At a recent table topics session, I was asked the following question, if you had the choice, who would you rather receive feedback from, a Critic, Coach, Cheerleader, or Evaluator, and why. My response was, while feedback from all the above chosen or qualified to be so-called, I would choose the evaluator. We evaluate in some manner every day of our lives.
We listen and observe others and offer our opinions even when we are not invited to do so. If there is one thing everyone has, is an opinion even when we are not qualified. But that is precisely what an Evaluator is, someone’s personal opinion, and that is how I believe it should be received.
Evaluators are expected to provide direct feedback and follow-up on what they saw, heard, and felt. In addition, they are expected to offer specific improvements, reinforce the speaker’s strengths, and support building and maintaining the speaker’s healthy self-esteem. When evaluators can fulfill those expectations, you have received a good evaluation. However, what separates the evaluator from the cheerleader, coach and critic is the language used to deliver that evaluation.
In a casual or informal setting, we are direct. Do you remember the feedback you gave when another driver cut you off? We are all human. Then why is it so difficult to be natural among friends and associates? Could it be because you are conscious of being evaluated also? Whenever we approach evaluating for the right reasons, we feel wordy to evaluate anyone at any level, anytime. And what are those reasons? First, you are offering your knowledge and experience to help others improve. You are building self-understanding. You are creating mutually beneficial bonds with others. And you are improving your impromptu speaking skills.
The tone and content of an evaluation can positively or negatively impact everyone – speaker, evaluator, and audience. Therefore, it is essential to meet every speaker where they are. After you have had a few experiences under your belt as an evaluator, you can tell if a speaker was prepared or not. Every day is not Sunday. Even a major league slugger gets three strikes before they are out.
As an evaluator, think before you make that call. Even when you believe that call is deserving, it can be taken differently, especially by audience members. Also, an overly kind or undeserving evaluation may be received negatively by others. Some guests may even walk away with the false impression that it is the accepted standard of your group or club. In those cases, there are no winners. So, amid the noise and haste, be gentle, and be on good terms with all persons. Some feedback is more effective when given privately.
Good evaluators prepare for their speakers. As Yogi Berra “is said to have said,” if you don’t know where you’re going, you may end up somewhere else. Similarly, if you are not prepared, not familiar with the objectives of the speaker’s project, which the speaker has provided, you are going to try to “wing it.” And that is where many evaluators get into trouble. One of the primary responsibilities of the evaluator is to prepare the audience for the speaker’s project.
The evaluator sets the expectations of the assignment for the audience. It is also important for the speaker and evaluator to connect before the delivery of the presentation. Ask what are you working on and what would you like me to observe specifically? With that information and your evaluation forms for that project, you should be all set as an evaluator.
Addressing only that which the speaker can change is a good rule of thumb. Make notes during the presentation and pay attention to the speaker’s soft skills, natural eye contact, meaningful gestures, audience awareness, and speaking area usage. To make the best use of your delivery time, work in threes. Three things the speaker did well – organization, clarity, humor. Three things the speaker can improve, like posture, unanswered questions, or confusing statements. And three things to encourage or boost the speaker’s morale. Thank the speaker for their time and work in preparing for the presentation. When speakers and evaluators are ready for the platform, that’s a winning proposition for everyone. Always close on a positive note and give thanks for the moment.
Follow-up after the speech is essential. After providing the speaker with a written evaluation, ask for questions or comments about the evaluation. The responses you receive will help you improve as an evaluator. Do not be defensive. Clarify anything that may have been misinterpreted in your verbal evaluation. Then, expand in your written evaluation on anything you were unable to cover in the oral assessment.
Let the speaker determine if your feedback is a criticism, coaching, cheerleading, or evaluating. However, if critics and coaches hold the same views as you, their evaluator, and they still don’t know that they have a problem, then they have a problem. And a cheerleader and not an evaluator will better serve that speaker. Therefore speakers should also seek out their trusted evaluators. As we all know, many are called critics, coaches, cheerleaders, and evaluators. Still, few, and only a few, are ever chosen.