How to Effectively Evaluate Your Talk [Part 1]

Death_to_stock_communicate_hands_2Author: 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.

Pre-delivery evaluation of any talk is crucial if you want to ensure a good connection with your audience. Far too often speakers pour over their content, crating and honing the words and turns of phrase without ever taking the time to do some fundamental pre-speech evaluation.

Pre-speech evaluation, while seemingly simple in essence, provides a critical foundation for success and centers on your knowledge of the three elementary A’s.

Know your Audience

This is more than just saying, “I’ll be speaking to a room of IT professionals.” or “My congregation”. Knowing your audience means you can answer questions like:

  • Why are they listening to me?
  • How many people are expected?
  • What are they hoping to get out of my talk?
  • How can they influence a future outcome? (Particular to a sales presentation)
  • What decisions am I hoping they will make?
  • What are they doing both before and after I speak to them?

The answers to these questions inform you about the audience state of mind, help you pinpoint what criteria they may use to evaluate your talk, and create a set of guidelines for what you might include or exclude once you start shaping your content.

Know your Arena

In this case your ARENA is the venue in which you’ll be presenting. Knowing your arena means you can answer questions like:

  • Is there a platform of some kind?
  • Is the platform sufficiently lit?
  • Is there a projector or an Internet connection? (if you’ll be using slides)
  • Is there a sound system?

I once walked into a presentation having assumed a positive answer to these queries only to discover that I would be presenting in a long, narrow, noisy side room at a restaurant with no projector, no sound system, and no stage. Nothing I had painstakingly prepared was going to be of any use at all. All of my preparation time turned out to be wasted time. (Fortunately, as a graduate of SCORRE™, I was able to put together an entirely new talk at the last minute and ad-lib a successful presentation that fit both the audience and the arena but believe me, as speakers we don’t want that kind of stress every time out.)

Know your Application

The third A starts the transition from pre-speech evaluation into speech preparation. Knowing your APPLICATION means you can answer questions like:

  • What do I want my audience to do when I am finished?
  • Does my talk meet the needs of my audience?
  • Do I both know and practice what I am talking about?
  • What is my intent for speaking today?
  • What must happen for me to call this a win?
  • How does my talk accomplish this?

Seem obvious enough? I’ve worked with several authors who, when creating a talk, will say that they really want the audience to buy the book when they’ve finished. They’ll answer that their intent is book sales, and that the win is, you guessed it, book sales. THEN they create a talk that gives away almost the entire book!

The last question here, how does my talk accomplish my win, leaves them speechless.

The interplay between the first question in this set and the last becomes a guide for the content of the talk. If you want them to buy the book then the talk should probably both create value AND create some curiosity about the rest of the book’s content.

Sitting with the questions in each of these three A elements before starting to create your content provides you with a detailed guide to help determine what should be included and what should be excluded from your talk. This pre-speech evaluation informs and fleshes out the context of your presentation thus helping you prepare with confidence.

Share a time that you showed up and found yourself surprised by the make up of the audience or the condition of the arena. What did you do? How would the three A’s of pre-speech evaluation have saved your bacon that day? 

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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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7 thoughts on “How to Effectively Evaluate Your Talk [Part 1]

  1. I am a speech and presentation coach as well as a speaker and these points are very helpful. I wonder, however, if a newbie might find this list a bit overwhelming?

    Certainly, “Know your audience” includes all of the important questions you presented here but when a new speaker’s goal is simply to make it through the speech and do the best he/she can, what are the crucial questions to ask when giving a speech on a general topic?

    I advise new speakers to “hear” their speech from the perspective of a phantom listener. Is it understandable (no inside jokes or unexplained stories)? Is it “real?” (ie., does it come from an authentic place or is it delivered with conviction?

    Any other tips for a general speech for an unknown audience (ie., even a Toastmasters speech that is, simply, required to get through the manual and earn a certificate).


    • Hey Jill,

      The core piece we talk about at the SCORRE Conference is that, as speakers, we need to think through our purpose before we give a talk, and that the purpose is always tied to what we want the audience to get out of the talk, what we want them to do. I suppose that if one of my students asked me about speaking to a “general audience” with the sole purpose of “doing a talk” I would probably tell them that THAT is simply entertainment.

      If I JUST have to give a talk to get through the manual, and I know next to nothing about the audience, I probably go Aesop on them…again because the purpose is entertainment 🙂 So I work on telling a good story with a moral.

      It kind of turns into the difference between being a “communicator” and a pure storyteller. I like doing both but in the absence of a purpose it goes to storytelling…craft the story.

      Does that make sense?

  2. Great post Curtis with excellent ideas and insight! WELL DONE!!

    I wish there were only one example that came to mind when the make-up of the audience or the arena were not aligned with my expectations before I showed up. Of course, the lesson that taught me was to take more control of understanding the audience AND the arena in advance!

    Here’s how your 3 A’s of Pre-Speech Evaluation could have helped me in all of those situations…

    1. Asking and answering the questions you’ve provided for the AUDIENCE would have improved my preparation and equipped me better to deal with the unexpected discoveries when I arrived. Like the time I was told everyone in the room would be at the mid-level or senior-level of management and the audience turned out to be frontline staff with a significant percentage of new hires.

    The missing piece was that I was talking to the wrong person. Just because they contacted me and hired did not mean they understood the event. Armed with your questions I think that would have surfaced in my pre-speech evaluation.

    2. Similarly the questions you suggest regarding the ARENA would have saved me a lot of time and frustration when I showed up to find that the room had a 20 foot aisle down the middle with the view of the platform blocked for a large portion of the audience. That day I learned to ask for pictures, not just diagrams, and to speak with someone who has spoken at the venue whenever possible to get the ‘straight scoop’ on things so my message aligns with the realities of the arena.

    3. Your APPLICATION questions may be the most valuable insight in the post. Too many people show up with no clear vision of what they want to happen when they finish and they spend too much time on saying what they want or feel like saying, with no forethought of giving a call to action to the audience.

    As a recovering college professor I can relate all too well. In the classroom setting the audience is a bit captive, particularly for a required course; the same is true for required training sessions in organizations. Armed with your questions any speaker can increase their impact by focusing their message on a limited set of specific things they want the audience to do. If they choose not to then about all they can hope for are smiles and positive feedback.

    Thanks for sharing your great ideas and stimulating those who speak to engage in more effective pre-speech evaluation (and giving them tools for doing that).

  3. This is a great series. I love this!
    I only missed a couple of questions for my host this time:-) I appreciate you so much.
    You are a treasure. Merry Christmas!
    Prosperity and peace to you all ways.

    For Life,