As General Evaluator, my role is to give feedback on the meeting as a whole, and to evaluate anything that would not otherwise be evaluated. As the written evaluation doesn't have the time constraints of the spoken one, I can give a fuller report here. I had six areas I picked out to look at.

The Evaluators

Rachel Knowles is the master of a structured evaluation. She stated at the beginning the three areas she planned to look at (in this case, Start, Story, and Summing Up – which, cleverly, was also the structure of her speech), making explicit use of the rule of three. (Three is a good number. It's just enough to establish a pattern, but not too much to remember.) However, she added to that by splitting each of her sections into three parts, generally a commendation, a recommendation and a further commendation. She finished positively with a call to action about how to make the speech even stronger. My suggestion for Rachel is to be more direct with her recommendations, and to avoid phrases such as "What I would recommend is, perhaps…". "I recommend" comes across as a much stronger statement.

Jennie Dalton's great strength as an evaluator is that she gives reasons for each of her recommendations. She linked her comments to the goals of the speaker's project. Her conclusion was a little lacklustre, ending with "So, congratulations" rather than an encouragement to improve further.

Chris Vowell structured his evaluation around the questions in the manual, which is an effective way of making sure one covers everything. However, the manual questions tend to skew to the positive, which can leave an evaluation short of recommendations – the only one I picked out was 'be more emotive'; while that's a great aspiration, I'd prefer to hear something directly actionable: 'be more emotive – for example, instead of [x], try [y]'. Chris makes a point of beginning his evaluations with formal and heartfelt salutations, where others often either forget or use them over-casually.

Steve Graham is a natural comedian, and began perfectly in the context of responding to being roasted, with a determined "Right." I especially liked that his recommendations were things anybody in the audience could pick up and use – for example, leaving a blank slide when you don't want your audience distracted from your words.

Caroline Brewer, like Rachel, used a solid structure as the foundation for her speech. She was positive and encouraging about the Table Topics Master, and gave several good recommendations. I particularly liked "The ending was a little bit [downward gesture] – it could have been a bit more [upward gesture]." My only recommendation is that the evaluator could have used more of the time available to her.

One final commendation: the standard of evaluation was extraordinarily high. All five evaluators made a point of talking to the audience rather than to the speaker, and offered well-structured analysis of the speech at hand while giving pointers useful to everyone in the room.

Our Guests

At Casterbridge, we pride ourselves on the welcome we give our guests. I was pleased to see Toastmaster Dave Smith greet Ese and Sophie warmly as they arrived, and that every time I looked over, someone was talking with them. The Sergeant at Arms, President and Toastmaster all made a point of welcoming them by name.

The Room

A few comments about the room:

  • The temperature was, by general consensus, a little warm; however, nobody mentioned this to the Sergeant at Arms. (I gather the hotel staff did attempt to adjust the air-con without success.)
  • The club banner is festooned rather haphazardly with ribbons. We have plenty to be proud of as a club, but the banner does not present a professional face. (I understand a solution to this is in hand.)
  • The clock was placed face down on the timekeeper's table, for want of a battery. That struck me as odd; if we're not using the clock, it can be put away.
  • A previous General Evaluator noted that open curtains caused a distraction for the audience; they were closed tonight. I'm glad that previous GE comments have been followed up on.

The Roles

Sergeant at Arms: Rosie Barfoot. Rosie welcomed us to the meeting with a warm smile and enthusiastic words. I'd like to see a more forceful use of the gavel and perhaps a little more volume.

Toastmaster/Warm-up: Dave Smith. Over the last year or so, Dave's confidence and competence have grown enormously. He gave a solid run-down of the Toastmasters etiquette and linked the speeches together with humour. I thought that using a choice of questions for the warm-up was an interesting twist.

Timekeeper: Annabel Wilson: This was Annabel's first time in the timekeeper's role, and she did an excellent job of keeping track of the speakers' times – I'm not sure I've ever seen a more organised timekeeper! Usually, when someone is doing this role for the first time, a more experienced member is informally assigned to shadow and offer advice, and I wonder if this should be made a more formal arrangement.

Topics master: Sophie Jones: It must be quite daunting going to another club to take a role – although Sophie let slip that she'd been test speaker at the Mayflower conference, so a dozen friendly Durnovarians would hardly constitute a challenge. She explained her role, and that of the table topics speakers, very clearly – even reminding us of the target times. I was a little surprised at the choice of speakers (I would have expected the Sergeant at Arms and Toastmaster to be picked ahead of General Evaluator and Topics Evaluator), but was glad of the chance to speak! Her choice of topics was nice and open-ended, and gave everyone a chance to say something. Her ending was very clear as well: "I now return control to the Toastmaster."

Grammarian

Owing to an unusually full speaking programme, we didn't have a Grammarian scheduled, for the first time in many months – which means it falls to me to pick out some phrases that caught my ear.

I enjoyed Christine's "dippy-dips", but puzzled over Laura's "a couple of drinks or two." Dave occasionally dredges up words like "copious", but occasionally resorts to a "very very very long time" – rather than the "aeons" he dropped in at another point. Jennie, at one point, realised she was facing the wrong way and referred to "talking through [her] back," a wonderful turn of phrase.

A couple of people made use of tailing off or pausing to avoid swearing: "You can't see a… thing" and "I knew he was going to talk a load of…".

Picking up errors

When speaking, when performing a role, when milling around and conversing, it's natural to make errors. Errors are not especially interesting. How errors are handled, on the other hand…

This meeting was notable in that I saw several people slip up and – almost before I could make a note of it – someone had stepped in to put it right. For example, the Sergeant at Arms neglected to mention the fire exits, and the President immediately pointed them out. The timekeeper was unaware of the "all three lights" protocol, and she was gently reminded of it. The Toastmaster mistook a guest's name and was corrected politely, with no offence taken on either side. An evaluator left his glasses at his seat, apologised, and asked someone to pass them to him; it was put right in an instant.

There's a danger in taking that too far, though. If someone is struggling with their words, it's rarely the correct thing to finish their sentence for them. It's occasionally correct to offer help, but we must allow people to make at least an attempt at fighting their own battles first.

We each have a responsibility to help others learn, but we also have a responsibility to do it and appropriately. On the flip side, we have a duty to improve ourselves, and also a duty to accept feedback gracefully and gratefully. I felt that, on the whole, we exemplified both sides of that.

Summary

In summary, we had four top-quality speeches on widely-varying subjects, all evaluated at a high standard. We had a Table Topics session full of well-judged questions and thought-out responses, and the whole thing was held together by a Toastmaster who's becoming more of a natural every time he performs the role. I look forward to the next meeting!

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