What does it take to win a District Evaluation Contest?
Before I answer, let’s back up a bit.
This year was rare for me. For the first time in over six years I found myself eligible to compete in our District’s fall contest season, including the humorous speech contest and the speech evaluation contest. I decided to ease into the contest process by competing only in the evaluation contest. After all, that’s the one that doesn’t take any preparation, right?
Let me clarify. It doesn’t take any preparation…if you aren’t concerned about the outcome. Whether your goal is to win a contest or … I don’t know … help the speaker improve, preparation is required. With busy lives and all that we deal with, it can be easy to forget that in the weekly club environment.
For simplicity, you’re going to learn about three things you can do to prepare to be a better evaluator. Special note: the first one doesn’t apply to contests, but the other two certainly do.
Talk to the speaker. Before they speak. In fact, before they show up to speak, if possible. Yes, as I said this one can’t be done for a contest. (Although you can do it after the contest). For regular meetings, finding out the speakers manual objectives, areas of concern and any other relevant facts. Doing this will give you a great advantage on helping them improve in a specific way.
Improve your skills. This sounds generic, but there really is a way to do this that can be measured over time. Ready for the secret formula? Use your CC manual. Each of the original 10 projects have multiple items you can, and should, be looking for in your speaker’s presentation.
Let’s start simple. Below, I’ll call out one thing from each project that you can use. In your next evaluation, look for as many examples, good or bad, that you can find, and comment on three of them in the verbal evaluation:
1. Ice Breaker – use of notes (you cold also look for confidence, or existing skills)
2. Organize your speech – um…organization (Page 12 lists six different forms of organization – you can add to that based on your own experience)
3. Get to the point – how clear was the specific point of the speech (or the general point)?
4. How to say it – jargon/acronyms
5. Your body speaks – body language (sometimes erroneously called gestures) – you could also look at use of the stage/room space
6. Vocal variety – volume, especially in bigger rooms – this could include use of the Mic
7. Research your topic – did they cite sources for any facts mentioned?
8. Get comfortable with visual aides – did they have visual aides or handouts? What could have helped?
9. Persuade with power – did they have good audience analysis? (Doesn’t have to be persuasive to ask that)
10. Inspire your audience – did they connect? (again, doesn’t have to be inspirational to ask that question)
Or course, this isn’t difficult if the speaker has obvious room for improvement. Where this technique is helpful is for better speakers, especially contest quality ones. Personally, I tend to fall back on three things when I get stuck (i.e. don’t see any obvious improvements): Organization, body language/staging and visual aides.
Study your environment. This one is more for the contest environment than the club, since you’re probably familiar with the room where your club meets. Is there a stage? Will the speaker (and/or you) use a mic? Are there any obstructed views or dead spots in the room?
For our contest, I went to the room the night before (which was, luckily, already set-up and then vacant) and spent about a half of an hour standing on the stage looking out over the room. I imagined how I would address the audience and how I would deliver each segment of the evaluation.
Interesting side note: I spent some of that time imagining how the speaker might use the stage, and what I would be looking for (i.e. building a scene, chronology, using the lectern, etc.). At the contest, when the speaker was introduced he immediately stepped off the stage and mostly stayed in one place on the floor. My evaluation of that aspect probably made the biggest difference, since I used a pretty unique method to explain the value of staying on the stage.
Using these techniques not only helped me win the District Contest, but it also has helped me to be a better evaluator and, more importantly, help many speakers to improve their presentations. If you try these techniques yourself, over time you too should see improvement in your evaluations, and the quality of the speakers you help.
And you just might win a contest…