By Sudha Krishnamoorthy
Imagine listening to a world-class Toastmasters speech and thinking to yourself, “That is one flawless speech! I cannot find one thing that could be improved on, it is perfect!” Then up steps an evaluator onto the stage and within five minutes of having heard the speech along with everyone of us in the audience, goes on to dissect the speech and present a thorough, deep analysis of the speech. And as the evaluator speaks, those in the audience are nodding their heads, as they say to themselves, “Oh, yeah, I never realized that was what made the speech work for me! He really makes a great observation.” Or, “Yes, doing what she suggests would take that speech one notch higher!” And, the magic of it is, all this analytical work is prepared, polished and delivered in 3 minutes and 30 seconds! Now, isn’t that a whole new level of public speaking!
Fellow Toastmasters, the undeniable fact is there is no such thing as a perfect speech or a perfect speaker. There is always room for improvement. Feedback, it is said, is the breakfast of champions. If so, then the servers of this wholesome, healthy breakfast are our Toastmasters evaluators. The role of the evaluator is to actively listen, critically analyze and then present a concise report that provides key points that help speakers to keep moving forward towards becoming better speakers.
In the three years since I joined Toastmasters, I have found evaluations to be the most challenging of roles to execute and were often the last ones to fill up in my club. So, when our club contest was announced, I signed up to challenge myself into doing an evaluation. To my delight, I won and kept progressing until I was chosen to represent my division, Division I, at the district contest. At each level I had about four to five fellow contestants and some insightful evaluations that helped me stretch myself further. Until it was time to compete at the district level.
As a first-timer at the conference and a first-time District level Evaluation speech contestant, I can say that it was a truly unforgettable experience. The conference began quite early on a Saturday morning. We were asked to arrive for the briefing by 7:30 AM. There were nine contestants in all. I was thrilled to find myself among experienced evaluation contestants who had all made it through several rounds to reach this level. We were briefed by our quick-witted and humorous Toastmaster, Brendan Murphy, who informed us that the evaluation contest would be one of the earliest events in the conference. The stage was much bigger than at any previous contests, we were to be ‘mic-ed’ and would deliver our evaluations before a knowledgeable and experienced audience of 300 Toastmasters! And to add to the pressure, we would do all this in the presence of the Keynote speaker of the conference, the International Speech contest winner of 2019, Ramona J Smith! Talk about coming out of our comfort zones, we were way out of it!
I was fourth in the speaking order. This was a sweet spot for me as I would get to listen to a few evaluations after my turn. The test speaker, Jessica Derkis, is an experienced Toastmaster who delivered an interesting and informative speech. She had a lot of humor thrown in that had all the audience in splits. All of us evaluators sat up listening and scribbling away on our notepads. Personally, I find inspiring storytelling speeches easier to evaluate than the informative ones. But I made a decent effort by actively listening to the speeches, taking note of content and the delivery for further analysis. I made sure to write down examples and quotes that I could refer to during my evaluation.
Once the speaker was done, we were escorted out by the Sergeant-at-Arms and sent to a room down the hallway. We sat isolated with our own thoughts until it was soon, very soon, my turn to go on stage! I had come up with a few points and sort of had a framework of what I wanted to say. I heard my name called and I walked on to the stage.
For a split second, I stood speechless at the sheer number of people seated before me. But I realized these were Toastmasters, supportive to a fault, and in that instant, I felt at ease with the crowd. I went on to speak, and it seemed like those were the fastest three minutes of my life. I wrapped up and left the stage, on a high that comes from having pushed your limits.
In summary, you never know how you are going to perform as this is at the highest level of impromptu speeches. I did not go on to win the contest, but the whole experience was priceless. Win or lose, the journey of competing at different levels from club to the district has been one of growth and learning.
For those of who are contemplating participating in future contests, I would say, “Go for it!” It is not about competing with others but it is about putting yourself in new situations, learning to think on your feet and speak your mind. It is all about the journey and you will be the richer for it.