Speech Craft

This morning I had the visit of a toastmaster’s friend, Gerard. He told me how he was enthused by his attendance to the Port Louis Toastmasters session, the previous evening. He had the task of evaluating a great speech by his friend Darlene who spoke on her new found love: the Toastmasters club. He was taken aback by the high level of the speech that he lost his ability to evaluate.

In Toastmasters, the evaluation speech itself is a “think on your feet” exercise. As an evaluator, you have to make the evaluation speech immediately after. Thus the evaluator has very little time to prepare the address and to deliver in a flowing yet structured, meaningful, pertinent and interesting manner. The thinking  has to be fast and the fluency of the delivery polished. The speech has to have an introduction, a body and a conclusion whilst being executed within the allowed time alloted.

Here is a four point’s tip on building an evaluation speech which I borrowed from a seasoned speaker:

1.Think brevity

Be aware that your audience values you getting to the point. They value complex ideas

being explained simply. Everyone suffers from information overload. If you don’t get to

the point, you’re adding to the overload.

2.Think structure

Place some kind of framework into your communication so that your audience can see

you are organized and have thought about your answer. You have focused your answer

into something digestible, something an audience can absorb. It forces you into brevity

and clarity.

3.Think threes

Strong verbal messages require focus. They also require substance. One item is not

enough. Seventeen items is too many. Three items is enough for you, and your audience,

to retain. Three items forces you to focus on what is really important. It also focuses your

audience on only having listen to three. Remember your audience’s attention span.

4.Think movement

Demonstrate your mental ability to be logical, and to move your audience through that


Some ‘think on your feet’ techniques:

What if someone asks a question to which you do not know the answer?

Mr. Davies advises that if you really don’t know the answer, say so.

“Our research clearly shows that people expect and value honesty and directness. They

don’t like waffling … Just acknowledge that you don’t know, but promise to get back to

them — and then get back to them.”

How do you buy time if you just need a moment or two to gather your thoughts?

“Usually, people know the answer but get flummoxed, pressured and have a hard time

recalling what they know,” Mr. Davies said. “One strategy that will buy you time

involves instantly taking your questioner back in time, to review what happened.

“For example, you are cornered by your boss to discuss your group’s sales performance.

You can quickly frame a response by grouping all the details into what affected past

sales, your targets for present sales and your strategies for increasing future sales.”

Mr. Davies has people prepare for his workshops by bringing a list of the 10 questions

they most hate to answer. For bosses, these often include: Why haven’t you given me a

raise? For sales people, one of the most hated questions is: Why should I buy your

product when the competition sells it for less?

Anticipating questions that might be asked helps you respond to the tough ones when

they do arise, he said. As an opening Think on Your Feet® exercise, workshop

participants are invited to assume the role of a famous person, and field the types of

questions that person might be asked.

For instance, a person playing the late prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, might be asked to

justify his decision to drive an expensive German sports car.

A hint from Mr. Davies: Fuddle duddle is not an acceptable answer.


#1 Darlene on 12.03.08 at 9:42 pm

The evaluation exercise at Toastmasters is a very good training to become a good communicator. You learn to listen carefully, do a proper analysis of the speech you are evaluating, communicate your findings, give recommendations and tied all these with a personal approach to get your message across to the audience and most important to the speaker. On numerous occasions when we deliver a speech even an impromptu speech, we tend to forget who our audience are, and that is a big mistake!

To keep it short and sweet, your tips are very helpful and will help me be a better evaluator next time I have the job!

#2 joseph on 12.06.08 at 12:26 pm

Very true…always have in mind who are the audience. Often the audience can be multiple with different interest. An evaluation speech in a Toastmasters meeting in not only the speaker you may be evaluating, it is also the whole assembly.The interest of the evaluated speaker may well be to have your feedback on the speech whilst the rest of the audience’s interest is also to learn how you have evaluated.

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