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Formal Speech Evaluation

Section from the book "Contemporary Public Speaking" by Courtland L. Bovée. Copyright © 2003 by the Roman & Littlefield..  This material is protected by copyright.  All rights reserved.  Please contact the publisher (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.) for permission to copy, distribute or reprint.

Every speech you hear – as well as every speech you give – offers an opportunity to improve both your listening and your public speaking skills.  As you listen, you can apply the strategies for effective listening to attend to the message, understand it, remember the major points, evaluate what you’ve heard, and be able to respond appropriately.  Similarly, you can apply critical thinking to make formal evaluations of the speeches and the public speaking skills of other speakers.  Such structured evaluations produce helpful feedback for speakers, and they give you a chance to learn from other speakers’ experiences.  You learn even more when your speeches are formally evaluated by others.

Learning from Formal Speech Evaluations

When you’re in front of an audience, you search for verbal and nonverbal cues that tell you whether your message is getting through.  However, when you’re practicing the public speaking concepts you learn in class, you need additional feedback to gauge your progress.  You can’t ordinarily get this kind of detailed feedback from an audience.  That’s where a structured speech evaluation comes in.

Formal speech evaluations are designed to offer constructive criticism, criticism that is helpful and supportive, not stinging or hurtful.  Research shows that the most useful evaluations are presented in impersonal terms and yet point out specific areas for improvement.34 With the feedback from a structured speech evaluation, you can confirm your mastery of some skills and pinpoint other skills you need to practice.

Look at classroom evaluations as road signs making the path to becoming a better public speaker.  Positive feedback is always welcome, of course.  Speakers need to know what they’re doing well so that they can keep doing it and feel good about their progress.  At the same time, speakers can learn a lot from evenhanded evaluations that tell them which of their public speaking skills seem to be less effective.  Evaluators will also be sharpening their listening skills as they pay close attention to classmates’ speeches so that they can give them useful feedback on evaluation forms.

Conducting Formal Speech Evaluations

When you conduct a formal speech evaluation, you study both the content of the speech and the speaker’s delivery.  Even though you may come away with an overall impression of the speech and the speaker, that speaker can’t put your comment to use unless your feedback is specific.  Depending on whether the speech is to inform, persuade, motivate, or entertain, the exact areas that your instructor asks you to observe and critique may differ.  Nonetheless, every speech, regardless of purpose, can be evaluated according to six factors:
  • Topic and purpose. Consider how the topic and purpose relate to the audience and the occasion.
  • Central idea, major points, and supporting material. Look at the way the speaker presents the central idea and builds a foundation for it.
  • Speech organization. Evaluate the speech’s introduction, body, and conclusion, and the transitions linking the points and sections.
  • Language. Examine the effectiveness of the speaker’s language.
  • Delivery. Evaluate the way the speaker delivers the speech.
  • Ethics. Check for the use of ethical and unethical techniques.

In the course of conducting a formal speech evaluation, you’ll apply content listening as well as critical listening.  Content listening will help you answer questions about the ideas and information contained in the speech.  Critical listening will help you analyze and weigh the evidence and logic used in a speech.  By using both, you’ll not only hone your listening skills but also help yourself and your fellow students become better public speakers.

Checklist for Evaluating a Speech

1. Topic and Purpose

a. Speaker’s topic is appropriate for the audience.

b. Speaker’s topic is appropriate for the occasion.

c. Speaker’s topic fits the time allotted for the speech.

d. Speaker’s specific purpose is clear.

e. Speaker’s specific purpose is appropriate for the audience.

2. Central Idea, Major Points, and Supporting Material

a. The central idea is clear.

b. The major points are clear.

c. The major points support the central idea.

d. The supporting material is appropriate.

e. The supporting material is convincing.

f. The supporting material is varied.

3. Speech and Organization

a. The introduction captures attention, previews the topic, and introduces the major points.

b. The major points are presented in a logical sequence.

c. Transitions are used to effectively connect the major points.

d. The conclusion summarizes and reinforces the major points and motivates the audience to act.

4. Language

a. The language is appropriate for the audience.

b. The language is appropriate for the occasion.

c. The language is concrete.

d. The language is vivid.

5. Delivery

a. The speaker’s nonverbal cues reinforce the words.

b. The speaker’s nonverbal cues stimulate and maintain interest.

c. The speaker uses effective eye contact, gestures, and body movement.

d. The speaker speaks at an appropriate speed.

e. The speaker’s voice varies in tone and volume.

f. The speaker seems enthusiastic.

g. The speaker seems poised.

h. The speaker seems prepared.

i. The speaker finishes within the time limit.

6. Ethics

a. The speaker credits the sources when appropriate.

b. The speaker mentions several options for the audience to consider, rather than focusing on only one.

c. The speaker’s information is accurate and truthful.

d. The speaker earns the audience’s trust.