Elements of Effective Evaluations
Let’s start with a caveat: I am not an expert on anything. I certainly am not an expert on delivering the perfect evaluation. I can share the methods I used. You can try these techniques to see which, if any, would work for you.
There are no experts in Toastmasters. There are no professors or instructors. We are all individuals who bring our own life experience to Toastmasters and work together to become better communicators and leaders.
That’s a liberating to me. No one is expecting me to provide perfect feedback. All I do is share what I saw, heard, and felt during the speech. I can’t be wrong about my own observations. I let the speaker draw their own conclusions from what I’ve said. Over time, after a variety of input from different Toastmasters with unique perspectives, speakers will choose which advice to incorporate into their presentations and develop their own style.
When I prepare to evaluate a speaker, I start by going to the Pathways lesson and reading the criteria. There are no free speeches in Toastmasters: I always have the speaker provide the lesson information, and ask the speaker what areas they want me to focus on. I consider both the standard criteria and their extended criteria in my evaluation.
I always speak for myself, not the club members or the audience. I don’t know what anyone else saw, heard, or felt during the speech. They might have a different reaction to everything in my evaluation. I can only report on my own observations.
For newer members, I focus on how well they incorporate and demonstrate mastery of the skills from the Pathways lesson. As members progress, I still watch for the basic skills, but in a more nuanced way. If the speaker varies from Toastmasters conventions, I consider why they might have done so, and whether it was effective in this particular instance. It’s important to have a solid grounding in the basics, but once mastered, it can be equally important to break the “rules” when a situation warrants it.
I do my best to avoid generic superlatives, as in “What an amazing speech!” or “That was outstanding!” These are meaningless. Compare these statements with “I thought your speech was an effective and heartfelt discussion of a sensitive issue.” or “I laughed a lot during your speech, because I recognized so much of myself in poor Mr. Duddleberg.”
Intensifiers are the filler words of evaluations. I try to eliminate words like really, very, totally, etc. Again, I find it more effective to be specific. Rather than “your story was very sad,” I might say “I was saddened by the story of the crocodile with the abscess tooth and the struggles he went through to find the right dentist.”
I also avoid Toastmasters tropes. I replace “You drew me in” with a specific statement like “I was intrigued immediately by your startling statement about the future risk to cacao production, and wanted to know whether my 72% dark chocolate bars might be at risk.” Rather than (ugh) “use the stage,” I might say “it seemed to me that you spent a good deal of time in one place, when you might have made a stronger connection with audience members by walking toward them and establishing brief but meaningful moments of eye contact.”
Most importantly, I give honest feedback. Evaluation is the heart of Toastmasters. It’s core to what we do, and it’s how we show we care. I try to show that I care by giving evaluations with compassionate candor. Over time, I build a relationship with my clubs where I show up regularly, prepare my speeches well, take on functionary roles, and serve as an officer when called upon. Having established a level of trust that I am a servant leader, I earn the privilege to speak directly to other Toastmasters about what they do well, and what can be even better.
For more in-depth discussions of my evaluation techniques, you can see videos of my workshops “Winning Evaluations” and “Evaluating Advanced Speakers” on my YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWSi53Beq9F19k6DQ9fwdrQ/playlists. Feel free to contact me with your comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our Club Spotlight blog series highlights District 101 clubs that are high achieving, unique or just plain fun. To start this new series off we spotlight Excalibur Toastmasters Club’s awesome Youth Leadership Program (YLP) for serving young adults in our communities….
Several members of the Excalibur Toastmasters Club in Cupertino formed a Youth Leadership Program to help 14 local youth improve their communication, leadership and presentation skills! Kate Plant, Evelyn Belen, and Neil Evangelista have been supporting the youth participants over the last 8 weeks and have enjoyed seeing the kids and teens gain confidence and improve their speaking and listening skills!
The youth members enjoyed debating about whether a PC or Mac is better, whether Roblox or Fortnite is more entertaining, and the health benefits (if any) of video games. The participants made it fun with jokes and used technology to enhance their images and backgrounds! Yet they were very serious when it came to their presentation skills as they used eye contact, vocal, variety, hand gestures and visual aides.
The youth members especially enjoyed Table Topics as awards made it into a friendly competition! Speeches ranged from camping, parties around the world, cyber-bullying, and Covid19. Each week there was a guest adult speaker who discussed topics such improving your listening skills, utilizing gestures and organizing your speech. These discussions helped the kids learn the fundamentals of communication.
At the end of the 8 week program, youth members filled out a survey to give their feedback. The participants’ overall feedback is that the program has helped them become more confident and social. One participant has decided to run for Student Council President at her elementary school. Another participant said, “It has been a fun experience to be at a Toastmasters meeting on Friday night”. Who would have thought a 13 year old would say that?
The youth members also gave feedback for improvement. They wanted more speaking opportunities (since roles fill up fast), a funnier format and more debates. Based on the feedback and the participants’ enthusiasm and willingness to learn, the group has decided to transition to a Gavel Club and focus on Speech and Debate development skills!
We’re looking for more participants between the ages of 10-16 who want to improve their leadership, communication, listening, impromptu speaking and debate skills!
The Youth Toastmasters Speech and Debate Club Open House is on Friday, October 16th from 7pm – 8pm. Kids and teens between the ages of 10-16 are welcome to attend with their parents. The youth members will showcase a shortened 30 minutes Toastmasters meeting, followed by a questions and answer session for prospective youth members and their parents.
Spots are filling up quickly so please reach out to us soon. Contact Neil Evangelista at email@example.com for the Zoom link or more information on the Youth Toastmasters Speech and Debate Club!
The youth members are thankful to the Excalibur TM Club for creating this program for them!
Member Spotlight: Mythili Prabhu
Mythili Prabhu is a highly accomplished Toastmaster. Not only has she earned two Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) awards, but she has also served as an Area Director (2012-13), Public Relations Manager (2014-15), Program Quality Director (2015-16), and the first District Director for District 101 (2016-17). Additionally, Mythili also received the District Toastmaster of the Year Award in 2013-14. Currently, Mythili is an active member of North Valley Toastmasters Club, District 101 Events Chair, a Principal Performance Engineer at Akamai, and a mother to a toddler. Despite her packed schedule, Mythili spoke with me about her accomplishments, advice, and future endeavors. Read on:
Q: You received the Annual Award of Toastmaster of the Year 2019-2020. Can you talk about what this award entailed and how you earned it?
A: I have served as a District Leader in the past. The award is given to someone who serves the district at a high level and contributes in several, different ways. I focused my contributions on two areas: club growth and program quality.
Last year, to address club growth, I met with my club leadership each week and discussed issues related to member expansion and renewals. I brought in experience from my past District leadership and helped the club with timing of certain, key initiatives. I also spent time reaching out to members about renewals.
To address program quality, I served as a District Conference Chair three times (contributing to 18 District Conferences). For the latest District Conference, I started work in November, scouting and booking conference locations. Despite having an in-person conference strategy in place, I made the decision to switch to an online platform given the Covid-19 situation. I led a team, and we met weekly to figure out the new, online format. A key contribution I made was advocating for two keynote speakers instead of one. The entire event was very exciting as it was the first online conference for Toastmasters!
Q: You currently serve as District 101 Events Chair. Can you talk about your role and/or any event(s) we can expect this year?
A: The Events Chair position is an entirely new role. Given the virtual climate, I am currently planning new events. My vision is to have compelling, useful events every month (e.g. a contest series, Train the Trainer seminar, etc.). I would like to designate a new topic of interest for the District each week (e.g. international Toastmasters leaders, Toastmasters Leadership Institute, etc.). I am also using my experience to mentor new Toastmasters to take on the role of an event chair in the future. Overall, my role focuses on brainstorming initiatives, selecting intriguing speakers for events, and managing public relations.
Q: Of all the lessons you’ve learned through Toastmasters and your career, which is the most important?
A: Being bold and trying something new are life lessons for me. Toastmasters feels like a playground because there are always new opportunities. For example, I previously had no experience with graphics and design. However, while organizing the latest District Conference, I had opportunities to hone these skills.
Overall, I have found great value in trying new things through Toastmasters. I have realized that it is not always about trying something entirely new, but rather, trying a different approach (e.g. District Conference going virtual). This method propels me forward.
Q: Do you have any final words of advice for our members?
A:You can have a lot of fun in Toastmasters! You may have joined your club for a reason you didn’t choose, but there is a lot to try out. I encourage you to step outside of your club. There are always self-discovery, leadership, speaking, and friendship opportunities waiting for you.
Q: What is next for you? How can our members reach you if they have any further questions?
A: I am currently working on exciting events as District 101 Events Chair. I am also working on my third Distinguished Toastmasters distinction. I am always on the lookout for new projects as well. If you are interested in helping with a future event, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also learn more about North Valley Toastmasters Club (now virtual!) at nvtm.org.
Written by Ramya Ramachandran of Intuitively Speaking Toastmasters Club
The New Networking
Most of us enjoy meeting new people, sharing our stories for the first time, listening to other experiences, and still, the word networking, which consists of exactly those things, has a bad connotation for most people.
While choosing between 13 topics for my pathway project, networking was the one topic I really wanted to avoid. Yet, one of the habits I adopted joining Toastmasters, is to choose the option that throws me the farthest away from my comfort zone, so I did choose networking eventually.
The project was to attend a networking event with the promise that it will have a positive influence on my confidence. This was not my experience in the past. Typically, at the end of networking events I would feel disappointed, mostly at myself, discouraged and less confident. Furthermore, the project’s recommendations were mostly relevant to an in-person networking event while in our current situation, networking looks very different.
The New Networking
I recently attended an online networking event which I refer to as the new networking. At the end of the meeting I felt better than any previous networking event. I felt content, energized, motivated, and even supported.
I believe this kind of new networking should not be neglected when in person meetings come back to our lives. Here I will try to explain why and provide a couple of suggestions on how to make the most of this new form.
I attended a virtual happy hour hosted by an organization called AWWEE (Association of Women in Water, Energy & Environment). I have been following this organization for a long time. They had many networking events in the past which were at least 1.5 hour drive from me, which made it impossible to squeeze into my schedule. For this reason I missed many opportunities to network in this organization and others that interest me.
I was happy to find that they host an online meeting that I could finally attend.
The new networking makes the location of the organization irrelevant. Now, more than ever, we can network and get acquainted with people from organizations all over the world, and it takes about 5 minutes to get there (open a computer, find the link and click on it).
In the past, when I planned on attending a networking event, I usually had a long stressful drive ahead of me, usually with traffic. I had to figure out ahead of time where to park and how to find a place that I have never been to, sometimes in the dark, sometimes feeling not so comfortable in my formal clothes.
When I finally would get to the events, I have already used up about 50% of my energy. Nevertheless, I would put a smile on my face, stand tall, and enter a room full of strangers.
All this is avoided in the new networking. Joining the online meeting, everyone including myself were dressed casually and seemed comfortable in their own clothes, and since it took no time to get to the meeting, everyone’s energy levels were high and all seemed at ease, and yet excited and ready to connect and communicate.
Entering a room full of strangers can be intimidating. Naturally, if we spot someone we recognize in the crowd, we would probably approach that person first. Research shows that people spend most of their time in networking events, talking to people they already know, while what they really need are new connections.
Approaching a stranger, introducing myself, giving my short pitch, listening attentively and hopefully engaging in a meaningful conversation takes time and energy. In one event, I can probably do all this about four times, which means that at the end of the meeting, I would have 4 new potential connections. Not bad!
On the other hand, the virtual happy hour I attended was a pilot meeting, so a whole hour was spent on introductions. I couldn’t choose who to talk to. I heard experiences and gathered information from 20 other professionals, and when it was my turn to introduce myself, all attendees heard what was important for me to say. The result was that all participants got acquainted with each other.
At the end of the meeting, we all used the chat to share our contact information and linkedin profiles and other tips and suggestions. I got 20 new potential connections, which was five times better than an in-person event.
Looking Forward to the Next Meeting
The best of all mentioned advantages is that I actually enjoyed the meeting and I was looking forward to the next one.
Here is what I intend to do at the next meeting that will help me make the most of the new networking:
Before the meeting: work even harder on perfecting my pitch, and practice saying it to the camera. I might only get one chance to say it and maybe in front of many people. I will make sure it includes my goals, so participants will be able to help me achieve them.
After the Meeting
Building and maintaining relationships with new connections is challenging to begin with. The challenge is even greater when my new connection is someone that I never met in person and didn’t even have a one on one conversation with.
My solution is yet to be implemented so it is solely a suggestion and not based on experience. My new connections will be added to the linkedin pool of connections. To make those connections work for me, I need to be active on Linkedin. I need to make sure my profile includes my interests, my goals and I need to share and post about what I care about and what I want more in my life. The more active I am, the more my new connections will be reminded repeatedly of what I like, what interests me, what I do and what I want to do. They, on their own, can make connections that will benefit me.
Yes to Both In-person and Online Meetings
We are social creatures and we thrive on in person meetings, and should have as many as possible.
Still, work and project related online meetings are such a great addition to our lives and I believe they open so many more opportunities for us, and make networking easier and even enjoyable!
Don’t Miss the Next Opportunity!
I encourage you to look-up organizations that are of interest to you. Many now offer webinars, networking events, meetings that are open to the public that you can participate in, from the comfort of your home.
You never know what opportunity might land in your lap(top).
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