The (He)art of Evaluation
How to evaluate properly and be heard while doing it
Context. Context. Context.
That's not just a word repeated 3 times - it is the entire heart of evaluation.
Let me explain either through this video...
...or in this article, if you prefer to read. Get ready, it's a LOOOOOONG one.
If you think the purpose of evaluation is to give the speaker a bunch of points to help them improve, you're sadly mistaken.
I believe the core purpose of evaluation, the heart, is to:
- 1.Make the speaker want to speak again.
- 2.Use the speaker as an example to teach the audience something.
A speaker will improve with practice. The more they speak, the better they become. If an evaluation is too harsh, a speaker may be demotivated and may not want to speak again. Thus, a bad evaluation is one that doesn't make the speaker want to speak again.
Instead, an evaluation with a couple of suggestions gives a speaker a direction to proceed in. They will take care of the rest when they speak next.
When you use the speaker's example to teach the audience an aspect of speaking, you are helping the audience learn something, and thus prepare for their own speeches. At the same time, you are praising the speaker, and thus accomplishing goal 1 again.
- Usable - can the speaker use the point you've made? If not, don't make the point. For example, you can talk about how 5 years ago, people appreciated speeches more, but now they don't. This adds nothing to the speaker, but only acts as a vent for your own frustrations. Similarly, tired tropes and metaphors, like how a speech is like biryani, only entertain the audience, but aren't usable by the speaker.
- Understandable - The aforementioned cliches, as well as heavy jargon and blustering verbosity, like this sentence, aren't very good. Keep it simple.
- Demonstrable - If you cannot point out specific examples in the speech, or if your recommendations aren't detailed enough, they are not demonstrable. For example, "improve your hand gestures" is very common advice during evaluations. But improve how? Do what? It is incomplete information and adds nothing to the speaker. Instead, show speakers what they did, and what they can do. Show more, tell less.
Remember that as an evaluator, you aren't just focused on the 2-3 minutes. You have a pre-meeting and a post-meeting task as well.
If you get a chance to speak to the speaker, ask them about their project. Check their objectives with them, and also ask them if they're trying to accomplish something beyond the objectives of the speech. Getting this information will give you context and direction and make your evaluation much better.
Even if the speaker doesn't give you any specific information, just talking to them will give you some idea of what they're like a person, and therefore what their speaking style is. Knowing their style helps shape your evaluation. Examples of this are in the video.
Do not share EVERYTHING you have during your evaluation speech. A 3 minute speech is only good for about 4-5 points of evaluation. Save everything else for after the meeting.
If the speaker was generally good, share 3 things they did well and 2 things that can be improved. If the speaker wasn't particularly good, share 2 things they did well and 3 things that can be improved. This ratio works for 90% of speakers, and is a great structure for novice evaluators.
After the meeting, if you approach the speaker and go over your evaluation again, you'll be doing more than most evaluators do. This is an opportunity for you to better explain your stance and show the speaker that you are genuinely invested in their growth.
This is also an opportunity for you to share any feedback that you didn't share in your 3 minute speech, and to answer any questions the speaker has.
You could create so many subcategories on what to talk about, but here I'll share a few basic ones that you should address.
In general, a speech will be broken down into Content (what was said), Delivery (how it was said), and Intent (what the speaker was trying to do).
The content is the foundation of a speech. You could dress up a speech with the greatest performance in the world, but if it doesn't have great content, the best you'll get is polite applause. The basic elements of content are:
- Message - You can say a lot, but say nothing at all at the same time. Every speech needs to have a purpose. What is the speaker trying to do with her speech? Generally, a speech can be one of four types - a speech that informs, a speech that entertains, a speech that persuades, or a speech that inspires. In between those types, there are myriad purposes for giving a speech. A speaker may be trying anything from giving you a hilarious anecdote about their day in traffic to convincing you to start your own herb garden. As an evaluator, you need to check if you can identify the message of the speech, and whether it is evident that that message is singular in nature. Any speech with more than 1 message is confused and unclear.
- Structure - There are as many structures in a speech as there are words in the language. A speaker may be innovative with how they capture and hold your attention. Structure is a criterion where many evaluators fail, because they prefer prescribing the same old-school format on every speech. In general, you will hear that every speech has an opening, a body, and a conclusion. This is true because every speech starts, continues, and ends. But in the formula of OBC, many evaluators are unable to identify what else the speaker has done.
- Language - What is better - high-brow, complex, rich language, or plain, simple, easy language? The answer is neither. The best language is the one that fits the intent. If a speaker is attempting to entertain the audience or teach them something, vivid description are necessary. But if a speaker is trying to persuade the audience or inspire them to chase their goals, then simple language works better because it connects with people better. As an evaluator, it is easy for you to get intimidated when a bombastic, verbose speaker takes the stage. However, as long as you're able to follow the conversation, you are qualified to comment on the usage of language, whether it be to praise the speaker or to ask them to be more simple.
If content is the foundation, then delivery is the paint on the building. Without great delivery, your speech has no aesthetic. It would be bland, boring, and ineffective. The basic elements of delivery are:
- Voice - The four elements of voice are pace (speed), pitch, power (volume), and pauses. In general, a speech should vary, or modulate, 1 or more of those 4 elements. It is not that a higher volume is always better than a lower volume. Both should be used when appropriate, and a speech should have moments in it that allow the speaker to use both. It is change that keeps a speech interesting, so if a speaker can vary any of those, they're doing well. In my experience, speakers who are more natural sounding are able to vary their power and pauses more easily, while speakers who are more performative are able to vary pitch and pace more easily. Your recommendations should be based on the style of the speaker.
- Body - Your body speaks its own language, and the language it speaks is truth. I don't subscribe to statistics that say body language is 65% or 85% of communication, but it is a very vivid and important part of communication. I primarily like to judge if a speaker was comfortable and confident on stage. That information becomes apparent quickly. If they're fidgety, if they're comforting or soothing themselves, or if they're subconsciously blocking their body from the audience, they're not comfortable. Nervous movement around the stage, like rocking back and forth or side to side, is also a sign of discomfort. Beyond comfort and confidence, body language manifests in the use of hands and arms to be more expressive, and in acting to sell the message. Not every speech needs to be demonstrated, hence not every speech needs acting. Provide this advice, with examples, only if necessary.
Beyond what the speaker did is what the speaker wanted to do. This is for really advanced evaluators. If you develop a keen eye and ear for evaluation, you will notice cracks or anomalies in a speaker's voice and whether their body language belies doubt that the speech doesn't. You'll be able to sense discomfort from the speaker. Pointing out inconsistencies might give the speaker some great insight into their own beliefs, styles, and confidence, and can be invaluable advice, if you know what you are doing.
Even if you cannot judge inconsistencies because you're not an "expert" yet, there are still ways for you to judge intent, primarily in the speaker's content. For example, if the choice of stories or lines don't match the spirit of the speech, you're in a position to point out that the speaker intended to convey a particular message but ended up conveying another. This is useful because the speaker will appreciate you understanding their intent, and will be more likely to accept your feedback.
- 1.Focus on the positive. You need to make the speaker want to speak again. By highlighting key strengths of the speaker, and peaks during the speech, you can make a speaker feel good about their performance.
- 2.Give Next Steps only. A speaker cannot remember (or may discard) evaluations with a large number of improvements. Instead, give the speaker one or two things to focus on, so that they can start tracking their improvement from their next speech onwards.
- 3.You present your opinion. Remember that a speaker can discard your evaluation. This means two things. First, do not be intimidated if you're evaluating someone with more experience than you. Second, do not present your evaluation as if you are preaching gospel. Your feedback is simply your opinion.
- 4.Good > Perfect. Like speaking, evaluation is a skill you will improve over time. Keep practicing your skill, do it as often as you can, and you will become an excellent evaluator.