An excerpt from Kyle Hall’s Better Evaluating presentation

Do we find evaluating frustrating, confusing or intimidating?

In my 27 years as a Toastmaster, I’ve watched both new and experienced Toastmasters struggle to deliver high value evaluations.  Evaluating is a complex skill.  Its learning curve can be as challenging, if not more challenging, than speaking.  If we want to become a powerful speaker or an effective leader, however, we must master the evaluation.  Let us look, therefore, at the process of evaluating.

The evaluation process has three components.  They are:

  • Observing the Observer
  • Planning the Evaluation
  • Delivering the Evaluation 

I believe one of the challenges most new Toastmasters struggle with is trying to work on all three of these components at the same time.  It can’t be done.  The second step in becoming a great evaluator is to learn to work each of these parts separately and in the correct order.  

Wait a minute, I said the second step.  What about the first step?  If you want to learn the first step to becoming a great evaluator, click here.

Let’s give just a little more definition to each of the components in the evaluation process and show their order chronologically:  

  1. Observing the Observer is the art of watching and listening to the speaker, and making your notes on what they are doing well and what they could do differently.  In case it isn’t obvious, this part comes first.
  2. Planning the Evaluation is the art of rapidly organizing the above notes into a short, coherent speech.  Second part, duh!
  3. Delivering the Evaluation is the art of actually giving that evaluative speech in an effective (and possibly fun) manner.  This is the third and last part.

We don’t have time in this article to go into detail on all three components (to get that, come to Professionally Speaking on July 15, 2021 and hear Better Evaluating).  We are instead going to focus on the first and most critical step, Observing the Observer.

Before we can organize notes into an evaluation or deliver that evaluation effectively, we must  first watch and listen to the speaker . . . and ourselves. 

This statement may seem a little brain-dead obvious, but for many new Toastmasters it is not.  When a speech is being delivered, there is more involved in our observing than just our eyes and ears. We must also perceive our own emotional and intellectual reactions to what and how the speaker is communicating.  Being a really good evaluator requires a Zen state of mind.  

I’m reminded of a my high school history teacher, Mr. D’Andrea.  He had a great sense of humor. He brought it into his classroom.  He often used stories and puns that made us laugh.  I watched him teach, listened to his stories and laughed along with everyone else.

One day in class, while he was teaching I noticed a change in Mr. D’Andrea’s body language and energy.  He was in the middle of a story.  I felt tension mounting in my own mind, as the story played out.  It suddenly occurred to me, “He’s building up to a punch line!”

I was right.  Mr. D’Andrea told his story and delivered his punch line.  I laughed as hard as anyone in the class.  I had also noticed, however, my own reactions to what was being said.  I had detected the tension building inside me.  I felt how the punch line released that tension, creating laughter.

I didn’t understand enough about humor or evaluating, at that time, to describe what had just happened.  I had perceived my own reactions to the story, however, even as the story was being told.  I had been an observer of the storyteller . . . and the observer of myself . . . at the same time.  This was the first time in my life when I observed the observer.

That state of mind, where we can perceive what is going on around us . . . and our own reactions to it, is what we are striving toward as an evaluator.

I mentioned perceiving our own emotional or intellectual reactions.  I think this requires a bit more explanation.

  • When I talk about a speaker creating an emotional reaction, we need to notice if the presenter is able to make us afraid, happy, sad, anxious, excited, inspired, curious, etc.  One of the key reasons to speak to an audience is to couple an idea and an emotion, and to transmit that pair to the audience.  If the speaker is making us feel something, we must take note of it.  If they are failing to make us feel, that is just as important.
  • Intellectual reactions are more about credibility and questions.  Did the presenter leave us thinking they know of what they speak?  Did they answer our questions during the talk, or did we leave frustrated because they didn’t?  Did they give us too much information?

Once we learn to observe our own observer, to watch how we are reacting to the speaker even as they talk to us, we are on our way to Better Evaluating.

To learn more about the components of evaluating, and the steps of becoming a great evaluator, join Professionally Speaking Advanced Toastmasters Club on July 15, 2021 for Kyle Hall’s Better Evaluating presentation.