Friday, November 13, 2009
Toastmaster Friday: 9 Ways to Pump Up Your Evaluations
Evaluation is the core of the amazing fruit that the Toastmasters tree can produce. When the fruit is soft, you will often find a history of rotten evaluations at the core.
Perhaps that's harsh, but I believe its accurate. I went my first year in Toastmasters winning Best Speaker, Evaluation, and Table Topic ribbons left and right before anybody finally had the guts to say "Rich, you're a great speaker, but are you ever going to SAY anything?" Thank goodness for Billie Jones, my first real speaking mentor, for getting into my face. She convinced me I could go to the World Championship, all the way back in 2001. I was a slow learner, but eventually made it to the 'Big Stage'.
Since Toastmasters is made up of people from all walks of life, all at different stages of their speaking and self-confidence, it can be tough to get, or give, a strong evaluation. Toastmasters teaches a 'What's good, what could be improved, what's good again' approach, or a 'Follow the manual objectives one by one approach'. Both offer benefits, but unless the club follows up on evaluation technique, members can fall into several rotten ruts, including:
A. The Whitewash - the evaluator either can't think of anything critical to explore, or doesn't feel good enough about their own skills to say anything, so the Oreo comes without the creme filling (as my mentor used to say: The criticism is the creamy center - the good stuff).
B. The Recap - mentioning everything the speaker mentioned, seemingly to remind us what that speaker said, in case we weren't listening.
C. The Checklist - "The manual said you should do this, and you did/did not, then the manual said do this, then...."
D. The Review - agreeing or disagreeing with what the speaker had to say - which is not the same as evaluating HOW they said it!
E. The HiJack - the evaluator tells their own story that relates to what the speaker talked about, essentially giving their OWN speech, instead of evaluating the speaker's speech.
F. The E-Bomb - this is the dark side, when the evaluator gets up and aggressively reams the speaker. The evaluator, thinking they are offering oodles of 'constructive criticism', forgets that the evaluation is not about showing off how many things they can find wrong with a speech, but a mixture of praise and suggestion. This self-centered approach is the worm in the apple. As bad as A through E are, the E-Bomb is the mother of all that can be wrong with evaluations, and evaluators.
Evaluations aren't the easiest part of Toastmasters to give, or to listen to, but they are designed to build muscles for all involved parties. To pump up your evaluations, remember the following:
1. It's not about you, it's about them. Try asking them before the meeting what THEY would like to be evaluated on. Get a feel for their experience level and emotional strength. What dosage level should you set your evaluation at? Put yourself in a state of mind that is centered on them, not you.
2. You have permission to be constructively critical. No matter your experience level, you have an opinion. Unless this is the first time you've heard someone utter something aloud, you are an experienced listener. It doesn't matter if anyone agrees with you - you have a right to your opinion. This is your time to share it, as long as it's aimed to benefit the speaker.
3. Remember to tell them WHY. Don't just tell them to work on Vocal Variety - tell them WHY it will help. Will it build excitement? Suspense? Tension? Emotion? Same with all aspects your evaluation. WHY it worked and WHY, for you, it didn't.
4. Take responsibility for your evaluation - these are your ideas, and nobody in the room may agree with you. Use precursor phrases such as "I saw", "I think", "I wonder", "I felt", and "I believe", vs. "You should", "You need to" or "We could all see".
5. Show what you mean. If you want them to use gestures, use the gesture in the evaluation. Model vocal variety by repeating what they said using your idea of vocal variety. Don't command them to accept your ideas, but say "What would happen if you" or "I'd love to see you try", etc.
6. Reinforce the positive. "I loved it when you did" and "The way you (say what they did) really worked for me". Even the poorest speeches have positive spots to reinforce. Whether it's word usage, grammar, use of logic, or the courage to get up and speak at all.
7. Offer strong written notes. Don't just leave them with 2 1/2 minutes of verbal evaluation. Write your thoughts down in their manual or on a sheet of paper. You can offer more than what you said, and give in-depth explanations, if need be.
8. Address improvement. If you asked them what they wanted to be evaluated on back in #1, be sure to talk about it. If you've seen them speak before, and notice growth, mention it. Recognition of growth leads to more growth.
9. Summarize and Encourage. The red light goes on, it's time to wrap up. Mention your main points again: aspects of improvement first, positive observations second. Then offer encouragement: "You have improved...", "You'll have a chance in your next speech to...", or, if you have to, just go with the old stand-by "I can't wait to hear your next speech!"
As an evaluator, you are serving a crucial role in both the meeting, and the growth of the Toastmaster you are evaluating. It can be a balancing act between self-esteem and ego for you, and for them. Above all else, endeavor to 'Do No Harm' as you evaluate - you don't want to hurt the speaker, or cause collateral damage by either scaring off guests with an overly harsh evaluation, or making them doubt the value of Toastmasters with a cream-puff whitewash.
Solid evaluations create solid cores, and sweeter fruit, and stronger speakers. Be mindful of your yield and remember, for 2-3 minutes, your mission is to help your fellow Toastmaster to Speak...and Deliver!