The Secret of Effective, Meaningful Speech Evaluation?

Evaluate, Don't Assess!

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In evaluating speeches, the way you say it is everything. Consider the difference - “Your delivery sucks!” vs. “I couldn't quite feel your enthusiasm.” The first statement is an assessment. It 'determines the value of' the speech. The second statement is an evaluation. It 'examines and judges carefully.' Evaluating speeches is a skill – read on to learn the secrets of evaluation in One Speech, One Paragraph, and One Sentence.

Remember, assessing speeches is far less valuable (both to yourself and to the speaker) than evaluating them, yet it is also much easier. But ease now doesn't lead to fulfillment later.</5>
If you don't have the opportunity to analyze other speeches, go to Analyzing Great Speeches to learn how to use great speeches to improve your own public speaking skills. (Or in other words, How To Speak Like Lincoln in 5 Easy Steps)

One Speech

The speech is over, and you need to judge it. Toastmaster's evaluator, communications teacher, speech and debate judge, or just looking to learn from someone else, you need to pull everything good and bad out of the speech, articulate it, and apply it. But what is a good speech?

To borrow from Aristotle: A good hammer hammers well. A good bomb explodes well. A thing is good if it does what it is supposed to. Hence, a good speech communicates well.

When evaluating a speech as a whole, the only thing that ultimately matters is if the speech did what the speaker intended it to do. When evaluating, first ask how the speech impacted the intended audience. If a person gives a conference speech on office exercise and every person goes back to their desk to do yoga, then that speaker gave an effective speech – no matter how many rules he broke! Nonetheless, here's some areas that can help determine how effective a speech is.

  • Content. After the speech is over, do you feel that the audience knows more about the topic? What part did critical thinking, analysis, and originality play? Do you feel you now know and understand the subject matter? Was the information pertinent to the topic, the audience, and ultimately to the purpose of the speech?

  • Structure. Did the structure of the speech distract from the content, or enhance it? Did the speech structure fit the purpose of the speaker?

  • Word Choice. Did the superlative adjectives get wearisome, or could the speech have used a little spice? Were the words the speaker chose appropriate for the audience and the topic?

  • Vocal Use. How was the speaker's vocal projection? After the speaker is done, do you feel you'd like to keep listening to his voice?

  • Nonverbal Communication. What did he or she communicate without speaking?

  • Audience Analysis. After the speech is over, do you feel like the speaker gave the speech for you, personally?

After covering the general evaluation of the whole speech, an in-depth evaluation of particular areas of the speech can dramatically improve the speaker's (and the evaluator's) overall effectiveness. And so, here's speech assessment and evaluation for

One Paragraph (or Section)

  • Content. What does each paragraph do for the speech? Does every section add something new and important, or is it just fluff? Are the sections with the most important content placed so that they receive the most attention?

  • Structure. Does each section or paragraph smoothly lead to the next? Is every idea followed by supporting evidence and/or anecdotes? Do the sections follow the same patterns throughout the speech, or is each paragraph uniquely engaging? Does the beginning of the section appropriately tie in with the end?

  • Word Choice. Are any of the sections unnecessarily 'heavy' in tone? Does the speaker overuse field-specific jargon? Does the speaker place lingual emphasis on the main ideas?

  • Vocal Use. Does the speaker effectively use dynamic variation, or is he rather monotone? Does the speaker appropriately vary his speaking pace? Does he use proper inflection? Enunciation? What about timing?

    Note: Speed change, dynamic variation, and vocal inflection are the three characteristics of good speaking that are most easily overdone – hence, they are the most often underdone. Don't be afraid to go out on a limb and make it engaging, effective, and real.
  • Nonverbal Communication. Do the speaker's gestures match what he's saying? Is he too tight, too loose? Do you feel that he really understands and believes what he's saying? What emotions does he inspire before he says a word?

And then the analysis gets even more particular when assessing and evaluating just

One Sentence

  • Content. Is every sentence actually necessary? Does every sentence serve an important purpose?

  • Structure. Do the sentences vary in length, or are they all the same dull, boring cadence? Does he effectively use short sentences to emphasize important points? Do you ever get lost because a sentence keeps going, and going, and going, and going, and going, and going, and going, and going...?

  • Word Choice. Do words sometimes sound just... not right... when the speaker uses them? Does every word fit? Does every word fill its purpose?

  • Syntax. How well does the speaker use the words she chooses? Does the speech flow as smoothly and beautifully as suede on a new shoe, or do clunky acronyms and nonsensical word arrangements this speech a failure make?

  • Vocal Use. Does the speaker's inflection and intonation lead from one sentence to the next, bringing out main points and engaging the audience?

  • Nonverbal Communication. Does that key phrase have the emphasis it needs?

  • Audience Analysis. Are the speaker's sentences there to please the speaker or the audience?

Why does your analysis matter? Beyond the assignment, the grade, or the win, it matters because it helps someone become better – even if that someone is yourself.

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