How to Effectively Evaluate Your Talk [Part 2]

Author: Curtis O. Fletcher

Those who have attended the SCORRE™ Conference know that the E in SCORRE™ stands for evaluation. Sadly, too many speakers believe that evaluation is really just a post mortem exercise. In this three part series I’ll teach you how to most effectively evaluate YOUR talk before, during, and after the presentation. Click here to read Part 1.

Just about any speaker that you’ve encountered that you’d label as “excellent” not only takes care in their pre-speaking evaluation but they have also developed the skill of evaluating their talk and their audience as they are speaking.

In many cases your talk begins before you actually open your mouth. If you are in sight of the audience they are already making some determinations about you based on what they see or what they have been told in the lead up to the event.

This informs us that the first step in evaluation during your talk is to assess the:

Environment

You made some efforts to understand your Arena in pre-talk evaluation so this should be covered right? Not necessarily.

I once had occasion to speak to a room of execs, again at a restaurant, and in pre-talk evaluation confirmed the presence of a projector, screen, and sound system adequate to the room. What I discovered when the person speaking before me got up to present was that all the lights in the room went out aside from the projector. This meant that the speaker was in absolute darkness and it was obvious he was losing the room.

Acknowledging that my few slides were not sufficient to hold the audience, I quickly added a blank white slide. When I got up to speak I used the blank white slide as a spotlight, stepped in front of the screen, and spoke from there. Even though I couldn’t see more than the first few people at the long table it was obvious from the LACK of buzz in the room that I had their attention.

This example also illustrates the importance of step two in evaluation during the presentation. You need to assess the:

Energy

Is the audience fidgety when you begin?

Have they been sitting a long time already?

Have they just come from lunch? (nap time?)

Being aware of the emotional and physical state of the audience allows you to vary pacing or volume, or sometimes, even content. You may allow them a moment to stand and stretch or ask a question. If there is a buzz in the room don’t assume it is excitement about what you’re saying. Determine the source and address it.

Step three in “during the talk” evaluation is actually the key to step two as well.

You need to assess your:

Ears and Eyes

Most really good speakers have learned that they don’t need to listen closely to themselves while they are speaking. If you have practiced your talk out loud (you HAVE practiced it out loud, right?) then you already know what you sound like. Listen instead to the room.

I once had the chance to see Richard Harris perform the role of Arthur in the musical Camelot. During one scene a baby started crying loudly in the audience. Harris deftly ad-libbed the crying baby into the scene, the other actors following his lead, and created an incredibly memorable moment for the entire audience.

All of which leads us to the pinnacle of during the talk evaluation, which is eye contact. You cannot address what you cannot see. Developing good eye contact is the single important tool you have for “during the talk” evaluation. Seeing the facial expressions of your audience lets you know if they’re “getting it”, or if they’re bored, or if they’re distracted, OR if they’re all looking at their cell phones.

If this is the case, don’t panic, respond:

Ask a question.

Pause long enough that they look up.

Comment on whatever is distracting the room.

Reacting to what you hear and see takes you from the realm of mere speaker into the realm of communicator. You’re interacting with your audience not just talking at them.

Assessing the environment, the energy, and your ears and eyes during your talk will allow you too to create memorable moments for your audience. Turning you from a talking head, into an attentive communicator.

Can you think of a time when something went awry in the audience? How did the speaker handle it? How long did it take him/her to notice what was happening? 

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

In a conference coaching session Curtis once used the example of calling out an audience member for looking at her cell phone, as far as he knew the selection was random, as was pointing back to her later in the talk. It turned out, she later told him, that she HAD been looking at her cell phone because of some work “emergency”. You gotta love those Jedi skills.


Curtis has more than 30 years experience speaking in public and more than 20 years experience training others how to do so more effectively. One day he hopes to get it absolutely right but until then he’ll keep improving himself and others.

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One thought on “How to Effectively Evaluate Your Talk [Part 2]

  1. Good stuff!
    The middle school is usually the hardest for me. I can tell when I’ve lost them, but the host wants 20 minutes more… an hour long talk on heavy subject matter after a rowdy night of fun can be tough for them. Asking questions and getting them to stand up and shake off the sleepies was all I had in my pocket at the time.
    Do you speak to youth? Any suggestions?
    I adore them, but if the host wants to keep them longer than their natural energy, keeping them involved it my only ‘go-to’.

    Thanks again,
    Darlene