two-column note form that acknowledges Toastmasters’ preferred, very delicate, commend-recommend-commend interpretation of the bad-news sandwich. Apologies for the chaotic script, I think Toastmasters is the only place I use a pen these days.

Commend Recommend

This very simple approach works for me in providing a ready-made structured feedback template. Rather than shoehorning the evaluation according to the catalogue of technical descriptors for each of the a’s, b’s and c’s, it helped me to feedback on the speech in line with temporal development by the speaker. I felt this was a natural evaluation style especially in this instance where the speaker was relating a story. When you do finally take the floor you might want to disrupt this temporal flow by jumping out of the blocks with any singularly outstanding element of the speech. This might create an immediate impact with the judges and would certainly buoy the speaker in a regular club evaluation. In my case it made sense to go with the flow, as it were. Because I had decided my process exactly, the limited preparation time was no handicap and I felt quite confident. As suggested earlier, I did make a conscious effort to remember the conclusion – it would have been a shame to throw away decisive but easy points.

In closing…

I hope this piece proves helpful. One or two other points I noticed. Few of the speakers formally acknowledged the Contest Chairman, Fellow Toastmasters and Guests. In the competitive speeches I’ve seen online these acknowledgments seem obligatory. I don’t know if omission is penalised but it probably makes sense to include. Club members have suggested to me from time to time that I not hold an A4 page of notes. Again this doesn’t seem unusual based on observations. I know some Toastmasters like to keep their notes physically smaller. But at Victoria Toastmasters where we don’t hide behind a lectern I think that as long as the evaluator is not slavishly reliant on his notes and doesn’t let them inhibit his animation there is no issue.

Thanks to…

I visited a few stations on the web in preparing my speech, but a particular shout out to Andrew Dlugan’s great site Six Minutes for a wealth of insight.


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