Monday, January 22, 2018

Toastmasters International misevaluated

On January 10, 2018 Charles Crawford posted an article at his web site titled Toastmasters Evaluated. I found it because I saw that he had posted about it on two groups at LinkedIn: The Public Speaking group (where it got no comments) and the Public Speaking Network group (where it got 21 comments and then 7 replies from the author). I was not very impressed by his article, and think he hit far from a bullseye.

Did the author bother to identify what he was talking about? No, he didn’t explicitly mention the name of the organization (Toastmasters International). You had to follow a link to find even that. Did he identify the club he visited? No! (That’s like reviewing an entire restaurant chain without identifying the single location you ate at once). He just referred to it as his “friendly neighbourhood Toastmasters group.” I’m guessing perhaps he lives near Oxford, but that still doesn’t tell me which club. His title really should have been:

My superficial impressions from attending one ninety-minute evening meeting of the [Insert name here] Toastmasters Club.

The important part of Mr. Crawford’s evaluation is in these three paragraphs:

“At no point last night was there any wider discussion or analysis involving the actual audience about what had worked and why, or not. The consequence of having a bizarrely tight choreographed format as part of a wider TM Method is that there is no spontaneity or scope for exploration. Yes, lots of different people get to say something to the group. Applause! But how far are they really saying it well? How might those words have been prepared and delivered differently to far better effect? Is that a good way to learn what’s going on and how to improve? Not really.

The most striking thing about all the evaluating was that (as I saw it) it was largely evaluating the wrong things. The focus was on the superficial form (get a ‘hook’ to start a speech; tell a story; sum up; no verbal fumbles) as opposed to the underlying structure of the argument: the content-in-itself, and how best to convey it. Key problems with some speeches (namely that they made almost no sense or were self-contradictory) were not mentioned.

Likewise there was no proper analysis of how fast the different speakers were speaking, where exactly the speech engaged the audience or lost the audience, and why that had happened. Most of the people who had prepared their speeches did not know how to structure an argument for a speech and had no sense of how many words they needed for the time available, so in different ways control was lost. An easy one to fix, but not fixed last night.

Mr. Crawford apparently thinks that the evaluation process used by Toastmasters is just via an oral discussion It is not. The evaluator gives a two-to-three minute verbal presentation, but he also fills out a written evaluation based on a guide containing a series of questions for that project. Others in the audience also might provide written feedback, and a speaker’s mentor might meet him after the meeting or later to provide verbal and written feedback. Toastmasters has a preprinted Individual Speech Evaluation Form you can purchase. If Mr. Crawford had bothered to do some research by looking around on the Toastmasters web site, then he would have found an 8-page discussion in Item 202, Effective Evaluation. On page 3 of Effective Evaluation it says:

“Even when you are not the assigned evaluator, you are encouraged to give feedback. The more feedback a speaker or leader receives, the more the person benefits. This evaluation need not be as detailed as that of the assigned evaluator, but it should mention something the speaker or leader did well, something that could be improved, and a specific recommendation for improvement.

Most clubs provide members with short evaluation forms to fill out and give to the speaker or leader at each meeting, or you can write your evaluation on a piece of paper.”

Also, the evaluation is NOT just on superficial form but also considers content.  

For example, the basic Competent Communication manual contains 10 projects, with m questions (mq), n of which concern content (nc). Overall there are 105 questions, with 35 (a third) about content:

Project 1: The Ice Breaker (which you can find online) (8q) (1c)

Project 2: Organize Your Speech (9q) (6c)

Project 3: Get to the Point (10q) (6c)

Project 4: How to Say It (12q) ( 4c)

Project 5: Your Body Speaks (12q) (3c)

Project 6: Vocal Variety (13q) (2c)

Project 7: Research your topic (10q) (5c)

Project 8: Get comfortable with visual aids (11q) (2c)

Project 9: Persuade with power (11q) (4c)

Project 10: Inspire your audience (9q) (2c)

Competent Communication Total (105q) (35c)

For Project 9, Persuade with power, four questions about content are:

Was the speaker a credible source of information about the topic?

Did the speaker use facts and logical reasoning to support his or her views?

Was the speech organization effective?

Were you persuaded to accept the speaker’s views?

In his article Mr. Crawford hilariously referred just to “the TM Manual.” There actually are another 15 advanced manuals. Back in 2011 I blogged about how The Competent Communication manual is just the beginning of learning about public speaking in Toastmasters International.   

Toastmasters is completely changing its education program to the new web-based Pathways. This March it will begin to be available both in the United States and Europe. For the Ice Breaker speech you can find the Pathways evaluation form online. It has more detailed criteria which are similar to those in the 2nd edition of NCA’s rubric called the Competent Speaker Speech Evaluation Form. I blogged about it back in 2010 in a post titled Rubrics and figuring out where you are.

The archery target was modified from an image at Wikimedia Commons.  

1 comment: said...

Thanks for your "rebuttal". I too found the original article a "gloss-over" as to what Toastmasters is really about and an easy target for criticism. And while I know we don't generally evaluate the content per se - we evaluate based on the objectives, I have come across some speeches where the "objectives" were me spot on like evaluating Vocal Variety but the content lacked cohesiveness.