Article Category: Speaker Habits

Speech Analysis #3: Modified Sandwich Technique for Evaluations

Sandwich TechniqueThe 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.

The Speech Analysis Series

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:

  1. Begin the evaluation by highlighting strengths demonstrated by the speaker.
  2. Then, discuss areas for improvement for the speaker.
  3. 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.

  1. Sandwich Layer: Bread
    Evaluation Element: Praise – strengths exhibited by the speaker
  2. Sandwich Layer: Condiments
    Evaluation Element: Areas for improvementwhere can the speaker improve
  3. Sandwich Layer: Meat, cheese, vegetables
    Evaluation Element: Specific suggestionshow 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.

Whitewash - Nothing but PraiseThe 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.”

False Praise - BreadcrumbsThe 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.

All Criticism - Condiments OnlyThe 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?

Uniform SandwichThe 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!

Layered SandwichThe 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.
The Speech Analysis Series

In Summary

No matter how you choose to structure your evaluation, be sure it has the three necessary components of the modified sandwich technique:

  1. Praise (bread) – to encourage the speaker
  2. Areas for improvement (condiments) – to let the speaker know where you think they can improve
  3. Specific suggestions (meat, vegetables, cheese) – to help the speaker know how they can improve

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Comments icon9 Comments

  1. Nanda Kishor says:

    I stumbled upon this great post via digg. Nicely you’ve introduced pictures to convey your message. Best part that I liked about this article is “message is very clear and to the point”.

  2. Dale Suslick says:

    Great insights!!! What do you recommend to take speaking to a higher level? Do I video myself in practice and send it to you (cost?) OR try to film my Toastmaster speeches live which adds another element of ‘fun’ (pressure) which now that I type this I am thinking that is something I should do!

  3. Mary Saxon Hobbs says:

    In search of finding the characteristic a Test Speaker should have, I came across your Speech Analysis, the Sandwich evaluation, and ofcourse your Six Minutes news articles.
    Please sign me up. Interesting!!

  4. J Glowacki says:

    The Serial Position Effect applies to lengthier lists of unrelated words, not meaningful information. A reviewer who wishes nonetheless to avoid it need only ensure that the most important points are communicated and refrain from a compiling a more tedious list.

  5. Andrew, thank you so much for your excellent articles! I am building the professional speaking portion of my business and working my way up the Toastmasters ladder. Your articles on evaluation will serve me well as I embark upon my first go at competing as an evaluator in a speech contest! I look forward to being on your email list because I quite certain I am going to find your posts just as valuable!

  6. Guillexo says:

    Hi Andrew, tomorrow will be my first time as an evaluator, I checked out all your articles about evaluation and I feel more confident now I feel like a have some tools to work with. Thank you for your insight and taking the time to teach others, expect me back for more knowledge.

  7. samina says:

    I have been a Toastmaster for 11 years and won 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes at various Humorous speech contests
    and prepared speech contests. Thank you for the excellent tips you have given about the Art of Evaluation.

  8. Isabella says:

    Thank you. I found the article very helpful.

  9. King says:

    Just the type of inhgist we need to fire up the debate.

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