How To Evaluate Topics: 8 Golden Rules

Since topics (impromptu speaking) are a staple of almost every speakers club meeting and participated in by all members, the topics evaluation plays an important role in the club. 

It’s often the first genuine feedback many members experience on their speaking, and the first evaluating members do too, so here are 8 ‘golden rules’ to help you enjoy the process and provide greater value to your fellow members.

#1 Don’t address the speaker directly

Don’t say ‘you did this, you did that’. When you address the individual, you personalise the criticism and lose the interest of the rest of the audience. The point is for everyone to learn from the evaluation. Address the entire audience and say ‘John did this, John did that’ instead.

#2 Don’t shy away from giving (constuctive) criticism

As topics evaluator, it is your DUTY to tell the group not only what individual speakers did well, but also what they could improve.

Yes, it’s vital to be sensitive about it (particularly with new members), and only give constructive criticism, but evaluation without highlighting how people can improve is ultimately of little value.

#3 Do consider using the ‘praise sandwich’ feedback technique

The ‘praise sandwich’ is a sensitive way of delivering feedback.

It means you:
1. Talk about something the speaker did well
2. Talk about something the speaker could improve
3. Talk about another thing the speaker did well

In doing so, your evaluation is not tainted by opening with criticism, and nor does it leave a nasty taste in the mouth as it might if your last point was criticism.

#4 Don’t try to cover too many points.

Focusing in detail on 3 main positive areas and 1 area for improvement is likely to be more coherent and useful for everyone than reciting a long list of random points.

#5 Do keep it positive

A ratio of at least 2:1 or 3:1 of positive to negative feedback is what you should aim for.

#6 Do illuminate your statements with examples

Say that someone’s ‘gestures were good’, is pretty meaningless. Why were they good? What specific examples?

Try to get in the habit of providing an example for each point or theme you discuss in the evaluation.

#7 Don’t evaluate (or repeat) the content

Effective evaluation is about analysis, not commentary.

If a topics speaker is asked to make a case for the death penalty, we don’t want to know your thoughts on the issue. And we don’t want you to tell us WHAT they said about it either, because we’ve just seen it ourselves.

What we do want is your analysis of how the speaker approached the topic and performed it. 

The content is only relevant in so far as it relates to those things.

#8 Do spend a little time evaluating the Chair’s performance in the topics

It’s right and proper for the topics evaluator to do this. Consider:

  • Did the Chair come up with a good selection of topics?
  • Did they distribute them with care to different members, taking care to match difficulty with experience?
  • Did they keep the topics session running smoothly and in a good humoured way?

These are all things you should keep an eye on and cover briefly in your topics evaluation.