Often one of the most challenging exercises in dealing with presentations from others is providing feedback, AKA a ‘positive critique’.
How to word comments so that, on the one hand, one is not too critical of what’s been stated, and, on the other hand, not ‘whitewashing’ one’s response so as not to risk offending, is a tricky balancing act. The ultimate goal ideally is to focus on the message, not the messenger, with language which encourages the effort but suggests points that could make it more effective.
By coincidence, I was at a meeting this week where evaluative comments were not balanced with respect to a series of short, extemporaneous speaking (known in Toastmasters as ‘Table Topics’), which I led. Not-so-subtle critiques implied this inherently challenging section was too much so (primarily for the solicitude of unanticipated guests), without acknowledging the time spent, i.e. a few hours, in preparation. Notwithstanding my long-time experience, the impact was de-motivating. Feeling the brunt of a one-sided evaluation is not likely to be taken well, no matter the context.
The October issue of Toastmaster magazine includes a short article discussing evaluations, with an emphasis on motivating members to continue practicing and improving.
Important tips for speaker evaluation include:
- Before the speech, be aware of any guidelines for the project as well as specific objectives of the speaker
- During the speech, remain objective, consider the speaker’s implicit self-improvement goals, focus on the merits of the speech itself, and prepare to report based on one’s personal response
- When providing an evaluation of the speech, emphasize phrasing starting with “I…”, as opposed to a more potentially accusative “You…”; provide comments about the speech, not the speaker;
- Look for opportunities to be positive, particularly with final comments
Being evaluated by others is valuable, given our natural bias to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt.
Meanwhile, putting oneself mentally in the shoes of the recipient of comments helps us to be a better messenger.
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