Article Category: Speaker Habits

Speech Analysis #2: The Art of Delivering Evaluations


School of Athens

The first article of the Speech Analysis Series explained how to study and critique a speech.

In this second article, we examine how to improve your own speaking skills by teaching others in the form of speech evaluations.

You should regularly provide evaluations for other speakers — not only because it is a nice thing to do, but because the process of evaluating another speaker helps you improve your own speaking skills dramatically.

The Speech Analysis Series

Speech evaluations are a core element of the Toastmasters educational program. After every speech, one or more peers evaluates how well the speaker delivered their message. Frequent feedback from peers helps speakers improve their skills.

However, speech evaluation is not limited to the Toastmasters program.

  • You can evaluate a co-worker’s presentation.
  • You can give feedback to the leader of a volunteer group in your neighbourhood.
  • Or, in a more formal relationship, you might provide a critique to a client you are coaching.

I recently led a speech evaluation workshop. In that workshop, we discussed the following tips for delivering helpful, encouraging, and effective speech evaluations.

1. Effective speech evaluations benefit everyone

You Evaluate, You ImproveI often hear statements like “Only the speaker gets any benefit from an evaluation of their speech.” This is false.

  • You (as the evaluator) improve as a speaker by providing an evaluation. A great way to solidify your own knowledge is to teach it to others.
  • The speaker becomes aware of both their strengths and areas with potential for improvement.
  • The audience for the evaluation (if there is one, as in Toastmasters) benefits from hearing the evaluation and applying the lessons to their own presentations.
  • Future audiences benefit from improved speakers.

2. Learn the objectives of the speaker.

Before the speech takes place, ask the speaker what their objectives are. Sometimes the objective is obvious, but not always.

Perhaps the speaker has just read the Presentation Zen book and is experimenting with a modern style of visuals which goes against common practice.

  • If you know this, you can tailor your evaluation accordingly.
  • If you don’t, you may unfairly criticize them for not considering the expectations of the audience.

3. Consider the skill level of the speaker… sometimes.

Evaluating the (very) inexperienced speaker:
Treat novice speakers with extra care. Be a little more encouraging and a little less critical, particularly if they exhibit a high level of speaking fear. Compliment them on tackling their fear. Reassure them that they aren’t as bad as they imagine.

Be supportive. Ask them how they feel it went.

Evaluating the (very) experienced speaker:
A common misconception is that you cannot evaluate a speaker if they are more experienced than you. This is false. Though you may have limited speaking experience, you have a lifetime of experience listening to presentations.

Your opinion matters. As a member of the audience, you are who the speaker is trying to reach. You are fully qualified to evaluate how well that message was communicated.

Every speaker, no matter how experienced, can improve. Perhaps more importantly, every speaker wants to improve. You can help.

4. Take advantage of available tools.

ToolboxA speech evaluation is a pretty simple thing. Just listen to the speech, take some notes, and then share your opinion. Right?

That’s a good formula when you’re learning the art of delivering evaluations, but to really improve your skills, you’ll want to start assembling the many tools at your disposal:

  • Study other evaluators and apply their techniques.
  • Solicit feedback from others on your technique.
  • Develop evaluation templates or forms that work for you.
  • If available, utilize audio or video recordings to complement your evaluation. As an example:
    • Without video, you can only tell when a gesture could have been used.
    • With a video recording, you can show exactly where a timely gesture could be used.

5. Be truthful.

If you did not like the speech, do not say that you did. If you did not like a component of the speech, do not say you did.

There is a tendency to want to be nice and embellish the positives. Dishonest praise will only damage your credibility and character.

6. Express your opinion.

Avoid speaking on behalf of the audience with phrases like “Everyone thought…” or “The audience felt…” You can only accurately talk about are your own thoughts and feelings.

On the other hand, suppose you observe a spectator crying as a result of an emotional speech. In this case, you can remark on this as evidence that the speech had emotional impact.

Magical phrases in a speech evaluation start with personal language: “I thought… I liked… I felt… I wish…

7. Avoid absolute statements.

There are very few public speaking rules. For every best practice, there’s a scenario where a speaker would be wise to go against convention. Phrases such as “You should never…” or “One should always…” should rarely be part of an evaluator’s vocabulary.

Ten Commandments of Public Speaking

8. Be specific. Use examples. Explain why.

How can you make sure that the constructive criticism doesn’t completely outweigh the praise and end up discouraging the speaker?

The answer: be specific. Studies have shown that specific praise is much more encouraging than generic praise. This applies to criticism as well. Specific feedback (positive or negative) is more meaningful than generic feedback.
e.g. “I liked the dynamic opening of your speech.” is better than “I liked your speech.

In addition to being specific and tying comments to examples from the speech, it also helps to explain why you liked or didn’t like a particular aspect of the speech.

Consider the effectiveness of the following four statements:

  1. Gestures were poor.
  2. Gestures were limited in the first half of the speech.
  3. Gestures were limited in the first half of the speech because the speaker gripped the lectern.
  4. Gestures could have been improved in the first half of the speech. By removing her hands from the lectern, she could more easily make natural gestures.

Statement #4 is phrased in a positive manner, it is specific, it references an example from the speech, and states why it is good not to grip the lectern.

9. Don’t evaluate the person or their objective.

Evaluate the Message, Not the MessengerEvaluate how well the message is delivered, not the messenger. Keep your comments focused on the presentation.

Similarly, avoid evaluating the speaker’s objective. For example, suppose the speaker’s objective is to convince the audience that recycling is a waste of time. If you always reduce, reuse, and recycle, don’t let that influence your evaluation. (By all means, start a debate about it later, write an article, give your own speech, etc.) As an evaluator, your primary role is to help the speaker achieve their objective in the most convincing way possible.

10. Evaluate whether the objective was achieved.

Everything other than the speaker themself and their primary objective is fair game for your evaluation: content, speech structure, humor, visuals, eye contact, gestures, intangibles, etc. and everything else covered in the first article from this series.

The Speech Analysis Series

11. The best evaluations are a combination of praise, areas for improvement, and specific suggestions.

All three elements are essential, but can be mixed in numerous ways. This is the focus for the next article in this series: The Modified Sandwich Technique for Evaluations.

This is one of many public speaking articles featured on Six Minutes.
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Comments icon15 Comments

  1. TJ Walker says:

    True, there are few speaking rules that aren’t broken from time to time by the greats. But here are some that all should try honor:

    1. Don’t bore the audience.
    2. Don’t data dump.
    3. Don’t be abstract.
    4. Don’t leave out relevant examples.
    5. Don’t leave out relevant stories.

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      TJ: You are not alone. Several of your guidelines were mentioned in the public speaking audience survey.

  2. Great post about evaluations.

    I like your model. Did you create it? It shows the often overlooked elements of speaking to help you improve as an evaluator.

    Cheers

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Darren:
      Yes, I created the “You…Improve” model above for the speech evaluation workshop I conducted.

  3. Robert Ward says:

    Hi, I am weak in the area of giving good critiques of fellow Toastmasters of Akron151 club in akron Ohio. I am an ATM-B.
    I am looking for feedback on giving better ones.

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Robert: It’s a pretty common situation for many members. We can all improve. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

  4. Johnny F. Goloyugo says:

    I find this very useful and handy in conducting speechcrafts for young students and in evaluating speakers in Toastmasters meetings. Effective evaluation opens positive opportunities for everyone.

  5. ah…what a gift! I am scheduled to evauate a brilliant speaker tomorrow at our toastmasters meeting. Needless to say I’ve been feeling a bit apprehensive. You have resourced and empowered me…and I am grateful!

  6. Kate Allert says:

    Hi Andrew,

    These articles are great. I am creating courses at the moment for drama undergraduates for whom English is a second, or third, language. I want to teach them techniques to evaluate dramatic speeches delivered by great models and each other, as a step towards being able to perform in English confidently and competently.

    May I make use of some of your material? I would, of course, give you full credit and would comply with whatever restrictions you felt were appropriate.

    Thanks for considering my request, regards, Kate

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Kate:

      Check our permissions policy for restrictions on using article material.

  7. Josiane Abdallah says:

    Dear Andrew,

    Thank you for helping me as a teacher who is and for the time going to teach a public speaking course. You website is really beneficial.
    After reading many public speaking articles from different sources, I found that some of them advocate that the speaker welcomes and thanks the audience and others like you for example don’t support this idea. As a listener or a speaker I would not mind if the speaker welcomes and/or thanks the audience. Most speeches especially classical ones include greeting and thanking statements. would you please give me your opinion about that? Thanks again.

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Josiane:

      I am neither strongly in favor nor strongly opposed to welcoming or thanking the audience. The decision depends a great deal on the nature of the event, length of the speech, cultural norms, and the comfort level of the speaker. Having said that, there’s a few things to consider:

      [1] Lengthy welcome messages (“I’m pleased to be here… What a lovely day… thanks for inviting me… “) tend to be a weak way to open a speech. It is generally far more effective to launch directly into the speech. Occasionally, a short welcome statement can be used to transition into a powerful opening.

      [2] I don’t oppose saying “Thank you” or “Thank you for your attention” to the audience, but there is rarely any need to say anything more verbose. A speaker’s last words should be a strong call-to-action… that’s what you want the audience to remember.

      Hope this helps!

  8. ching villamayor says:

    thank you for the article. it is informative and helpful; a good reference for my college students.

  9. Bill Broens says:

    Sir/Madam;
    I am the VP PR of the 3500FT Toastmasters Club #1319, and responsible for our Newsletter. I find your comments & tips on speech evaluations enjoyable, very close to the mark. In particular, I loved the “thou shalt” graphic. May I use it in our March Newsletter? It would fit very well into a section dedicated to our newer members after a very successful membership drive.
    Please advise.

    Sincerely,
    Bill Broens
    VP Public Relations
    3500FT Toastmasters Club 1319, Calgary, AB

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Hi Bill:

      For using Six Minutes content, check our permissions policy.

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