Let’s start with a caveat: I am not an expert on anything. I certainly am not an expert on delivering the perfect evaluation. I can share the methods I used. You can try these techniques to see which, if any, would work for you.
There are no experts in Toastmasters. There are no professors or instructors. We are all individuals who bring our own life experience to Toastmasters and work together to become better communicators and leaders.
I find that notion liberating. No one is expecting me to provide perfect feedback. All I do is share what I saw, heard, and felt during the speech. I can’t be wrong about my own observations. I let the speaker draw their own conclusions from my evaluation. Over time, after a variety of input from different Toastmasters with unique perspectives, speakers will choose which advice to incorporate into their presentations and develop their own style.
When I prepare to evaluate a speaker, I start by going to the Pathways lesson and reading the project criteria. There are no free speeches in Toastmasters: I always have the speaker provide the lesson information, and ask the speaker what areas they want me to focus on. I consider both the standard criteria and their extended criteria in my evaluation.
I always speak for myself, not the club members or the audience. I don’t know what anyone else saw, heard, or felt during the speech. They might have a different reaction to everything in my evaluation. I can only report on my own observations.
For newer members, I focus on how well they incorporate and demonstrate mastery of the skills from the Pathways lesson. As members progress, I still watch for the basic skills, but in a more nuanced way. If the speaker varies from Toastmasters conventions, I consider why they might have done so, and whether it was effective in this particular instance. It’s important to have a solid grounding in the basics, but once mastered, it can be equally important to break the “rules” when a situation warrants it.
I do my best to avoid generic superlatives, as in “What an amazing speech!” or “That was outstanding!” These are meaningless. Compare these statements with “I thought your speech was an effective and heartfelt discussion of a sensitive issue.” or “I laughed a lot during your speech, because I recognized so much of myself in poor Mr. Duddleberg.”
Intensifiers are the filler words of evaluations. I try to eliminate words like really, very, totally, etc. Again, I find it more effective to be specific. Rather than “your story was very sad,” I might say “I was saddened by the story of the crocodile with the abscess tooth and the struggles he went through to find the right dentist.”
I also avoid Toastmasters tropes. I replace “You drew me in” with a specific statement like “I was intrigued immediately by your startling statement about the future risk to cacao production, and wanted to know whether my 72% dark chocolate bars might be at risk.” Rather than (ugh) “use the stage,” I might say “it seemed to me that you spent a good deal of time in one place, when you might have made a stronger connection with audience members by walking toward them and establishing brief but meaningful moments of eye contact.”
Most importantly, I give honest feedback. Evaluation is the heart of Toastmasters. It’s core to what we do, and it’s how we show we care. I try to show that I care by giving evaluations with compassionate candor. Over time, I build a relationship with my clubs where I show up regularly, prepare my speeches well, take on functionary roles, and serve as an officer when called upon. Having established a level of trust that I am a servant leader, I earn the privilege to speak directly to other Toastmasters about what they do well, and what can be even better.
For more in-depth discussions of my evaluation techniques, you can see videos of my workshops “Winning Evaluations” and “Evaluating Advanced Speakers” on my YouTube channel. Feel free to contact me with your comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Dennis Dawson, Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM), of San Jose Toastmasters