Putting It Together

Recently I won the Toastmasters District 15 Evaluation Contest.  At each level of competition I faced people with skills and ability.  What winning came down to was the ability to organize your observations and deliver them effectively in a short amount of time – putting it together!  Fortunately I was able to observe a few of my competitors who evaluated after me and I was able to listen to the observations of others to gain my insight of what set me a part to win each time:

  1. Some contestants forgot that evaluations are about the speaker and not the evaluator.  It is not the time to showcase our own flair, it is time to make observations about the speaker.  I witnessed evaluators eat up a fair amount of their 2 to 3 minutes positioning themselves with humor, anecdote, or a superfluous introduction to their content.  This did nothing more than paint them as inauthentic, even though they were intelligent and skilled.
  2. Some contestants only spoke about the obvious and failed to probe just a little deeper.  It takes practice, but we can train ourselves to find what people are doing right and where they can improve their presentations in less obvious areas.  Although we can’t and shouldn’t try to cover everything, we can group some general observations and mention them briefly as we move on to target key areas.  At one of the contests none of the other evaluators pointed out that the source of the speakers content was not cited and it made her less believable.  I wasn’t criticizing her content, only pointed out that with out citing a source it was hard to believe.  That little observation was critical.
  3. Related to the above, I observed a couple contestants slide into nothingness.  They made their initial observations, even skillfully, and then they just starting babbling!  Yes, the content of their sentences deflated – it seemed they were stalling or trying to be eloquent and failing.  It is quite possible, speaking from experience, that they were drawing a blank.  Many of my opponents did not use notes.  I used notes every time! I set them on the lecturn and was free to step away and return.  A pause here and there to scan my outline didn’t hurt my presentation one bit.  Oh I could have not used notes and leaned on my dynamic delivery more, but again, it is not about how dynamic I can be (only) – it is about the speaker and the observations I make about them.  So a simple outline for notes can keep us from blanking out, especially considering that we only had 5 minutes to prepare this presentation.
  4. Some contestants failed to use the contest evaluation sandwich.  Start with what the speaker did right (the top bun), follow it with where they could improve (the meat), then add some suggestions (the lower bun), and end with a summary (put some condiment on this sandwich).  Very few contestants summarized their evaluation and yet this is one section on the judges form.  Whoops!  Forgot to summarize?  You just lots a bunch of points!  We better have a look at the judging form beforehand next time and make sure we are including everything they are looking for.

In summary, remember that evaluations are about the speaker and not you, learn to notice the often overlooked, consider using a simple outline, and make sure you summarize.  Winning an evaluation contest comes down to putting these things all together.

Addendum: ‘putting it all together’ requires that you have your ‘game on’ (focused, clear mind, confident, etc.).  Our first club meeting after I won the District Evaluation contest I failed to win ‘Best Evaluator’ and was toppled by a new member.  Losing wasn’t a big deal, but served as a reminder that it takes focus to put it all together each time you give an evaluation.

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