Friday, June 04, 2010

Seven Tips for Effective Evaluation

How can we deliver an effective evaluation during a Toastmasters' meeting? What is the best way of giving feedback to a speaker?  I'm sure these questions are in the mind of anyone who is given the role of evaluating a speaker.

Let me share to you what I feel to be the seven (7) important rules for giving effective feedback when performing the role of an evaluator during a Toastmasters' meeting. There could be more, but we can start with these ones. Interestingly, most of these are the same rules that one should observe when giving feedback to anyone whether that is in the office, at home, or to friends.

Somebody said that "feedback is the breakfast of champions"- well, I guess that could only be true if the feedback is given properly. Feedback can be helpful or destructive, depending on the intent and the manner by which it is given. Just think about those times when you were inspired after getting a sincere and honest commendation from someone. Or recall a time when you received a criticism and ended up focusing on questioning the motive rather than reflecting on the validity of the feedback.

1. Driven by desire to help. To me, this is the foundation of all effective feedback. At the core of every successful evaluation is the heart that cares. You can make make this as your mantra before you start doing the evaluation. You are there to help. So make it sure that your language, your style, your delivery, your structure, and your observations are all in sync with that purpose.

2. Focus on the Speech Project's Objectives. Given your limited time which is about 2 minutes, you can only say so much. Thus, your observations and delivery should focus on the specific objectives of the speech project you are evaluating. If it is about the use of visual aids, then say something about the strong and weak points in the way the speaker utilized the visual aids. You can always share all your other observations during a one-on-one talk with the speaker after the meeting.

3. Observe thoroughly, convey limitedly. It is good to be thorough during your observation. Try to capture all strong and weak points relevant to the speech's objectives. This way, you have enough data to choose from. However, when it is time to deliver your evaluation, you have to trim down your observations to about 4 key points (2-strong points and 2 recommendations). Make the 'editor's cut' no matter how discomforting that may sound to you.

4. Use a Definite Structure. A good structure will allow you to manage your time well during your delivery of the evaluation. One good example of a solid evaluation structure is the use of the Kiss-Kick-Kiss formula, or otherwise known as Commend-Recommend-Commend. It is a sandwhich approach that emphasizes the strengths without ignoring the opportunities for improvement. Another style is to structure your observations around the speech's objectives. In this style, you can cite the extent to which the speaker achieved an objective, plus the strong and weak points, then your recommendations. Then you repeat the same process in reference to another objective.

The above talks about the structure of your entire evaluation. But what about the structure of a specific feedback? What is a good outline for citing a strong or weak point? One technique is to use the Behavior-Impact-Recommendation.

Behavior - what did the speaker say or do? ("I noticed that..." or "When you...")

Impact - what was the impact of what the speaker said/did in achieving the speech's objectives? I felt that..., "I thought that..."

Commendation/Recommendation- what can you commend or recommend? "I'd like to see more that ... in your next speeches", "I feel that You may want to consider ..."

5. Start right, end right. Just like any other speech, your evaluation should have proper opening and closing statements.

During your opening, it is always good to build rapport with the speaker first before sharing your feedback right away. A simple greeting and a congratulations would go a long way in easing the tension of the speaker. You can also give the speaker an assurance about your positive intent.

Your closing statement should reflect an encouraging tone. For example, you can summarize the strong points, express your desire to hear his next speech, or invite the audience to applaud the speaker.

6. Use "I" Language. Avoid using "We," "S/he," "The speaker," "You" - these words lack accountability. You have to own your feedback. Saying something like "we feel that..." assumes that the audience share your observations which is not necessarily the case. Words like "he or she or the speaker" are too impersonal.

7. Talk to the speaker and not to the audience.  Just remember that your feedback should be directly given to the speaker. You are not there to report your observations to the audience. The audience are simply there to indirectly learn in the process. Your key focus is the speaker. To do this, you need to maintain eye contact with the speaker most of the time and using direct, conversational tone.

However, you can also involve the audience from time to time. You can confirm your observation with them just to reinforce your message. You can invite them to clap for the speaker. But their involvement should be seen as just a brief interlude to a main event that features the speaker as the principal character.

Giving feedback can be an enriching experience for both you and the other person. Whether that is in a Toastmasters' meeting or involving somebody else in another setting, the principles that govern effective feedback are essentially the same. They have to be given with the right intent, to the right person, at the right time, and in the right manner.

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