I remember 2 years ago in 2018 sitting in a hotel in Bracknell watching the District 91 UK National (South) Speech Evaluation contest final. All the evaluations had been a high standard. Then Chinkata Okpara came on last and knocked the competition out of the water. My jaw was on the floor. As he was awarded the winner’s trophy I thought, if I could ever give an evaluation like that…
Fast forward 2 years. As they announced the results of the 2020 District 91 National (South) Speech evaluation contest final – I was the winner. I was ecstatic. I danced, I hugged my wife. Then after a single question from my wife, I shed a tear because I realised one important thing which I had never experienced before……
Before I tell you what that is let me fill you in on the gap between those two events and how one led to the other…
When I joined Toastmasters in June 2017, I just wanted to give speech after speech. However, one thing that struck me was your improvement is only as good as the feedback you receive. Feedback and specifically speech evaluations are a key but in my opinion an underrated part of the Toastmasters journey. The skill of delivering feedback in a way that helps the person develop both in terms of what they do well and what they can improve on is invaluable, no, it is vital.
I realised that giving effective evaluations was a skill, a skill you can hone. So, I worked on this. I evaluated every speech at our club. I read about evaluations. I went on workshops with notable figures in this world such as Freddie Daniells. Gradually I improved, I saw what I hadn’t seen before, the depth of my evaluations improved and as that grew so my passion and enthusiasm did too. It wasn’t an overnight transformation but steadily speech by speech my language changed, my evaluations changed and people’s reactions to my evaluations, yes they changed too, People wanted my input and so my foundations grew even stronger.
This is easy to summarise in a sentence. It was hours and hours of work. So then fast forward to the Speech Evaluation contest 2020. I won the club level, then the Area and the Division. The only hurdle remaining to achieve what I had dreamed of was a 2-3 min speech evaluation at the District finals. Most Toastmasters members do 3-5 speech evaluations a year. In the week before the contest I did 30, on the morning of the contest, I did a further 12, a number of these with the President of our club. Each time was easier and easier, I saw more and more to comment on.
The contest, that was a blur, I was so in the zone. A conversation with someone else that week had given me the sage advice of being in FLOW… Forget Losing or Winning. Just do the very best speech evaluation you can. So I did, and I won.
On reflection, why do I think I won? It wasn’t only because of the practice, it was also because a speech evaluation is a speech, you need to live the material, as the speaker does. You need to connect with the speaker and have them in mind 100% of the time. Most of all, you have to want to genuinely want to help the speaker and just do your absolute best for them.
As I celebrated the win, my wife asked me what a felt. That is when I sat down, thought and cried that tear. I said I felt relieved, happy and peaceful. Relieved it was over, happy that I’d won and peaceful because for the first time in my life, the very first time I realised I was good at something. I was really good at something and others thought so too and then it washed over me and I cried.
As I think about the future, I believe am at the start of my evaluating journey, there is so much still to learn, I can be a lot better at this. If the words I have typed here only do one thing, I hope they will inspire you to get even better at speech evaluations. With them, you have the chance to help others improve but more so, much more so than that, you will improve your ability to both speak and write speeches.