By Trupti Indulkar Raipure

Toastmasters International has a unique model that helps to improve your speaking ability. There are various roles that members can take up during meetings, even when they are not giving one of the speeches prepared from the manual. One such role is that of the Speech Evaluator. As an evaluator, you get to dole out free advice! Who doesn’t like doing that? But as in the case of any free advice, the listener is at will to take it or leave it. If you mete out crisp and effective feedback, chances are your advice will be greatly appreciated and you will be a successful evaluator.

I am no expert when it comes to evaluations. I am still learning, and I get to practice my skills every time I take up the role of an evaluator at our club meetings. But I won’t pass on my opportunity to give you my two cents in writing. Here’s my quick list of Do’s and Don’ts that you may find helpful. It’s free!

Do’s

1. Connect with the speaker you will be evaluating before the meeting and check if she would like to be evaluated on criteria other than those listed in the manual.

2. This is a mini-speech for you as well. So prepare. Maybe sketch out a template for yourself into which you can fit the feedback.

3. During the speech, LISTEN. Active listening not only gives you all the material for your evaluation, but the speaker may feel reassured to know that you are 100% attentive to what she is saying.

4. Jot down your thoughts. It is very easy to get absorbed in a speech, but it may be awhile before it is your turn to go up in front of the crowd and critique. You may not remember everything you wanted to say. Hence, take copious notes.

5. Be honest. It can be very tempting to shower compliments and be really “nice.” After all, who doesn’t want to be liked. You will be liked better if you praise in moderation and give constructive criticism. Your evaluation is most crucial to the betterment of the speaker.

6. Watch the time. You are being timed as well. Like Shakespeare said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Don’t beat about the bush. Not only do you have three precious minutes to make your point, buy if you meander or digress, no one will get your point.

7. Emote. Again, this is your mini-speech. It is not a boring report on someone else’s speech. Express how you felt about the speech.

8. Address the speaker, but don’t forget the audience. There are a lot of tips that audience members can pick up.

9. Check with the speaker after the meeting if she found your evaluation helpful. It’s not merely filling out a page in the manual. This feedback of your feedback will help you improve.

10. Check with others in the audience if your evaluation was effective.

Don’ts

1. Don’t be prejudiced. What you know or think you know about the speaker should not color your evaluation. Be open-minded, and don’t judge.

2.  Don’t recap the whole speech.  Sometimes the speech can move you to a great extent and you can’t help but ramble away about it. Save that for after the meeting. Remember, the evaluation is not about you.

3. Don’t analyse the content of the speech. For example, if someone spoke about their holiday at Egypt, don’t nitpick every detail that was shared or not shared. Critique how it was shared, the techniques used and suggest improvements, if any.

4. Don’t be harsh. While it is imperative to be honest, be sensitive about what you say. Make your point tactfully and maybe catch up with the speaker later to explain and clarify.

5. Don’t declare a winner. Don’t make statements like, “You were the best speaker today.” Be mindful that there were other speakers at the meeting and while you may compliment the speaker, you don’t belittle the other speakers or discredit their efforts  and techniques.

While everyone has their own style of giving feedback, I have found the Sandwich Method to be most effective wherein you start and end with a positive while inserting the negative between the two. Listening to evaluations in every meeting gives a plethora of new ideas and insights to improve your style.

At Crystal City Evening Toastmasters, we make it a point to have the objectives of a speech read out by the respective evaluators, just before the speaker is called on. This not only serves to inform the audience about what the speaker has worked on, but it also reiterates what the  evaluator should look out for.

The role of the evaluator is an important one. You can either encourage and build the confidence of a new speaker or crush what little courage and enthusiasm she mustered to present in front of a group, who may well have been complete strangers. The spirit of Toastmasters is to learn from one another. You have as much to learn from the speaker as she has from your evaluation. Evaluation is not done in the capacity of an expert but as a peer who knows what it feels like to give that speech because you were in the same shoes once or are going to be.