Mr Toastmaster … (part 2)

One of the most useful things that you get from Toastmasters that you rarely get from a live speech is constructive criticism. If you do get this after a live speech it’s likely that the person offering it has forgot about the “constructive” part. In Toastmasters, we like to call this process an evaluation, and everyone that performs a role or speech at each Toastmasters Meeting bar one person will receive an evaluation. Why is it useful? It offers us the opportunity to learn what we are doing well at, and to consider areas which we may wish to improve.

In my last performance of the Toastmaster role, I received a fair bit of “evaluation.”

From the General Evaluator at the end of the Toastmasters meeting:

  • I should have mentioned what I do for my role as Toastmaster (indeed, and ironically I did do a good job of doing this when introducing the functionaries)
  • I should have mentioned the programme wasn’t running like it normally would for the second half of the evening. Also that the programme was further affected in the second half due to a speaker that had failed to attend the meeting.
  • I displayed warm smiles
  • I had a good stage presence
  • I gave good voice projection
  • I got the audience involved
  • I carried out the Toastmaster role well

All fair points I thought.

From my Club President’s written evaluation:

  • My exercise getting everybody to repeat the word of the day in the first half of the evening could have been done better by describing what I wanted them to do, repeating it, and demonstrating it before asking everyone else to do it.
  • I should have reminded people at the start of the meeting to switch off their phones
  • I thanked and bridged well between speeches/functionary performances
  • I gave good introductions of speakers/functionaries

Again, all fair points. And now for something interesting…

From one of our guests at the end of the evening after our President invited guests for closing comments:

  • I made the first half of the evening proceed slowly.
  • I looked like I was finding the whole thing a chore and wasn’t enjoying myself.

This is the sort of thing a beginning speaker doesn’t want to hear – a series of negative statements or accusations with no constructive explanation or suggestions offered, and nothing positive mentioned. Yet it’s also the sort of feedback many of us are likely to give when we haven’t learned how to give constructive feedback. I’m going to expand on this as there were some learning points for me that may also be beneficial to you, especially if you are new to public speaking.

Having had some experience as an established member, I have learnt to consider points made in such a manner and make up my own mind as to whether there is some validity in them and treat the not so helpful manner of their delivery like water off a duck’s back.

While I didn’t feel it was fair to claim the first half of the evening went particularly slowly, certainly I could have stepped up the pace of proceedings and I could have dropped the word of the day exercise mentioned earlier. Then again, as I become comfortable in the role and aim to stretch my comfort zone further I am going to experiment and challenge myself to try new things, to find out what does work, what I could do better, and what doesn’t work.

On the second point, I was actually enjoying myself throughout, recognising how much more confident I had become. This role felt like a very big deal this time last year, I was aware of this while I was performing and I was proud of that. Clearly I’m going to have to start recording my performances! Seriously though, you can’t please everybody all of the time.

I later learnt our guest was applying judgments of my performance based against speakers she’d seen at a motivational speaker and personal development focused club. A different environment with different aims to a Toastmasters club, which is focused on developing communication and leadership skills.

I missed a trick on this occasion as I didn’t address the criticism when it was raised. Instead, our club President decided to ask the guest how she’d introduce someone. At this point being put on the spot and not knowing how our club expects this to be done, I think our guest understood a little that there is a learning process involved at all levels of the club. She also felt awkward enough about her comments that she felt moved to approach me in an apologetic manner after the meeting. I later learned she was considering joining our club! Obviously she did enjoy the evening and she would certainly gain from learning evaluation skills.

Overall, I recognise that I need to perform the Toastmaster role a few more times, to get right the aspects I overlooked on this occasion, to continue increasing my confidence in performing the role, and to continue learning new skills while performing the role. The feedback received was very useful.

So criticism a.k.a. evaluation is one of the benefits gained from being a member of Toastmasters. It helps us learn to evaluate more fairly, more constructively, and more effectively. Part of how this works for anyone not familiar with Toastmasters is that evaluation is often delivered in a sandwich approach: commending a person on something they did well, then making them aware of something they can improve (i.e. be constructive rather than condemning) – if possible SHOWING them how they can do it better, then commending the person again on something else that they did well.

And to round off, some positive criticism I received from a member of our club:

  • I have a certain kind of energy and spirit that warms people to me. (Hey, thanks!)
  • I lead by example. (I was pleased to hear this as it’s me when I’m really in my element.)
  • I am very involved and hands on in the running and support of the club. (A topic perhaps for another time but I do try to do my part for the club and its members.)

To conclude, I did a number of things well. I overlooked a few things I shouldn’t have overlooked as Toastmaster. I am a valued member and contributor to my club. Is this feedback helpful? Do I feel encouraged to do better next time? You bet I do!