The following is a transcript of Shari Kaufman’s speech, “The Art of Evaluating a Speech,” on October 28. It is a wonderful introduction to the art of evaluating a speech.

A group of random people gather together in this room early Friday mornings-with a common goal-to gain confidence speaking in public. We practice this by performing different roles, presenting speeches – giving and receiving feedback –We look to each other to help ourselves move along the continuum-to learn what works and what we can improve upon-to have success and to stumble along towards those successes, building our competency bit by bit through the weeks and months.

Throughout these meetings there’s an air of intimacy created by the vulnerability we display –we have faith in this decades old format and we learn to trust each other as we expose our very fragile selves to critiques meted out- we hope -with caring and sensitivity. Most times the evaluation part of the program is one of the more difficult and one which people tend to avoid. While we’re obviously all here to practice speeches I urge us to work just as hard to become excellent evaluators. It is one of the most important components for us in this learning process-without this piece we may as well stay home and speak to ourselves in front of the mirror.

Listening to a speech is like being read a story out loud- It’s always interesting to hear what people have to say and it’s fascinating to hear the wide variety of topics presented- Listening to a story is also a passive activity-we relax into these comfy chairs to listen and occasionally our minds wander a bit – something we hear reminds us of something else and all of a sudden we realize whoops we missed a few sentences-

Remembering that we’re here for a purpose –to gather information that we can use for evaluations. First we have to prepare ourselves to listen closely-I suggest sitting up tall and taking a few deep breaths-square your feet up on the floor- listen closely to the TM’s introduction. Read over the evaluation form in advance of the speech and choose one section to focus on-use that as a listening lens for your evaluation- Watch the speaker with great attention-this will set the tone for active listening and help you to stay engaged. Over the weeks and months we come to know each other as speakers and can use that familiarity to register and record progress-it’s beautiful to observe the progression of the speaker’s skills as they incorporate the feedback-

As evaluators our job is not to comment or critique the subject material-oddly enough for this purpose the topic is almost irrelevant-merely a vehicle used for practicing. We have to work to focus on the speech mechanics and not get lost in listening to the storyline.

We have four types of evaluations which occur during each meeting-the clipboard form which we each fill out, the speaker evaluator, the manual form which the speaker evaluator fills in- and the overall meeting evaluator.
I’ll touch on each of these.

First the form- how best to approach the form? The clipboard form breaks everything into topic areas to help you focus. As I mentioned earlier one approach is to choose one or two sections to focus on and write something that the speaker can actually grab onto and learn from.

It’s too easy to rely on superlatives – great, wonderful, fabulous, interesting, well done- great use of blah blah-but those words aren’t very useful- we don’t learn anything from them-you can take those superlatives and add a sentence to them-wonderful use of space-voice was easy to hear and well modulated-great use of pauses-no filler words-something of substance the speaker can take away.

To prepare for a spoken evaluation from the manual first read over the evaluation page for that speech so you know what to watch for. Ask the speaker beforehand if there’s anything they’d like you to focus on. During the speech take notes on a separate piece of paper- not in the manual. -draw a line down the middle left side and make two columns

Title the first what did you like? Title the second what could be improved?
Jot down your notes as you focus on these 3 ideas

  1. Organization—did it flow well?
  2. Speech mechanics such as eye contact and gestures-body movement
  3. Speech emotion-how convincing was the speaker and was I engaged?

For less experienced speakers a helpful evaluation will focus on the first two.
For more experienced speakers focus on advanced mechanics and emotions- Remember to keep it simple! Our goal is to Educate and motivate!

When you’re ready to speak follow this formula- begin with a strong positive, give something to improve for next time and then finish up with a lot of positive encouragement .

Look back over your notes and choose one thing that was strong and positive to begin your talk. Start by focusing on that to encourage what they’re already doing well -Use examples to illustrate your point. “You used the whole stage and had great eye contact with everyone.” Next look at what you thought could be improved-look for the one thing which stands out and could bump that speech to next level – Choose one thing to comment on that they could improve-for example “modulate your voice volume to emphasize your points” or “when you pace too much it’s distracting and takes away from the effectiveness of your speech-The more specific you can be the better.

Avoid statements like “you need to”, or “you have to”,  these words come out as condescending and demanding- Instead use I statements-“I recommend” “I liked” “I suggest”-these statements are easier to hear and remember- this evaluation is your opinion-these are things you observed -you’re not speaking on behalf of the group.

Present the spoken evaluation first and then later fill in the form in the manual. You don’t have to do the clipboard form when you’re the speech evaluator.

The same format holds true when you’re the meeting evaluator. Take notes throughout the meeting. Pay attention to the time to report on how the meeting flows, compliment the TM for what they did well and choose one piece of feedback to help them improve.

To sum up it’s as important to practice giving evaluations as it is to practice speeches. Becoming better evaluators’ helps us all work towards our goal of becoming better speakers.

If it’s your time to step up and evaluate a speech, approach it like a speech. Ask others for their thoughts, watch carefully as others evaluate and practice taking lots of notes during speeches. Then dive in. You’ll do fine, and then better, and better, and better…

Many thanks to Shari for tackling this massively important part of our weekly meetings and member development.