By someone who just lost a contest to three other more experienced contestants…
There are many factors that influence an evaluation contest from the order in which the contestants speak to the attention span of the judges. Obviously the personal performance has the greatest influence on it all. But before I go into the details of a winning evaluation let me explain the importance of the order in which you speak.

I have had the fortune, or rather misfortune to be the first up in all the contests I have competed in so far. Fortune, as it allowed me to see and hear all other contestants speak and learn from their performances. The misfortune, because being first up is in many cases a handicap. You immediately become the benchmark for the judges. Also no judge will hand out top marks on the first speech unless you shine bright like a star. They will keep some marks up their sleeve hoping to find a better match who deserves the extra points more. Each judge has one minute to sum up the notes and hand out points for a contestant. Not much time to properly compare each speaker against each other. Just enough time to figure out how many points to give based on the points handed out already and the individual performance. So my first and probably least useful tip of them all: If you are unfortunate enough to be first, don’t hold back a single thing. Pack as much good stuff into your evaluation and make sure you come across confident and sincere. You have this one shot at blinding the judges before they give their points to someone else.

Now, to the more juicy part. How to score those important points. First of all, read the Judging criteria! There you will find some low hanging fruit. One often missed out aspect is the summary. I have managed to skip it in the past and have seen other contestants skip it too. instantly you lose 10-15% of the mark. The second aspect to keep in mind is based on statistics. The difference between an excellent and poor analysis is 30 points, or 3x the score whereas the difference in all other categories is only 2x the score. Thus, the most points to be had and biggest chance at winning is through analytical quality. What does that entail? Analytical quality? The judging criteria mentions “clear” and “focussed”. Can you give a clear evaluation that has a clear structure while not using notes. Important is also that you do not jump back and forth in your evaluation and the only time to reiterate a trait or failing is in the summary. Repeating a problem area in the main body of the evaluation will instantly deduct points from some judges. Structure is key!

This is where not speaking first up helps again. It will give you time to structure your thoughts. Make sure you have enough detail to cover each point well without suddenly remembering something half way through. Use that time well. You might not be allowed to make any more notes, but nobody will stop you from rehearsing the evaluation in your mind! Also, no where does it mention the use of notes anywhere on the judging form. But trust me, the excessive use of notes reduces your effectiveness, makes you seem less focussed and thus affects your biggest scoring category.

The second most important part of the evaluation are the recommendations. Today I saw a great performance by a fellow toastmaster who was clear, used no notes and had great empathy and sincerity. But the evaluator got so caught up in praising the speech and the speaker that he neglected the recommendations and only suggested one  improvement. That lost him probably 15% of the score on the recommendations part and an extra 5-10% on the focussed part. Failing to do good recommendations will also drag down your analytical  score.

What is a good recommendation? It is made up of three parts. First of, chose an obvious aspect like too much hand movement or too little vocal variety. Then explain how it is a bad thing and how it affected the speech negatively. Good style is to speak about it as a common Toastmaster problem. That anonymises the criticism and it becomes less about the speaker and more about the bad habit. Finally, make a recommendation on how to overcome the problem or improve for the next speech. The final part is crucial! Never point out a bad thing without having a solution at hand.

So if you have a clear structure, don’t repeat yourself other than in the summary, which you did not miss out, have several commendations and recommendations and use the classic sandwich approach: Commendations, Recommendations, final Commendation you have a recipe for success. Now just pray that you’re not up first, or your job just got quite a bit harder!

To help with sticking to a clear structure I have designed the  Speaker-Evaluation-Sheet. Fill up the notes during the speech. Then transfer two to three commendations to the left. Transfer as many recommendations as you see fit, transfer a final commendation and then fill in the blanks for the summary and the introduction. Feel free to personalise the introduction and summary. I found  having them on the sheet a useful reminder and they assisted me with rehearsing my evaluation in my mind.

Now, please bare in mind that all these wonderful tips and insights come from a rookie evaluator who has not won a single contest…