Jean Bailey Robor

Sometimes your feedback is even more valuable than you know.

One evening about eight years ago, a timid young woman slipped quietly into a Toastmasters meeting and sat in the back row. Having endured a difficult time in her personal life, she wanted to rebuild her confidence and learn public speaking. So there the woman sat, wondering if this Toastmasters club could help her. When she saw the evaluation portion of the meeting the positive and encouraging feedback that each speaker received she began to see that this was a place where she could grow.

First impressions matter. If your members provide useful and encouraging speaker evaluations, then your club is leaving positive and lasting impressions with visitors. Providing effective feedback helps speakers improve their skills and it shows your guests what they can gain by joining your club.

When you set a high evaluation standard, club members will be challenged to hone their evaluation skills, and they will provide you with valuable feedback when it’s your turn to take the stage. Learning to give a great evaluation is much like learning to be a great speaker: It comes with practice. Try these four steps to boost your skills:

Remember to give value. Your feedback becomes valuable to speakers when you offer specific tips on how they can best connect with their audiences. Look for qualities listed in the Competent Communication manual, such as speech organization, word choice, sentence structure, body language, vocal variety, eye contact, use of visual aids, and use of or lack of notes. What about the speaker’s facial expressions? If the speaker’s goal was to inspire, did you feel inspired? If the goal was to persuade, were you persuaded? Notice what worked and what didn’t.

Organize your verbal evaluation.

One of the reasons the Toastmasters program is so successful is that evaluators provide immediate verbal feedback. While they are not speeches, such evaluations should be organized in a way that helps the speaker process the information.

Evaluators who deliver well-organized feedback not only help speakers to improve, they also help themselves, especially professionally. Angel Guerrero, a member of Triad Toastmasters in Greensboro, North Carolina, and owner of AS Web Pros, an Internet business-support company, says evaluating speakers has helped him in business.

“Evaluation training in my club and in speech contests has allowed me to be an expert at listening and observation,” says Guerrero, the 2009 District 37 Evaluation Contest champion.

“There is no question that in my day-to-day leadership responsibilities as a member of the community and as a business owner, I have been able to apply this skill in advantageous ways for prosperous results,” he adds.

Here’s one good way to ensure your verbal feedback is organized: As you listen to a speech, divide a sheet of paper into three sections:

  • The Good
  • Improvement Points
  • Summary

Sectioning your notes will help you sort and select the points you want to make during the evaluation portion of your Toastmasters meeting.

Conclude with a punch! In your verbal feedback, be sure to wrap it up with something memorable. The last part of an effective evaluation should summarize your suggestions to help the speaker’s next speech be even stronger. The conclusion should not only be informative but encouraging. Help the speakers realize that they have what it takes to make their next speech even more powerful. Challenge them to apply your suggestions. For instance, “You really connected with me emotionally when your voice dropped to a whisper; to make your next speech even more powerful, I suggest incorporating a pause before you deliver such an impactful statement.”

Keep it real. When you are genuine in your evaluations, your club members will take your suggestions to heart; they will know they are receiving good, solid feedback when you evaluate. They’ll know you are helping them grow.

Bryant Pergerson, DTM, a member of the Blue Moon Toastmasters in Greensboro, North Carolina, offers this advice if you find yourself having difficulty with evaluating: “Never evaluate the speech as a speaker evaluating another speaker. Evaluate as a member of the audience and how you received the speech.” In other words, your opinions are valid whether you are a well-seasoned speaker or a new Toastmaster. Often, new members are intimidated when asked to evaluate the best speaker in the club. However, if you put yourself in the place of an audience member, you’ll notice what the speaker did well and what skills he can improve upon. When you realize that, and provide genuine, valuable feedback, then new and well-seasoned speakers alike will thank you for it.

“A Toastmasters club without effective evaluations is like a school with no tests,” says Sharon Anita Hill, DTM, past District 37 governor and president of Sharon Hill International, a business-etiquette training company. “Early speech evaluations are the baseline for [a speaker’s] improvement and growth. Advanced speech evaluations keep the speaker’s mind and techniques fresh.”

As for that shy young woman who slipped into the back row of a Toastmasters meeting? That was me. Through encouraging and effective evaluations, I have grown as a communicator and a leader. When you and your club members deliver valuable evaluations, you may even change a life.