As someone who has watched, noted, and delivered many speech evaluations in her short life, let me tell you – it’s FUN. Not what you expected me to say, was it? But, then again, how many times has dear old Nish told you something “isn’t a big deal” when it could potentially be a big deal?

I remember, in my day, how I roped in unsuspecting Gaveliers to do Table Topics Evaluations on a whim (Hi, Sasinidu!) and gave them a quick rundown via a voice note on how to do an evaluation. Most often than not, my last-minute recruits delivered their evaluations well.

However, I realize that we don’t have anything in writing that you can refer to when you suddenly have to do an evaluation and cannot remember what you’re supposed to know.

So, with the collective experience that I have received by watching our senior Gaveliers deliver evaluations, I have put together a guide for evaluators at UoC to read and understand, so that when you have to do an evaluation, you won’t have to bother Tharindi too much.

NB: This is a simple rundown and a mere glimpse into the world of evaluations. I’m not touching on evaluations for competitions (that’s a completely different ball game) and this article is just for you to know what to do when you have to step in as a CCE or TTE.

What is the purpose of an evaluator?

From what I’ve gathered, an evaluator of a speech acts as the accountability factor, for a speech and for the person delivering the speech. Having an evaluator means that there is someone watching you, listening to you, and recording your every move, without reaching stalker status. When you know this, you know that you have to perform well, because the evaluator is within their rights to point out your flaws and inconsistencies when they’re called upon.

An evaluator exists to make a speaker better. There’s no point in doing a speech without having someone point out the positives and negatives – it strokes your ego and also gives you things to work on and improve for next time. This is why we take care to appoint people who have already completed a significant level of speeches or has been around long enough to know what a speech should entail, to the position of an evaluator.

However, these types of people are scarce, because we’re all still learning, so don’t be scared if you want to try out to be an evaluator – just read this first.

What does an evaluator gain by being one?

You might think that this is just a ticket to judge the way someone gives a speech – but this is going to give you so much in terms of learning and becoming a better speaker yourself. When you are tasked with observing, noting down, and commenting on your personal opinion on a speech, you gain some insight into how the speaker’s mind works, and how their speech is crafted. You’ll notice that you start to care about the beginning, body, and conclusion of the speech, you’ll start to wonder where the personal story is going to come in, or where the anecdote will pop in. You’ll start rooting for the speaker to do their best, and you’ll (most probably) be pleased with the speech, save for a few improvements here and there. You’ll be gaining valuable insight into how speeches work, and this will groom you to be a mentor in the future and to help out speakers on different levels.

How to evaluate a speech?

Finally, I’ve stopped my rambling and got down to business.

When you present your evaluation, you need to tell the speaker what was great about their speech and what you thought could be improved. Notice how I’m emphasizing on “you”? That’s because evaluation is someone’s personal opinion about a speech and how a speaker excelled and could improve on certain fronts. This is why it’s important to use phrases like “I loved the way you…” or “I think you could improve by…” so that the speaker is reminded of the fact.

What us foodies at Gavel UoC like to preach is the use of the “Sandwich Method” or the “Commend – Recommend – Commend” method. Basically, what this means is that you need to sandwich the points of improvement between positive points.

Start: Commend the speaker

  • Here, you start off your evaluation by talking about the good elements of the speech. You do not need to go into too much detail, but it’s good to mention specific great spots that you noted. List them down and get them out of the way – don’t forget the phrases “I thought”/ “I think” and “in my opinion”

Next: Recommend points to improve on

  • Here is where you point out certain fallacies, issues that you noticed the speaker could fix for next time. It is important that you phrase these clearly and provide an example of how the speaker could have done something better. Make sure that you are not rude and that you present these points gently and with encouraging overtones. Again, remember to say “I personally think you should do this like this…” or something along those lines.

Finally: Commend and wrap up

  • At the end of your evaluation, as you wrap up, remind the speaker and the rest of the audience what was great about the speech. It is important to always end on a positive note. My favorite phrases to bring the evaluation to a close is “overall, I think you did a really good job!” and “all in all, that was an amazing speech!”

Sounds pretty simple, yes?

But Nish, what do we have to commend recommend commend blah blah? Make it make sense, dude.

Right, that’s what I was getting to. Now I’m going to list down things that you as an evaluator need to pay attention to, in terms of how well the speaker is doing it. If you’re evaluating a CC, note that each CC has specific objectives that you have to check on and see if the speaker is fulfilling them. These things are pretty general things that you would usually look at, no matter what kind of speech you’re evaluating.

Content and Language

  • Look at what the speaker is talking about. Is it enough to substantiate a speech? Are they giving actual points out and helping us (the audience) learn something? Are they informing us about some issue, or entertaining us with the speech, or inspiring us with their words? Are they using quotes from famous people to prove their points, are they telling us about their own stories? Are there anecdotes being used? Are they repeating the same thing over and over again? Is what they’re saying effective? Is the content flowing smoothly – does the speaker start with a strong opening, move on to a great story or body of the speech, and end on a memorable note? Is the language appropriate for the message of the speech? Should the speaker be checking their grammar before the speech? All of these things will work in your brain when you listen to/watch someone giving a speech.

Voice

  • This refers to how the speaker uses their voice to make the speech colorful. Are they changing the pitch of their voice to be higher in certain places and lower in other places? Are they changing their pitch when they imitate someone else? Are they speaking in a monotone? How does their vocal variation make you feel? Are they doing it right? Do you think they can change their pitch in someplace and make more of an impact?

Gestures and Body Language

  • Here, you look at how the speaker uses gestures – hand movements, head movements, etc.- to make their points. Are the hands distracting from the speech? Are the gestures effective or are they too much? Should the speaker be doing more gestures? Is there a point in the speech where the speaker should have done a hand gesture? When the speaker is moving from side to side, is the speaker doing it smoothly, or is it too stiff? Is the stage being used well, or is the speaker just stuck in one place without any movement? Is the speaker a rag doll or a wooden doll? Which version would suit the speech best?

Stage Movement

  • Here, you look at how the speaker uses their surroundings in correlation with their speech. My favorite thing to look at is to see if a speaker uses their stage to illustrate a timeline (if the speech has something to do with a story). When you think of the speech, could the speaker have used the stage better, in keeping with the message of the speech? For example, if the speech title was “Moving Forward”, did the speaker actually, physically take a few steps forward when they started giving us their message? Could they have moved differently?

Eye Contact

  • Having good eye contact is vital for a good speech and its message to reach an audience. When evaluating a speaker, look at their eyes, and look at who (or what) they look at. Are they looking at people in the audience or staring at the blank space behind everyone? Are they making friends with the floor?

Confidence

  • No matter what the speech is about, having the confidence to deliver it is key. If you’re confident enough, you can convince someone that the earth is yellow and that the sun is blue. Therefore, looking at a speaker’s confidence is something that evaluators are especially interested in. Is the speaker’s voice wavering? Are they visibly nervous? Are they delivering their speech with conviction? Do they believe in what they’re saying?

Now, I know these are a lot of things to consider, but with practice, you’ll notice yourself thinking about all of these things and ticking these boxes mentally. You don’t have to do everything mentally though – you can write it down!

This is how my written notes/structure for an evaluation would look like before I give my evaluation. Notice how everything is sandwiched together?

    COMMEND 

  • Good Content!
  • CONFIDENCE
  • Stage Movement
  • Words! – Language colorful (in a good way)
  • Loved the personal story!

   RECOMMEND

  • Eye Contact – looking at the wall (look at people’s eyes)
  • Vocal Variation – could have changed the voice for the father’s bit
  • Structure – Work on it a little bit
  • The ending – Could have had a stronger conclusion (quote?)

    COMMEND FINAL

  • Great Speech
  • Lovely message
  • Work on things for next time
  • Great effort!

Remember, all of these notes would make up a roughly 2-minute long evaluation, so choose your points wisely and give your evaluation. I have a habit of writing down notes on stories that the speech contained so that the evaluation would be more curated towards the speaker, but at the end of the day, it’s up to you.

Here’s a pretty organic type of note that I make for each speaker – take from it what you will, and also remember to remind speakers when they don’t address the Table Topics Master, that they have to! 

To make things even more clear, here is a transcript of an evaluation that I would give for a prepared speech:

“Hi *insert name here*, that was a great speech! I loved the storyline and the points you brought out. As we all know, however, there is always room for improvement, and it’s my job to tell you what I thought about your speech today. To start off, I loved the way you started your speech with a question and directed it to the audience. That’s a great way to capture everyone. You also had great vocabulary – the words that you used were on point and added so much color to the speech. I also thought you had amazing stage presence – the way you used the stage was pretty awesome and it really helped you get your point across. In terms of improvement, I think you can work on your vocal variation a little bit – I feel the speech would have been funnier if you maybe changed your voice to suit your father’s voice when he was “talking”. I also felt that you could have kept more eye contact with us – towards the second half of the speech, you were looking at the wall behind us more than you were looking at us. Here’s a tip that I learned – if you don’t want to look people in the eye, look at their ears or forehead instead! It helps give the illusion. Another thing I think you could improve on is your conclusion – I felt that it could have been stronger. Maybe end with a quote? Just a suggestion. Overall, I thought it was an amazing speech that you gave – kudos to putting your own spin on the topic. We were all entertained. Great job, and here’s to great speeches in the future as well!”

Now, this is highly speculative – circumstances matter. If a person is giving a table topic, of course, they’re not going to be prepared and will probably hesitate. Comment on those things, but make sure you acknowledge that it’s not a big deal for them to hesitate for an impromptu speech.

Also, notice how I pointed out 3 strong points and 3 improvement points? As an evaluator, you won’t have all the time in the world to say everything you want to, so for the time being, pick 3 or 2 things you want to talk about, that you think are the most important and talk about those. You are speaking to a speaker, but everyone else is listening so they will also learn something from what you said.

One cannot become a great evaluator over time. The only reason why I feel even a little qualified to write this article is that I’ve spent my late teens and early adulthood years listening to numerous speeches and listening to others give evaluations and learning from all of those things. So, the most important thing that you need to do is, at the end of the day, pay attention. Don’t be afraid to ask questions (later) and observe how others do it. It’s the best way to learn. Also, watch YouTube videos of speeches, evaluations, and table topics speeches, so you can educate yourself and ultimately, everyone else, little by little, every time you get the chance.

Finally, it is important that you, as a speaker, know how to perceive and receive an evaluation. According to one of our greats GV Ramalka Kasige, the Number 1 thing that people should do before receiving an evaluation, is to forget their ego and be willing to learn. No matter who evaluates you, that person will have a unique take on your speech, so you need to be excited to receive your evaluation. This is imperative for each speaker to inculcate within themselves.

The legendary GV Harinda also has some valuable insight on how a speaker and an evaluator will both benefit from evaluations:

“Progress is not possible without continuous feedback. Receiving constructive feedback helps a speaker to identify one’s own strengths and areas for improvement. There might be skills that a speaker already has but has not identified. Also, there might be errors that a speaker might tend to overlook. Self-evaluation has those blind spots which can be avoided with the help of an evaluator.”

Evaluating another person’s speech helps the evaluator to understand his own areas of improvement too. Observing a speech by being in the audience, helps an evaluator understand the expectations of the audience and the types of errors that should be avoided to convey the message clearly.

Thus, evaluations help both the speaker and the evaluator.”

Well, there you have it! Hopefully, this article helps you become a better evaluator and at the very least, a decent observer of others (this does not count as stalking).

Happy evaluating, kiddos!