One of the things I love about Toastmaster meetings is the opportunity to hear diverse perspectives and stories from club members with a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, and political affiliations. For some, Toastmasters may be the only place where members are exposed to viewpoints that differ from their own.
In July 2022, I witnessed two very different presentations while attending two community Toastmaster clubs in Phoenix, Arizona. The speeches also had many similarities, as both were well presented, dynamic and passionate. The speakers were intelligent, successful and respected baby boomers whom I know and admire.
The topics of the speeches were socially charged ideas given from the presenters’ point of view and frame of reference. Based on the size and diversity of the audience, it was probable that not everyone agreed with the premise and points of talk.
What impressed me most about these specific Toastmaster meetings was the high quality and neutrality of the formal speech evaluations. Providing verbal feedback on a topic that you may not agree with is not easy and the club members accomplished this should be praised and respected. The Speech Evaluators did an outstanding job of providing quality input on the delivery and structure of the speech while avoiding judgmental statements on the content of the presentation. They took the high road and made me very proud to be a Toastmaster.
I felt strongly about this topic in October 2016 and published a blog entitled “Objective Evaluations in a Polarized World”. In this article, I emphasized that “the ability to give objective and neutral feedback on another person’s speech is hard enough without the many external and internal factors influencing us. Pesky things like human nature, emotions, personal biases, insecurities, extreme political views, polarization of opinions and what I call the “siloed, echo chambers” of social media”.
Now more than ever, my advice from six years ago on giving objective evaluation is important and relevant.
Below were my key recommendations:
- Remember that as a speech evaluator, you are there to observe and provide neutral and constructive feedback, recommendations and suggestions on the basic tenants and techniques of effective communication and public speaking.
- Focus on the Delivery and Structure of the presentation with specific examples.
- When commenting on the Impact of a speech (especially if you disagree with the content), try to set aside your personal emotions and biases and look at and assess the overall audience response to the speech.
- Honestly ask yourself if the topic/point of the speech is clouding your ability to provide positive and objective feedback on the Delivery and Impact. If it is, then:
- Try to put yourself in the shoes of someone who supports the topic and reflect on how they would respond to the speech.
- Run a “What if” scenario in your mind by replacing the content of the speech with something that you agree with and see how you would view and analyze it.
- Open your mind, take off your biased filters and focus on how the speaker is connecting, delivering and making their point.
- Ask yourself: Was the speaker able to motivate, educate, influence or inspire?
- The purpose of your evaluation is to encourage and help club member improve and develop strong communication skills, not to impose your views, values and opinions about the subject matter.