by Dr. Dilip
Abayasekara, Ph.D., A.S.
Habits of Highly Effective Evaluators
Covey said that highly effective people have seven habits in
common. Interestingly, over a period of twenty years of
receiving and giving speech evaluations, I have noticed that
great evaluators also have seven “habits” in common. These
“habits” are constituted of knowledge, communication,
demonstration, and insight. When you put these seven habits
into practice, you too can become a highly effective
#1. Understand Why
Great evaluators understand why they are evaluating a
speech. This understanding tells them what they should not do.
They know that they should not upstage the speaker, make the
speaker feel inadequate, give the speech, give a summary of
the speech, overly praise the speaker without giving pointers
for improvement, criticize the speaker and the speech, or
otherwise create no value for the speaker.
The first “habit” is one of applied knowledge. This
knowledge is that the evaluator has three objectives: (1)
reinforce the strengths of the speaker; (2) suggest ways that
the speech could be improved; (3) encourage the speaker. The
measure of the evaluator’s skill is the value the speaker
receives from the evaluation. Great evaluators are never
self-centered; they focus their energy, on achieving the above
three goals for the benefit of the speaker.
Just like good doctors have a good bedside manner,
effective evaluators have a manner that reassures the speaker
that he or she need not feel threatened by the evaluation. If
you’ve ever had one of your speeches evaluated, you know the
apprehensive feeling just before the evaluator begins his
evaluation of your speech. Great evaluators are sensitive to
this apprehension and try to reassure the speaker that there
is nothing to fear.
Evaluators who do not understand the need for reassurance may
undermine the relationship of trust they want to build between
themselves and the speaker by doing something as simple as
taking a large pad of paper or a clipboard with them to the
lectern. That large pad of paper or clipboard may suggest to
the speaker that you are going to elaborate on a large number
of problems regarding the speech. I take only one piece of
paper, sometimes folded in half, the smaller the better. Some
evaluators eschew any notes and try to do the evaluation by
memory. I think that is unnecessary and borders on
showmanship. Effective evaluators use key words and phrases
written in an orderly manner that allows them to keep on track
while speaking conversationally.
Facial expressions that are reassuring (especially smiling),
fluid body movements and gestures, open body positions (arms
open, not crossed), well modulated voice volume and tone all
create an atmosphere that makes it easy for the speaker to
listen to the evaluator.
#3. Follow a Sequence for Psychological Receptivity
How do you make someone want to listen to you when they
are afraid that you will criticize them? Here’s a secret
that highly effective evaluators know. Make the person feel
appreciated before you suggest ways that he or she might
A speaker feels appreciated by an evaluator when the evaluator
notices and mentions the things that the speaker did well. Be
specific in your praise. Don’t just praise the speaker for
doing a “great job.” Tell the speaker what he or she
specifically did and said that you thought was noteworthy.
This recognition creates psychological receptivity, a mental
state that accepts what you say. This is the reason why great
evaluators always start off by recognizing what the speaker
The sequence that you, the effective evaluator will follow is:
recognize what the speaker did well; make suggestions for
improving the speech; encourage the speaker and leave him
wanting to return to the lectern. Like the meat in a sandwich,
the suggestions for improvement are sandwiched between
recognizing the speaker’s strengths and encouraging the
#4. It’s Just Your Opinion
Highly effective evaluators are humble enough to know that
what they are sharing is just their individual opinion and is
not necessarily the voice of the majority of the audience. So
they sprinkle their comments with “I” statements. Examples
are: “I thought that your opening was perfect for what you
were trying to accomplish with your speech.” “It seemed to
me that your pauses were a little too short.” I felt a
little disconnected with your speech because you didn’t look
One reason that you make it clear to the speaker that you are
only giving your opinion is that the speaker will then feel
free to accept or reject your comments without worrying
whether every person in the audience felt the way you did.
This eases the pressure and let’s the speaker know that you
are honestly sharing the way you felt about the speech.
Sometimes inexperienced speakers shy away from evaluating the
speech of an experienced speaker. This is understandable if
evaluations are supposed to reflect the mood of the audience.
The truth is that evaluations can only reflect the response of
the individual evaluator. Once new Toastmasters understand
that, it is much easier for them to gather the courage to give
a good evaluation.
#5. It’s Just a Suggestion
“Where the rubber meets the road” in an evaluation is
how well the evaluator’s recommendations are received by the
speaker. If the evaluator is too pushy, the speaker may
mentally reject the evaluator’s analysis of the speech. So,
effective evaluators always qualify their remarks by softening
the tone of their recommendations. Note the italicized words
in the following examples:
“You may want to consider this method in order to establish
good eye contact.”
“When I was a beginning speaker, I too had a problem
uttering too many uhms. Over the past few years, I’ve
learned a way to overcome that. This approach may be helpful
to you too; this is how it works.”
“Perhaps writing out your manuscript in outline form may
help you get away from dependence on the text.”
When you phrase the recommendation like a suggestion, it will
become easier for the speaker to be open minded about your
#6. Don’t Just Talk, Demonstrate!
Highly effective evaluators believe that showing is more
powerful than telling. This is why they demonstrate, as far as
possible, the improvements that they recommend to the speaker.
For example, instead of saying, “Jenny, consider trying
harder to establish good eye contact,” you could say, “I
have found that I can establish good eye contact with the
members of my audience when I think that they are not a
mass, but a collection of individuals. I’m speaking to one
person at a time! My experience is that if I hold my gaze with
each person’s eyes for three to five seconds, (demonstrate
this as you speak) audience members feel as if I’m directly
taking with them. Try that and see if it works for you.”
Demonstrating is not always possible. But as far as possible,
demonstrate the improvements you suggest. You will increase
clarity, understanding, and receptiveness.
#7. Evaluate with Your Whole Self
Great evaluators use their eyes, ears, mind, and heart
when evaluating a speech. The eyes observe the speaker’s
body language, dress, movement, posture, facial expressions,
gestures, and command of the speaking area. The ears listen
for vocal quality and vocal variety, for diction and
articulation, rate of speech, pitch, and volume modulation.
The mind analyzes the speech structure, clarity, logic,
transitions, and achievement of purpose. The heart analyzes
the connection of the speaker and the message to the audience,
the speaker’s presence and self-confidence, the flow and
feeling OF the message.
The above is why an effective evaluation never sounds wooden
or dull. A great evaluation has a life of its own because it
is delivered from the whole self of the evaluator.
The Final Question
Sometimes you will hear a presentation that is so
excellent that you find it difficult to come up with any
suggestion for improvement. Ah! That is a test of your
evaluation skills. In such a case, I have found this to be
very helpful: ask yourself “What is the one thing, that when
properly done, would have the greatest positive effect on this
The answer to the above question can take many forms. Applying
it to an excellent speech a few months ago, I realized that
although excellent in many ways, the speaker did not relate
the value of the talk to the interests of the audience.
Another time, I felt that the speaker was so intent in
delivering a “speech,” that he forgot to simply and
conversationally talk with us. Having competed in as well as
judged evaluation contests for many years, I find that all
other things being equal, the person who wins a District level
evaluation speech contest is one who is able to articulate the
most significant way that the speaker could improve.
So there you have it. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph,
the seven habits of highly effective evaluators are an
amalgamation of knowledge, communication, demonstration, and
insight. The only way to learn them is to purposely put them
in to practice every time you evaluate a speaker. After a
while, these skills will become part of you. What that means
is that every speaker you evaluate will get great value from
your evaluation. Even more important, you would have learned a
skill that will help you in every form of human interaction.
You will have in your grasp, the power to help another person