The Gift of Feedback

Have you ever given a presentation or speech and wondered if it landed well with your audience?

In this blog I will cover:

  1. The value of Toastmasters evaluations
  2. How to give a good evaluation
  3. How to evaluate yourself and typical improvement areas you’ll notice from self-evaluation

1) The Value of Toastmasters Evaluations

At work we often give presentations.  If we’re lucky a colleague might say ‘thanks’ or ‘well done’.  If it bombed people will just say nothing or avoid eye contact.  Neither of these responses is particularly helpful if you want to continuously improve your presentation skills.

The thing I really love about Toastmasters is the evaluations you get from the audience.  For each speech you have an assigned evaluator who will give you detailed feedback but everyone in the audience also provides feedback.  On a ‘Zoom’ call this is done via the ‘chat’ function and in an in person meeting via slips.  This is their personal perception and it is done in a supportive way to help each individual grow.

A Toastmasters evaluation is done in a certain style; the sandwich technique; with  commendations, improvement ideas and then ending on a high with the things the evaluator most liked about your speech.  Both speaking and evaluating will improve your speaking skills as evaluating others gets you to think about all aspects of the speech; how it was written, structured, the vocal variety in the delivery, did the story influence you etc, etc.  So actually evaluating others provides ideas and inspiration for your next speech.

If you are continually seeing the same feedback from the audience you know that is something you either need to work on to improve, or keep doing if it was something they liked.  It is really interesting to see the array of feedback as we all listen in our own unique way so people pick up on different things.

There is naturally value in keeping all this feedback so you can track your progress.

2) How to Give a Good Evaluation

If you are an evaluator you should contact the speaker ahead of the meeting to understand the objectives of their speech and to understand what they are personally seeking to work on.  Being an evaluator is an excellent opportunity to both improve your listening and speaking skills as you too will be giving a speech at the meeting.  Your speech will be 2-3 minutes long providing your constructive feedback on the speech.  You make brief notes during the speech and then write up your speech during the break; ahead of delivering it.

Guidance sheets – if you click on the Windsor Speakers website ‘Meeting tools’ you will find some evaluation guidance templates that can get you started.  I particularly find this part useful for thinking about what to look for in a speech:

What I saw:  
+ / –  Stood at ease with confident body language + / –  Made sufficient eye contact with the audience
+ / –  Facial expressions conveyed emotions + / –  Gestures were meaningful and appropriate
What I heard:  
+ / –  Voice was clear and audible even at the back / above background noise + / –  Pace of speaking changed to match sections of content
+ / –  Main points were supported by examples + / –  Vocal variety added to the message
What I felt:  
+ / –  Opening captured the audience’s attention + / –  Pauses were used effectively, where needed
+ / –  Humour was appropriate and supported the theme + / –  Closing was effective and memorable

Some people find it useful to simply draw a type of ‘tennis court’ line on paper with + on left and – on right to make their notes.  You can work out what works best for you.

The consistent thing we all try to do speak in 3rd person ie ‘David said’ rather than ‘You said’ and to use the sandwich technique; commendations, improvement ideas and then ending on a high with the things the evaluator most liked about your speech.

At Windsor Speakers we regularly have training sessions.  We held a session to improve and practice our evaluation technique.  At that session we looked at 5 areas:

  • Listening for the core message of the speech
  • Teaching the audience through your evaluation
  • Explaining why a gesture or sentence moved you
  • Providing richness and depth to an evaluation eg explain what you really liked and break it down to explain why
  • Don’t comment on everything but rank and select the most significant areas that will help the speaker

3) How to Evaluate Yourself

Have you ever thought of evaluating yourself? 

Yes it sounds strange but it is a very useful technique to do.  We all hate hearing ourselves recorded but the more you do it the more comfortable you get with it.  So video yourself and then play it back.  Zoom has the facility where you can record yourself, or alternatively use a smart phone or tablet.  If you have a mentor or buddy who is willing to help you with your developing speech, you can also share your video to get their feedback too to help you polish your presentation ahead of the big day.  Even presenting in front of a mirror can help you notice small things you would otherwise miss.

Look at your video as if it is a different person and write a constructive evaluation.  This not only gives you feedback but helps you practice writing evaluations too!  If you are trying to improve areas like gestures or body language try watching it with the sound off as this can also be very enlightening.

Typical Improvement Areas You’ll Notice from Self-evaluation

Evaluating yourself will highlight early points you need to work on.  Below I will point out some common areas and what you might do to correct them.

Time keeping: Are you constantly going over time or rushing the end?

Toastmasters is a great place to learn how to give a speech in a set time frame.  Most of the speeches are 5-7 minutes long in duration.  Green light at 5 mins, Amber light at 6 mins and Red and 7 mins then you have 30 seconds to wrap up where you will either get a flashing red light or bell.

When you are new to being timed, as soon as any light goes on it can make you panic and lose your place.  Therefore a very good strategy in your self-evaluation preparation is to know where in your speech you should be at Green, Amber and Red so you know how to pace yourself to avoid going over time but importantly you will see a light as a reassurance you are where you expect to be.  There are several good timing apps you can download onto your phone using this colour coding that can help you when you are practicing at home.

Flapping Arms: Are your arms flapping around in a distracting way?

The self-evaluation video will highlight if you are making annoying gestures, making the same gesture too often or lacking in interest from too few gestures.

If you are presenting on a Zoom call and standing, it is best to keep your hands down until you are making a specific gesture.  Keep your gestures simple and deliberate.

Ums &  Ahs: Are you filling in gaps with filler words?

We often use filler words without even realising we are doing it.  Videoing yourself will quickly illuminate if you are prone to doing this and thus help you eliminate them.  Just pause instead.


In summary this blog has shared the value Toastmasters evaluations provide, given you guidance on how to give a good evaluation and how to prepare for a speech by evaluating yourself.

 Feedback as a precious gift and giving feedback is also an honour.    


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