How to give an effective evaluation

The Skill of Crafting the Perfect Speech Evaluation

When I was asked to give a speech evaluation, I thought to myself, “How difficult can this be? All I have to do is give some feedback.” And we ALL are GREAT at giving feedback, aren’t we? We’re great at solving the problems of other people.

But have you ever faced a situation where you have given someone “amazing” feedback and you wonder why they don’t listen to you or apply what you have recommended to them? Since most of us come from a background of criticism, I quickly realized that giving a speech evaluation is not really the same thing as giving generic feedback. Giving a good, helpful evaluation is not that easy.

A speech evaluation does not refer to a “sandwich” of commendation, mild recommendations followed by thoughtless encouragement (“Good luck in your next speech!”). A true speech evaluation refers to the ability to truly understand a speech and say things of value which actually help the speaker improve. At the end of it, that’s what public speaking is all about – saying something of value and helping someone improve.

Before the speech

An evaluation is as good as the amount it actually helps the speaker you are evaluating. And to truly help the speaker, we must first understand what they want to be helped with.

Before the speech, approach the speaker, introduce yourself if you haven’t done so already and ask them if there is anything specific you would like them to observe in your speech. Perhaps there have been some constraints that the speaker may have faced in the past that they have addressed in this speech.

Knowing these things not only help you connect with the speaker but also raises your credibility in the eyes of the speaker. Think about it, if your evaluator came up to you before your speech and asked you these questions, wouldn’t you be happy that she is taking that small extra step to ensure that her evaluation is actually valuable to you?

This small step will help you be an effective evaluator even before the speech begins.

During the speech

It’s not about you

how to give a speech evaluation

When we are asked to evaluate on stage, the idea is to not only to help the speaker of course but also to let the other audience members benefit from the evaluation. But we should keep in mind that a speech evaluation (while it is technically a speech) is not your time to shine on stage. And many of us, myself included, tend to forget that. We tend to make our evaluations like speeches in itself.

And don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong in delivering an entertaining or well-spoken evaluation. The only thing to keep in mind is that our focus should be on one question only – how do I help the speaker improve? Your focus on delivery should not over-power the main reason of a speech evaluation, which is – to evaluate.

However, when giving an evaluation, don’t ignore the rest of the crowd. While your focus should be on your speaker, you should not ignore the rest of the crowd as well.

So instead of addressing just the speaker by saying “Your speech was structured really well”, you can address the entire crowd and say, “The speaker had beautifully structured her speech”.

Simplify the Evaluation

This ties back to the previous point – we are not evaluating to impress anyone. It’s all about expressing your honest opinion of the speech in a fashion that best helps the speaker. So, there is no need to use big fancy words and try to show off about the things you know so well.

The most effective evaluations are simple. Because simplicity helps the speaker relate to your evaluation and they are much more likely to apply your recommendations when they truly understand them.   

Where did you connect with the speech?

While evaluations tend to focus on the technicals of public speaking, we should not forget about building a connection with the speaker and her speech.

I learned this by one of my mentors. He told me, “When you go on stage to evaluate a speaker, the first few seconds should be spent on informing the speaker how her speech related to you. It will help establish a degree of credibility and validation to show that you really connected with the speech.”

For example, if someone spoke about sports, I would probably start off by saying that I too am a sports enthusiast and really connected/related to what the speaker said.

Any statement like this, even if it’s downright simple, which helps you connect with the topic, idea or message of the speech, will help.

Speak less, but with impact

Evaluations are supposed to be crisp and concise in nature. The reason for this is that we do not want to overstuff the speaker with a whole bunch of recommendations which they will find hard to remember and apply.

Evaluation is most effective when it addresses one or two key areas that can be improved upon and specific actions the speaker can take to improve upon it.

So, focus on just one, two or at the most three key areas your speaker can improve upon along with specific examples and call to actions as to how they can improve.

Validate your evaluation with reasons

The difference between a great evaluation as compared to a novice one is ‘reasons’. When providing a recommendation or a commendation to someone, it’s important to back them with reasons and examples.

For instance, if an evaluator tells you that they did not like your speech ending and you should improve upon it, that’s not very helpful, is it?

But what if your evaluator tells you something along the lines of, “Your speech conclusion was something that could be worked upon. When you ended your speech, it seemed very abrupt. I personally, was not sure if the speech had actually ended or not. Maybe next time, you can try and make the ending a lot more evident – maybe end with summarizing the major points in your speech and a specific action that you would like the audience to take. It will help make your conclusion much stronger while helping the audience remember the major points in your speech.”

Wouldn’t this be way more helpful than simply saying, “I did not like the way your speech ended. You can improve upon it,”? We are not here to throw random opinions.

So, when you provide a recommendation, follow this process – state what can be improved upon, why it requires improvement, and recommendations on how they can improve. It will make your argument much stronger and much more valuable.

The same process should be followed when giving a commendation as well. Don’t simply state what you liked about a speech. State why you liked it and maybe give a few examples from the speech to reinforce your point.

For example, instead of saying, “I liked the way you used voice modulation”, it would be more helpful to say something along the lines of, “I really liked your use of voice modulation. For instance, when you transitioned from the happy moment of your speech to the sadder moments, your tone of voice reflected that mood which helped create a much deeper impact.”

Know your speaker

The evaluations that have helped me the most are the ones that address what I can improve upon with regard to what level I am on in my public speaking journey.

This is crucial.

If a speaker is giving a speech for the first time in her life, it wont make sense to tell her to improve her body language or voice modulation. Since she is new to the stage, it’s only natural that her body and voice will take time to adjust to the stage. The evaluation is just not helpful in that case.

Instead, if you can point one or two specific points that you believe a new speaker can improve upon, it would be so much more helpful.

For instance, when I gave my very first speech, my evaluator did not tell me to use more hand gestures or to be more “dynamic on stage”. That would not have been the most helpful advice considering I was so new to public speaking. He instead gave me one simple recommendation – to smile more.

Apparently, I was frowning a lot throughout my speech. “A few smiles will help lighten the speech up”, he said. This was useful to me. A simple recommendation, but one that I can easily work on and apply with regard to the level I am on in my public speaking journey.

Conclude on a positive note

Always conclude the evaluation on a positive note. I know, this is typical. But it really does help. Especially for new speakers, it leaves them feeling encouraged.

Ending on a positive note does not mean “I wish you all the very best for your future speeches.” It means reinforcing the fact that the speaker has taken the right decision by showing the courage to go up on a stage and speak. They are also much more likely to apply the feedback that was given to them if the evaluation ends on a positive note.

Don’t forget to enjoy the speech

While evaluating a speech, it’s easy to get lost in the evaluation process. You might be taking down notes, you might be trying to come up with what the speaker is doing right or wrong, etc. In all of this, we forget something very important – to actually enjoy the speech.

This does not mean you don’t take down notes. It simply means you don’t have to be so engrossed in taking notes that you miss a lot of what the speaker is saying.

I’ve seen this happen a few times – where an evaluator is just writing, writing and writing while her speaker is on stage. Then, when she does go to evaluate – she has missed out on a large portion of the speech simply because she was too caught up in taking down notes as opposed to actually listening to the speech.

Try to enjoy the speech, absorb it. It will help you understand the true essence of the speech that go beyond content and delivery. Then, your evaluation will be so much more effective and relevant.

After the evaluation

Effective evaluators do not consider their job done after they have delivered their speech evaluation. After the evaluation ends, go up to the speaker and ask her if she related to the evaluation. Ask her if there was something else she would like to know in terms of what she could improve upon or what she did particularly well.

This helps clear any miscommunication as well as gives you the opportunity to provide further comments that you could/did not say in your evaluation speech.

Speech Evaluations at Toastmasters

If you’re wondering how to deliver an evaluation in a Toastmasters meeting, the same tips apply. In Toastmasters, to give a valuable evaluation, despite the points stated above, you must also keep the speech objectives as the core focus of your evaluation. If someone is delivering a speech where their objective is related to speech structuring, don’t spend time commenting on their body language or tone of voice.

You typically have 2 to 3 minutes to give an evaluation in Toastmasters. Use them effectively and make sure your comments are in line with the objectives of the project your speaker is delivering.  

Evaluating an Ice-Breaker speech

An ice-breaker speech is the first speech a Toastmaster member delivers.

And that’s the first thing to keep in mind when evaluating one. The speaker is probably coming on stage for the first or second time. Their main job which added the most value to them was simply coming up on stage and attempting to deliver a speech.

Even if the speech was absolutely terrible, the fact that someone decided to tackle their fear of public speaking is an achievement in itself. So commend them on that.

Make them feel good that they finally came up on a stage. A good chunk of your evaluation should focus on what they did good and how they can leverage their strengths. I am by no means saying that you should be fake or overly positive about this.

But ice-breakers don’t call for harsh evaluations because the speaker did what he/she was supposed to do – go up on stage and introduce themselves.

When evaluating an ice-breaker, the major mistake I see evaluators making is providing very generic feedback that can be applied to any speech.

Things like body language, voice modulation, stage movement, eye contact, etc. are not things to suggest to improve for ice-breakers. These things are life-long public speaking learnings which take time to be worked on. When someone is delivering their first speech, of course they won’t be proficient with their body or voice.

So it does not make sense suggesting these pointers in an ice-breaker evaluation. So what do you talk about?

Reflect on their speech small tweaks they can make to their speech to make it better right from the get-go. That means providing recommendations which won’t take them time to implement. Small tweaks that they work on right away to improve their speech can be amazingly helpful.

For instance, if a speaker spoke about her life journey – don’t tell her that she could have used the stage better. Tell her that she could have probably added more depth into her speech by telling the audience about one major event that got her to be the person she is today.

It’s something the speaker can improve upon from the get-go.

Here’s a great example of Toastmaster evaluation from a champion evaluator:

What to expect when you are getting evaluated?

We understand a great deal about evaluations when we get evaluated ourselves. When you’re about to be evaluated by another speaker (especially at Toastmasters) don’t expect some life-changing advice.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. The evaluation can prove to be very valuable.

But the thing is you might not always know who your evaluator is. Unless they themselves are credible speakers, the evaluation provided can be incorrect or downright useless.

When being evaluated, have an open mind. But also use a filter. If you know the speaker giving the evaluation is not very credible, still hear them with an open mind. But make sure you go to a speaker you look up to who would be present in the audience and ask them for a personal, informal evaluation as well.

Another thing to keep in mind is that an evaluator is usually always good-intentioned. They will be wanting to help you but might provide you light criticism as they feel they may hurt you.

So if you felt the evaluation was a bit too “nice”, if you want raw and honest feedback, go to your evaluator after your speech and ask them in person – is there anything else you could improve upon? Tell them that they can be blunt if they like – in the end, the more honest the evaluation, the more you can grow as a speaker.

Apply this to your evaluation as well. When you provide an evaluation, think about it as if you were the speaker. What would you benefit the most from hearing? It will help you give a more relevant and action-driven evaluation.

Beyond the stage

Learning to become an effective speech evaluator is something that helps build a critical skill when it comes to communication – the art of criticism. Sometimes, even if your intentions are good, most people are thin-skinned and can get easily upset when they receive criticism.

But applying the principles of speech evaluations – focusing on the other person instead of yourself, validating your positive and negative points with reasons, concluding on a positive note – the way you communicate criticism to your boss, colleague, subordinate, etc. can be very, very effective.

Remember, giving criticism is a skill. It can be mastered through practice and speech evaluations are an amazing way to practice just that!

Hrideep Barot

Hrideep Barot is the founder and chief writer at Frantically Speaking, a portal to help people learn everything about public speaking. The purpose of franticallyspeaking.com is to showcase the lessons that he has learned (and still learning) from his numerous stage experiences and mentors over all these years.