By Karen Tober
Toastmaster, when you’re watching someone (say, on TV or at a non-Toastmaster gathering) make a presentation, what do you notice? Is it all the stuff the speaker is doing right? Or is it every little thing they are doing wrong? I bet I know. As Toastmasters, we are groomed to become effective speakers. Part of that training includes learning what things go into a great speech, and what things are to be avoided. We are admonished to provide effective feedback to each other, and to avoid the dreaded “whitewash.” So it stands to reason that sometimes we may be, how shall I say, overzealous. (I’m guilty.) But let me ask you this: have you ever felt the sting of a well-intentioned evaluation? Did it leave you pumped to come out and try that again real soon?
As evaluators, we have a very important job. Our comments have the power to build up (motivate), or they can tear down. I know that, as a speaker, I have a long way to go. Some evaluators might really go after me for use of notes. And I feel bad about that. Inadequate. But when I talk to Peter Kossowan about my Achilles heel, he points out my good qualities. Sincerity. Heart. Emotion. Caring. Warmth. Humor. And I feel hopeful and energized. My courage returns.
Evaluation is less about the Evaluator and more about the Speaker. The words of the evaluator can be music to the ear of the speaker. Or nails on a chalkboard. There are many tools and techniques for delivering an effective evaluation. This isn’t so much about them. This is a little look behind the scenes, based on my personal experience and observation. This is about the human element, and taking care to nurture it.
A while back I received some gentle coaching from our General Evaluator on an evaluation I had provided (and rightfully so). While my evaluation was pretty positive, it ended on an “opportunity for improvement.” I had forgotten to use the “sandwich” technique. A simple thing, but consider the impact. Do you know it takes 10 positives to overcome a single negative remark? If you’re anything like me, you’ll play that negative tape over… and over…
|REMEMBER: the purpose of an evaluation is to MOTIVATE the speaker. Start on a positive note, end on a positive note, and have MAXIMUM – 2 points for improvement.|
A couple of years ago a friend of mine observed something which surprised me. There we were, three of us – neck and neck -- working our way through the C&L manual, when it happened. The fellow received a somewhat pointed critique – one that I agreed with, but was glad it hadn’t been aimed at me. He appeared to “take it like a man”, but my girlfriend noticed that it was almost four months before he gave his next speech. Was that a coincidence? I wonder.
Criticism is hard to hear, no matter how well intentioned it may be. One time we had a new member – I was his mentor – who felt like he wanted, actually he stressed–that he wanted, a really good firm critiquing. He thought our evaluations were typically too soft. So, I complied. He had a lot of natural strengths, and I commended him on them. But I came up with FOUR points for improvement. YIKES. You could see the disappointment register on his face. I think he thought he was pretty good. A short time later he became too busy with work – and after missing many meetings he finally dropped out. Another coincidence? I wonder.
I always cringe when I hear, “We’re all adults here, after all.” I might be an adult, but it’s my little person who shows up when I’m taking a walk on the wild side.
|Did you know that Peter Kossowan had to redo his icebreaker? He did it and we know the rest of the story. What if you were asked to redo your icebreaker? What if I was?||
Have you ever watched the reaction of the person being evaluated? If the Evaluator is speaking and the Speaker is trying to engage in conversation in an attempt to explain or defend their speech, you gotta know that those words landed somewhere soft. Be sensitive. Your role is to help maintain the self esteem of the speaker.
Speaker – it’s your job to listen politely, in silence, even if you don’t agree with what’s being said. It’s one person’s opinion. You get to consider the source, and decide if you accept or reject the feedback provided.
Steps to providing an Effective Evaluation:
But what if… the speaker is just plain awful?
A while back I attended an advanced club’s special meeting. They had lined up a series of speakers, and I got to introduce one. I’ll call him “Walter.” Anxious to do a good job for this distinguished audience, I sidled up to Walter to learn a little more about him. You know, Who? Why this Subject? Why this audience?
Well, I was surprised at the response. It quickly became apparent that Walter lacked certain social graces. He let me know that he didn’t care what the audience thought about his topic, he had something to say, and that was good enough for him! Well, no matter – I gave a warm intro and Walter stepped up.
In broken English he read his four to five pages of single spaced notes, rarely pausing – sometimes mumbling – and only occasionally glancing at his audience – I think to see if anyone was still there. Oh Lord, I thought – what kind of evaluation would poor Walter be in for? Eventually the speech was over, and the audience applauded –gratefully. What came next filled me with awe & humility.
The seasoned evaluator stepped up to the plate. She gazed out into the audience and found Walter. She met his eyes with hers, and with a big welcoming smile, she began to speak. With an amazing show of warmth and sincerity, she told Walter how much she appreciated hearing him speak. Then she opened her focus to include the rest of us, making the most of the speaking zone.
Like a regal cat, she strolled from side to side – gesturing generously – and engaging her audience with her sparkling eyes as she explained the wonderful organization that Walter had employed in the preparation of his talk. I was spellbound.
She went on to identify each thing that Walter said or did that she could put a positive spin on. As she ticked the points off one by one, I was surprised to discover that I couldn’t dispute any of them. Still, I kept waiting for the shoe to drop. How would she address his numerous shortcomings?
She commended Walter on his enthusiastic pursuit to educate this audience on a subject he felt so passionate about. You know, I can’t remember if she pointed out even one item for improvement, or if she did it was ever so slight – perhaps more befitting a seasoned speaker. Finally, she concluded her remarks by congratulating Walter again. Again, she met his eyes. Again, she enveloped him with her enthusiastic response to his speech.
There was a pregnant pause, and as she returned to her seat, the audience applauded. Walter beamed.
Wow. She did what I could not. At least not then, and sometimes not now. With eyes brimming, and a voice barely audible, I approached her, compelled to speak. “Wow. What an incredible job you did. How did you do that? I could only see his mistakes.”
I anticipated her reaction based on my own experience. You see, here was a large, middle-aged woman, a woman of color who, I assumed, (if I found Walter’s remarks offensive) would have found them even more so. Yet she moved past all of that, unaffected. Unoffended.
Looking me in the eye, she spoke with an iron grace; “I think Walter has had enough criticism in his life. He doesn’t need more of that now.” Humbled by her compassion, I realized she was probably right on. A second wave hit me. She didn’t mean just Walter. Perhaps me, too. Perhaps you. Wow, what a lesson.
Did she give an effective evaluation? I believe she did. Could an audience learn from her example? Absolutely. I sure did. Will Walter be a better speaker as a result of that evaluation? Who knows? Could he be any worse?
Maybe there’s a bigger lesson to be learned here. What kind of evaluation would motivate you to improve? Maybe tough love isn’t always the best way.
Evaluations offer one of the most valuable teaching tools within the TM experience – both in giving and in receiving. Remember the story of Walter. It’s easy to see the flaws. Sometimes we must work a little harder to see the good stuff, especially if we are to evaluate to motivate.
Reprinted from the December 2004 issue of the Telegram...