Public Speaking Evaluation Interview with Communication Expert Dr. Joseph A. DeVito

Rate Speeches conducted an interview about public speaking evaluations and public speaking reviews with communication studies expert, scholar, professor, and author, Dr. Joseph A. DeVito.


Zaydoon Jawadi, Rate Speeches:

Most public speaking instructors and coaches generate public speaking evaluations (AKA public speaking, speaker, speech, or presentation assessments, critiques, feedback, or analysis) for their students' speeches.  What advice would you give the evaluators to create effective evaluations?

Dr. DeVito:

1. The feedback analysis should begin with the level the speaker is on and the goals of the instruction. For example, if the speaker is a beginner, then the evaluation might focus on the more elementary principles of public speaking—perhaps organization where the feedback would center on having an introduction that gains attention, makes some connection among the speaker, audience, and topic, and provides an orientation; a body that has a clearly identified thesis or central idea and main points that support the thesis; and a conclusion that summarizes and provides closure.  That would be a lot to cover for a beginning speaker. If the speaker were more advanced, then the evaluation might center on such things as effective language; presentation style; or the use of logical, emotional, and credibility appeals. The important point, I think, is to tailor the evaluation to the level of the speaker and the immediate goals of the training. When I taught public speaking, I had different evaluation forms for each speech during the semester to take into consideration the growth that both the students and I expected and were working toward.

2. In addition, research by Paul King, Paul Schrodt, and Jessica Weisel—and published in Communication Education--identified four characteristics that the evaluator should keep in mind and that define effective feedback:

  • First, it should be seen as USEFUL. The learner should see the feedback as useful to his or her future public speaking presentations. So the evaluator needs to demonstrate that this feedback will prove useful.
  • Second, it should be SENSITIVE and not be perceived as threatening the student learner’s self-image. It should not be seen as intimidating or embarrassing.
  • Third, it should be kept CONFIDENTIAL which is not always possible in a public speaking classroom, for example. But, as far as possible, the feedback should be between the learner and the evaluator.
  • Fourth, it should be REMEMBERED; the learned needs to remember the feedback. It’s often difficult to remember evaluations and feedback immediately after giving a speech (when emotions may be heightened) and so written feedback might prove helpful.


Zaydoon Jawadi, Rate Speeches:

Public speaking audience members and viewers of speech videos often write brief reviews about the speakers and speeches, or rate the speakers and speeches based on a few criteria.  Assuming the individuals generating the speaker ratings, speech ratings, or speech reviews are average people, not experts in public speaking, what advice would you give them to effectively rate and review the speeches?

Dr. DeVito:

  • First, be as positive as you can. Even if there is much that is negative in the speech, look for something positive and begin your review with what is good about the speech and the speaker. This will go a long way toward cushioning any negative comments.
  • Second, focus your comments on the speech and phrase these as objectively as you can. Research by A. N. Kluger and A. DeNisi published in Psychological Bulletin (1996)--shows that feedback on the task—rather than on the person or the relationship between the evaluator and learner—is what helps improve learning (Kluger & DeNisi, 1996). For example, instead of saying “you didn’t seem interested in your topic” (which attacks the speaker) say something like “I would have liked to see greater enthusiasm and would have liked to hear why you think this topic is important to you and to us.”
  • Third, be as specific as you can (Witt & Kerssen-Griep, 2011). General comments—such as “the speech wasn’t interesting” or even positive comments such as “I liked your introduction”—are not usually very helpful. After all, even if you liked the introduction, it probably won’t be clear to the speaker why you liked the introduction or what was especially good about it. Similarly, to say “the examples were interesting (or uninteresting)” won’t help the speaker as such as if you made reference to specific examples and explained why you thought an example was effective or why you thought an example was ineffective. To say, I didn’t think your arguments were valid, doesn’t help the speaker very much; instead, explain why you think the arguments weren’t valid—were the statistics dated, was just authority used (instead of hard evidence), were the sources biased.
  • Fourth, be constructive. This is not always easy, especially if the reviewer is not an expert in public speaking or doesn’t know much about the topic. So, to the extent possible, specify what the speaker could have done to make the examples or the statistics, or the delivery more effective. For example, instead of saying “I thought your delivery was too static” the reviewer might say, “I would have liked to see you move around a bit or take a step forward when you introduced your major argument.”
  • Fifth, own your criticism. Take responsibility for what you say. Avoid comments such as “No one would be able to understand that complex argument” or “everyone seemed to like your speech.” Instead, use I-messages in which you take responsibility for your criticism—beginning your comments with “I thought” or “From my point of view” or “My feeling” will help phrase the criticism as your own. Using I-messages will also prevent you from using “should messages,” which almost invariably will create defensiveness in the speaker. “You should have begun your speech with a humorous story” or “You need to look at us more” will likely prove offensive. Instead, say, I would have liked to hear the humorous story you told in the middle of the speech, right at the beginning; it would have secured my attention” or “I would have liked you to look at me more.”


Zaydoon Jawadi, Rate Speeches:

What advice would you give the recipients to benefit from the evaluations?

Dr. DeVito:

  • First, and perhaps the most important thing I would say is that the speaker should accept the critic’s viewpoint; the speaker should assume that the critic is always right. If the critic says he or she was not convinced by the research cited, it’s of no value for the speaker to point to the 15 research citations in the speech. What the speaker needs to do is to ask why the critic was not convinced by the research cited. Perhaps the speaker raced through the research, perhaps it wasn’t clearly connected to the propositions, perhaps it wasn’t seen as reliable. The important point is to discover why the critic responded as he or she did.
  • Second, listen with an open mind. It’s easy to block out criticism. After working for days on a speech, it’s not easy to listen to criticism but that’s exactly what the speaker has to do to improve.
  • Third, don’t look at criticism as a personal attack—the criticism, the feedback, the evaluation—should be seen by the speaker as directed at the speech, not at him or her personally. Again, this is not easy to do because public speaking is such a personal thing. And yet, it’s essential to do if the speaker is to be able to look at the evaluation objectively.
  • Fourth, the speaker needs to be sure he or she understands the criticism. If not, ask for clarification.


May 25, 2011


About Dr. Joseph A. DeVito:

Dr. DeVito is a communication studies scholar, professor, and author.  Dr. DeVito has authored and published more than 50 scholarly articles and more than 20 books in the field of communication studies.  His most recent books include The Essential Elements of Public Speaking, The Interpersonal Communication Book, Human Communication, Essentials of Human Communication, Brainstorms: How to Think More Creatively about Communication. . . or about Anything Else, The Interpersonal Communication Reader, The Interviewing Guidebook, and Interpersonal Messages. His books have been translated into Chinese, Czech, French, Indonesian, and Greek.  Dr. DeVito has served on the editorial boards of leading communication journals and has been a consulting editor to Random House, Harper & Row,  and HarperCollins.  Dr. DeVito has also served as ETS coordinator of the committee to construct the Dantes Public Speaking Test for the Educational Testing Service.

Dr. DeVito may be contacted at:


References Cited By Dr. DeVito:

Witt, P. L., & Kerssen-Griep, J. (2011). Instructional feedback I: The interaction of facework and immediacy on students‘ perceptions of instructor credibility. Communication Education 60, 75-94.
Kluger, A. N., & DeNisi, A. (1996). The effects of feedback interventions on performance: A historical review, a meta-analysis, and a preliminary feedback intervention theory. Psychological Bulletin, 119, 254-284.
King, P. E., Schrodt, P., & Weisel, J. J. (2009). The instructional feedback orientation scale: Conceptualizing and validating a new measure for assessing perceptions of instructional feedback. Communication Education, 58, 235-261.