Three Keys to Better Evaluation

By Matthew Arnold Stern

In January 2006, I was invited to speak about evaluation at the Highways to Success Toastmasters club in Irvine.

I’m embarking on a new adventure in public speaking: I’m the manager of my son’s Little League team. Toastmasters and Little Leaguers have several things in common. They’re not allowed to swear. They’re learning a skill that is fun and very challenging. Most importantly, they need quality evaluations.

Evaluations can mean the difference between success and failure for both Toastmasters and Little Leaguers. Give good evaluations, and they will develop skills that will benefit them for a lifetime. Give them poor evaluations, and at best, they won’t develop. At worst, they will become discouraged and give up.

An effective evaluation must be three things: positive, specific, and helpful.

It’s very important for an evaluation to be positive. Some reviewers think they must be brutally honest, as though they can brutalize someone to improve. But people have the same response to negative feedback whether they’re seven or seventy. Some will become defensive. We’ve seen a lot of that on American Idol, “How can you say I can’t sing? I have more talent than all of the other winners! Just wait until I have my hit record!” But many will become discouraged and just give up.

We have to be positive to motivate people to improve. We also have to give them a foundation for building their skills. If we can point out one little thing they do well, they have a building block and encouragement for developing further.

At the same time, we want to avoid the general, fluffy whitewashing which often sounds more condescending than supportive. The remedy is the second attribute of effective evaluation, specifics.

In our evaluations, we have to be specific in both our praise and our suggestions for improvement. If I’m coaching players on batting, I need to give specific instructions, “Put your hands together. Choke up if you have to. Square your shoulders. Swing level.” We have to give that same level of detail to our speakers. Use the evaluation page in the speaker’s manual to know what to look for. Take careful notes so you can provide details in your evaluation and provide information to the speaker.

But being positive and specific isn’t enough for an effective evaluation. We also have to be helpful. We can’t just point out where speakers need improvement; we need to show them how to do it. For example, if you see someone using a lot of ah’s and um’s, suggest they use pauses instead until their brain and mouth get back in sync.  This is your opportunity to teach.

It also helps to end your evaluation with a call to action. Reinforce the good things the speaker did and give a recommendation for something to work on next time.

Remember, an evaluation needs to be positive, specific, and helpful. When you can do that for others, whether they’re Little Leaguers or Toastmasters, you will create winners.


  1. […] And finally, that hope became fulfilled. Russians ate McDonald’s hamburgers. We played Tetris. Our astronauts and their cosmonauts flew joint missions and built the International Space Station together. And I began working with Russians. I reviewed Russian language software. I met Russians at tech writing conferences and online forums. A number of them became coworkers and friends. We discussed ideas, solved documentation problems, and shared family pictures. Over the years, this website had 397 views from the Russian Federation. Someone in Russia knows my three keys to better evaluation. […]

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