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Stand Up and—Toast! Did I Reach You? How Do I Know?

The only way to improve your presentation skills is to get honest feedback.

"Evaluation" is a scary word. You may think it is a critique, focusing on all of your shortcomings as a speaker.

But without feedback, how can you know if you've reached your audience? The good news is that evaluations also tell you what you are doing right!

Still, let's face it, just as many of us squirm hearing our own voices on answering machines (or these days, voicemails and videos), we often feel that we can do better.

How can we improve?

Often, it’s difficult to get feedback on each presentation, be it at a conference or in a meeting. You wouldn’t chase down a colleague or customer to ask for feedback! Wouldn't it help you to have a place to experiment and practice before presenting in the "real world?"

Evaluations of speeches in a supportive environment are the hallmark of the Toastmasters International program. Most speeches at club meetings are 5-7 minutes, with a 2-3 minute evaluation of that speech.

What can you expect from an evaluation in a Toastmasters club?

  • You will be asked for your objectives. Toastmasters members work from project manuals to improve their skills, whether presentation techniques such as eye contact, or content advice including how to best structure a speech.
  • You will hear what you did well. Toastmasters clubs have a very supportive environment, and your evaluations will be very encouraging.
  • You will get very specific feedback, not generalities. If you used a certain gesture or phrase that could be improved, your evaluator may make a specific suggestion of one or more different ways to present the concept or hone the gesture.

Most importantly, the evaluation is of the speech, not of the speaker, and not of any opinions you expressed in the speech. The evaluation is focused on helping you achieve your objectives—which may be to inspire, to educate, to sell, to entertain or to share a personal story. 

For proficient speakers, there are advanced clubs, which require members to achieve the first educational milestone of the Toastmasters program, the Competent Communicator. These advanced clubs provide the benefit of multiple, round-robin evaluations of a speech. Evaluators may agree with each other, or they may offer opposing opinions.

Ultimately, it is up to you, as a speaker, to determine which feedback is most beneficial to you, and which suggestions you want to incorporate going forward. The regular cadence of getting evaluations will reinforce what you do well, provide you with guidance for improving—and take the "scary" factor out of being evaluated!

To see evaluations first-hand, find a Toastmasters club near you!http://www.d4tm.org/Membership/findingClub.php

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Atul Nayak April 20, 2012 at 06:33 AM
Giving feedback in a manner that is supportive yet honest is the most important skill I have learnt at Toastmasters meetings. This is also a skill that is directly transferable to the workplace - anyone doing performance reviews or giving peer/manager feedback should stop by a Toastmasters club to see how it should be done!
Birgit Starmanns April 20, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Hi Atul, that's a wonderful take-away, evaluations are a very transferable skill!
John Williams April 20, 2012 at 11:16 PM
I'm hooked. Always thought about joining Toastmasters. Out of curiosity, can you give examples of exceptional speakers who polished their presentation skills at Toastmasters?
Birgit Starmanns April 22, 2012 at 06:26 AM
Hi John, I'm happy to hear that! I've really enjoyed Toastmasters, and have definitely improved my skills since joining - and have found many friends with common interests. There are examples of several "famous" Toastmasters here: http://www.toastmasters.org/Members/MembersFunctionalCategories/AboutTI/FamousToastmasters.aspx. I'll also look into profiling a few local excellent speakers!
Atul Nayak April 22, 2012 at 05:33 PM
John - a good way to 'evaluate' (sorry couldn't resist) a Toastmasters club is by visiting a Club Open House. Here is a list of clubs that have Open Houses planned in the next few weeks. http://d4tm.org/Events/club-calendar.php (Vox at IBM North San Jose May 2, Abbott Vascular Redwood City May 16) More Open Houses advertised on Meetup http://www.meetup.com/district4toastmasters/ (City Talks Redwood City Apr 25, Macintalkers at Apple Cupertino Apr 25, Baymasters Apr 26, Wellness Toastmasters Menlo Park Apr 26) And of course a full list of local clubs can be found at d4tm.org. Check out the listing by city!
John Williams April 23, 2012 at 06:12 PM
Thank you Birgit for the list of celebrated Toastmasters - very impressive. Thank you Atul for the link to open houses. I'll definitely check one out. I propose a toast to you both!

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