Evaluation – Ace or Axe

By Sina Behbhani, HOD Speakers Club, DivL Area61

I would like to talk about a shared problem we all experience but we are too polite to talk about. Then I will explain how to support members through three stages of transformation in Toastmasters International.

Toastmasters provides a mutually supportive environment, but what does it mean and how can we practice that?

Have you ever been in a situation where you have received irrelevant evaluation or advice when you have carefully crafted your speech? You may think “So, didn’t they get it or I was not clear enough?”.  In my experience, both can be right.

There is no doubt that evaluation helps speakers, tremendously, to develop their presentations and the structures of their speeches, however, a speaker needs to be aware of the extent of adapting to the evaluations offered.

The truth is, even if you deliver a perfect speech, some evaluators will analyse and criticise you, somehow, because that’s what they are good at! There is no end to this criticism and that is completely natural because not everyone has the same taste. Also, it is not practical to take all advice and ideas on board, because evaluation may take you in a different direction every time. Accepting all evaluation can kill your style and confidence in my opinion!

In fact, many individuals may think that you must become like them and convert to their style to become perfect! They will criticise you until that happens (god forbid!) so, the question is, where should we draw that line?

If you have been long enough in Toastmasters, you know that every single person has a particular style just like yourself. The real art of mutual support is to help members find their own style and support them to achieve their own objective. Some people like to attend contests, some people like to deliver long informative workshops at their workplace and some like to become motivational and inspiring. That is why we have ten fantastic pathways to choose from. So the golden rule is to offer safety and support to each other.

I think one of the biggest mistakes in Toastmasters is that we do not emphasise an individual’s organic goals/choices and unintentionally redirect their efforts towards the contests. It is really important to understand why the individual has come to a club before starting his/her journey and how the club can serve that individual to achieve the desired goal. No one has come to Toastmasters’ to do speech contests, because before they join, they didn’t know such a thing exist! Let’s always remeber the true intention of the individual and remind them about it before converting them into contestants to make the club proud.

Such an attitude allows members to develop their style and that is exactly where members start the journey of success by going through three stages of transformation.

The three stages of transformations are gaining confidence, structuring the speeches and developing spontaneous speech. 

For the first stage, members need emotional support to be able to stand in front of the audience and perform their speech. as much as praising and compliments strengthen an individual’s confidence at this stage, technical evaluation, criticising and mentioning minor mistakes can obstruct an individual’s growth or make them back-off on the first step.

In the second stage, members start to build up a well-rounded and structured speech to impact, inform, inspire and influence the audience. As much as technical evaluation can strengthen members influential skills, diverting the individual from their main objective and offering competition centred evaluation can dishearten or confuse the member.

The final stage is when the individual has learned the techniques and is ready to talk about any desirable subject spontaneously on stage in a conversational style. Spontaneous speech provides opportunities for an authentic choice of words with the appropriate audience without rigid planning in advance. This is not an ‘unprepared’ speech, but it is the ability to present and lead with confidence.

Recognising and encouraging members unique flavour of topic and style on this final phase can strengthen the individual but pushing the individual to follow a rigid club’s structure can make the member uncomfortable and eventually leave the club. This, I saw over and over.

Experiencing fantastic support from my peers, I managed to reach the third stage. I also experienced the difficulties that unsupportive or contest centred evaluation caused in my journey.

Now, even though I happily perform my speech spontaneously, still I get the same spectrum of evaluation from members who have been inspired to members who try to make me like themselves and never satisfied!

I would like to offer one and only one piece of advice: You are unique. Become comfortable in your own skin! Speaking and leadership opportunities are presented to you in your everyday life, not only in competitions.

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