Speech Analysis #3: Modified Sandwich Technique for Evaluations
The last article of the Speech Analysis Series discussed the art of delivering evaluations.
This article discusses different ways to structure the content of a speech evaluation. The basis for this method is the sandwich technique for evaluations.
Although the focus of this article is speech evaluations, the techniques discussed here can be applied to any situation where you provide professional constructive criticism. e.g. evaluating a co-worker
The Basic Sandwich Technique for Evaluations
The basic technique is as follows:
- Begin the evaluation by highlighting strengths demonstrated by the speaker.
- Then, discuss areas for improvement for the speaker.
- Conclude by highlighting additional strengths of the presentation.
The critical feedback is sandwiched between positive comments. The theory is that the speaker will be more receptive to listening to (and acting on) the criticism if positive statements surround it.
This is a good basic formula for novice speech evaluators. It is the first method recommended in many Toastmasters clubs.
Weaknesses of the Basic Sandwich Technique
I see three potential weaknesses with the basic sandwich technique:
1. Good – Bad – Good
- The sandwich technique is often misinterpreted to be:
good comments – bad comments – good comments
- Weakness: Critical feedback should not be viewed as a “bad” comment.
2. Serial Position Effect
- The serial position effect states that people tend to remember information from the beginning (primacy effect) and end (recency effect) of a series more than information presented in the middle.
- Weakness: Individuals will tend to remember their strengths, but not the critical feedback, thus hampering their ability to improve.
3. Incomplete “Critical Feedback”
- Critical feedback often consists entirely of “areas you can improve” or “things you need to work on” or “things I didn’t like.”
- Weakness: Most speakers need help not only realizing where they can improve, but how they can improve. In other words, they need specific suggestions for improvement.
A Modified Sandwich Technique
In an attempt to address these weaknesses, I suggest a modified sandwich technique with three components rather than two.
- Sandwich Layer: Bread
Evaluation Element: Praise – strengths exhibited by the speaker
- Sandwich Layer: Condiments
Evaluation Element: Areas for improvement – where can the speaker improve
- Sandwich Layer: Meat, cheese, vegetables
Evaluation Element: Specific suggestions – how can the speaker improve
Further, I suggest that feedback corresponding to these three elements can be mixed in any reasonable order, provided that all three elements are represented.
Advantages of this modified sandwich technique are:
- More emphasis on terms such as “praise”, “areas for improvement”, and “specific suggestions” will help avoid the good-bad-good pitfalls.
- The strict order of the basic sandwich technique (start and end with a compliment) is relaxed. The evaluator orders the elements in a more natural and authentic way.
- An increased emphasis on specific suggestions for improvement. Associating these with “meat, cheese, and veggies” indicates that they are the most nutritious element of the sandwich which helps the speaker grow and mature.
To illustrate the modified sandwich technique, I will run through a few helpful and not-so-helpful evaluation sandwiches.
The Whitewash Evaluation
- Sure, a whitewash sandwich (only bread!) tastes okay, but it is rather dry and will get boring very fast. There is minimal nutritional value.
- The whitewash evaluation should be avoided.
- A whitewash evaluation contains only praise. No areas for improvement. No specific suggestions. Often the result of a very inexperienced evaluator, or an evaluator who is trying to “be nice.”
The False Praise Evaluation
- Like the whitewash sandwich, this one consists of only bread… er, bread crumbs. It is light and airy and, in reality, consists of nothing at all.
- The false praise evaluation should be avoided.
- A false praise evaluation contains only praise, but it is not genuine. The evaluator says they like it the speech, but they really do not. Often the result of an evaluator trying really hard to be nice at the expense of their integrity. In the end, nobody wins with false praise. Be honest.
The All-Criticism Evaluation
- Imagine serving a guest in your house a big jar of mayonnaise for lunch. Even if they like mayonnaise, they would likely start getting sick after the first tablespoon. Condiments are valuable, but they need the rest of the sandwich to be nutritious.
- The all-criticism evaluation should be avoided.
- The all-criticism evaluation consists only of areas for improvement: “Your gestures were off, your eye contact was poor, your visuals were hard to read, your voice was scratchy, …” Everyone likes (honest) praise, so be sure to give them some. And areas for improvement are nice, but how do I improve?
The Narrow Evaluation
- Imagine a sandwich comprised of lots and lots of (the same) meat, a sprinkling of (one) sauce, and a nondescript bun.
- The narrow evaluation is perhaps not the best over time, but is acceptable in a pinch.
- The narrow evaluation has three components – praise, areas for improvement, and specific suggestions – but has very little variety. For example, imagine an evaluation where the evaluator discusses only one area for improvement, perhaps with a specific suggestion how to improve it. Sometimes, this is exactly what the speaker needs to overcome a certain deficiency in their skill set. However, when you are the evaluator, try not to serve up narrow evaluations like this all the time. Think variety!
The Layered Evaluation
- A layered sandwich has all the fixings, in ample quantity. It can be served traditionally as shown here, or open-faced, or in any other combination.
- The layered evaluation is my favorite. Supportive, dynamic, and educational.
- The layered evaluation consists of three components – praise, areas for improvement, and specific suggestions. There is lots of variety for all components. The evaluation is balanced, easy for the speaker to digest, and contains lots of helpful advice. An evaluation like this every day would make a very strong and healthy speaker.
No matter how you choose to structure your evaluation, be sure it has the three necessary components of the modified sandwich technique:
- Praise (bread) – to encourage the speaker
- Areas for improvement (condiments) – to let the speaker know where you think they can improve
- Specific suggestions (meat, vegetables, cheese) – to help the speaker know how they can improve