The Connected Evaluator
Of all the workshops I present, one of my favourites is “The Connected Evaluator.” As the name suggests, it’s about being connected with the speaker you’re evaluating. This is particularly important when they are delivering a speech that really matters to them. It starts like this:
Imagine going back in time. You’re in Washington, DC in 1963, and you’re with Dr Martin Luther King Jr. He’s sharing what he has in mind to say when he takes the podium in front of thousands of people, and he asks for your feedback. What do you say?
I have to tell you that the “I Have a Dream”[i] speech is my all-time favourite!. It has power, poetry and purpose. I think about the importance of judging solely on content of our characters, about “freedom ringing everywhere” and as I do, I hear his voice ringing. It is sublime and I would not change a thing.
If I did go back to 1963, I would have a huge responsibility to get that feedback right, to encourage his spirit and purpose and help him to succeed. It would be crucial for me to connect.
That is the kind of evaluating I explore in my workshop. In it, I focus on three aspects of connecting.
I see you
There are lots of times and lots of situations where people feel invisible. For some people, speaking in Toastmasters will be the first time they will have really felt “seen”. I ran a speaking charity for young people once. I can still remember those who came up to me during our workshops and they said this was the first time they had ever felt seen. Their words made such an impression on me.
As evaluators, our job is to show we see them, that we connect with who they are, that we appreciate what they want to achieve and why the speech matters to them.
We do this through reaching out before the speech to understand their purpose and what help they need. Then we need to watch and listen deeply to what is shared, observing both how it is shared and how the audience responds.
Connecting with the speech
Here the focus is on how well the message is conveyed by the speaker’s body, emotion and language. There is an iconic speech by climate activist Greta Thunberg at the (year) UN Climate Action Summit[ii]. The language she uses is direct and well crafted – she says to the assembled leaders that her generation will be watching them, that “all you talk about is money” and that “you have stolen my dreams and my childhood.”
Watching her speak, I observe the tightness in her body. Her face and voice convey her anger as she expresses her sense of betrayal. If I were evaluating her, I would appreciate the language used, and perhaps encourage her to relax her body somewhat to enable some movement.
A personal connection
What does the speech mean to you personally? Does the subject matter connect with your own experience? If not, can you connect it with some other aspect of your life, or with someone you know, to create a link?
I once saw a talk by the musician Ed Sheeran at the American Institute for Stuttering[iii]. He shared his own experience of struggling to speak and how music had helped him. I connect with that speech because my brother had a stammer. This had an enormous impact on his confidence and his life. I know I will always connect with someone who talks about struggling with voice.
When I connect with the speaker’s story and mission, it becomes important to me to support them well.
Wishing you a wonderful connection
Next time you are evaluating a speech that is particularly meaningful to the speaker, I wish you a wonderful connection. I hope your feedback can make a difference to them as they take their message to the world. Good luck!