Sunday, January 28, 2018

Toastmasters International misevaluated again

On January 10, 2018 Charles Crawford posted an article at his web site titled Toastmasters Evaluated. I commented on it in a blog post on January 22nd titled Toastmasters International misevaluated.  I found his article because I saw that he had posted about it on two groups at LinkedIn: The Public Speaking group (where it got a comment from me he ignored) and the Public Speaking Network group (where it got 22 comments and 7 replies).

On January 26th he posted a second article titled Toastmasters evaluated (2) which again missed the bullseye. He put it on the LinkedIn Public Speaking Network group under the heading of More on Toastmasters: Delivery or Content?

The obvious reply is both – Delivery and Content. But Mr. Crawford just heard the brief verbal evaluations of the speeches. Then he incorrectly assumed that there was no iceberg beneath that tip of the process. He didn’t do his homework – go to the Toastmasters web site and find out how they do things (and then perhaps why).  

His new article whined as follows (I’ve reformatted to group the paragraphs together into one block of text):

“Two things stood out for me from my utterly unrepresentative sample that nonetheless seems to follow a strict schema used by TM across the world. First there was no discussion at all with the audience (!) about what worked or what didn’t. Lots of rather persnickety pro forma ‘evaluating’, but nothing from those for whom the speech was intended. Second, the ‘evaluating’ skirted away from the Content as such – the logic of the ideas in themselves, and their smart (or not) sequencing in the speech. Instead the focus was massively on the Delivery.  The unhappy result was that the two main speeches of the evening that had involved a lot of work by the speakers went substantively unanalyzed. In one case the speaker eloquently said next to nothing. Therefore what? In the other, the speaker just wasn’t very good at all but trudged home none the wiser as to what was needed to make a big jump in performance. Was that really a good use of an evening? Basically…if you don’t ‘evaluate’ Content, you can’t show speakers how to structure a speech/presentation well! That means having well organized and perhaps unexpected thoughts that are then delivered powerfully. If we look only at Delivery in public speaking, we get Death by PowerPoint – millions of people every week around the world ‘face’ a group and present their ideas’ but BADLY! What a miserable waste of time!”

Most of the evaluation (feedback) in Toastmasters really is written. For each speech project there is an Evaluation Guide page in the manual with a list of questions. In my previous blog post I pointed out that for the ten speeches in the basic Competent Communication manual there are a total of 105 questions, and 35 (or a third) are about content.

How about some advanced manuals, with five speeches each? Two popular ones are Speaking to Inform and Speeches by Management. In the former there are 31 questions and 20 (65%) are about content.  In the latter there are 37 questions and 24 (also 65%) are about content. In all twenty projects there are 173 question with 79 (46%) about content.

Also, the audience at a club meeting is advised to provide additional feedback. The Effective Evaluation publication says (on page 3):

“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.”

Mr. Crawford continues (I’ve reformatted again) and finally tells us what he’s selling as an alternative:

“So, question? How in fact to improve? It’s not that TM doesn’t improve you in many ways. It (probably) does if you attend for long enough! But can the same or even far better results be achieved far more easily? Let’s say you do 10 TM sessions over six months. That’s a lot of hours, including the sessions themselves + travel etc. A good speaking teacher/coach can get you to a notably higher level in (say) six hours or just one working day. After that you don’t need to ‘practise’ – you just do it! Not quite as social a way of learning but massively faster. It does all come down to what you want. Cover the basics? Or get REALLY good?”

Back on April 23, 2012 I blogged about Does the cost for public speaking training outweigh the benefits? Mr. Crawford doesn’t say what his coaching costs, so we can’t tell. In that post I described public speaking as a journey you could take several different ways. Taking an introductory public speaking class at a university is like going on a bus tour. Attending a commercial workshop is like hiring a guide with a luxury automobile. Joining a Toastmasters club is like driving your own 4x4 vehicle on a dirt road. And using a speaking coach is like waving down and hiring a taxi. Would you take a taxi from London to Edinburgh, or would you go by bus (or train)?

Also, some Toastmasters from the US will be baffled about why Charles talked about a person attending only 10 sessions (club meetings) in six months. Both of the clubs I have belonged to meet every week (not every other week), and at lunch rather than in the evening, so we’d expect 20 rather than 10. Back on May 2, 2010 I blogged about Everybody does it this way, don’t they? to point out they just do not.

The drawing of an archer came from Openclipart.

1 comment:

Charles Crawford said...


True. They handed out some very small slips for the audience to add some thoughts in next to no time for passing to the speaker. Useless for evaluating content and the structure of the speech.

My simple point is that in the TM session I watched the focus of Evaluation was overwhelmingly on Delivery but in a rather banal way - it's hard to speak 'well' if what you're saying is confused or disorganised or just weird. I saw nothing to suggest that the Evaluators were going to give the hapless speakers any searching analysis of the Content separately, in writing or otherwise. But maybe they did.

More generally the whole evening was oddly 'over-engineered' and offered literally not a tad of to-and-fro spontaneity - but this is how TM do things, it seems.

You can travel from X to Y in many different ways, including on foot by back-roads if you have the time and don't care to visit Z plus A and B and C too. I'm off to Poland soon to give 200 young Poles two-day masterclasses in Public Speaking. I know that by the end of the sessions they'll understand the subject as a whole and have many tips and tricks for speaking well.

When I do these sessions eg for the UN family there are usually a few there with TM experience. They have lots of bright pseudo-engaging public speaking gimmicks and mannerisms, but it all seems a bit 'forced' - they have not been shown how to identify and structure their ideas properly. They soon learn.