Avoid Speech Evaluation Errors

Speech evaluation is one of the most valuable benefits of Toastmasters. Not only do speakers get 2-3 minutes of immediate feedback, they get a written form of glows and grows. In this article, we concentrate on the ratings form from the physical evaluation document. Below is a portion of a standard speech evaluation form.

Many times a speaker will go right to the ratings to see what they did best and what they can improve. In particular, the numerical ratings draw the eye, especially if the rating for that category is low.

Raters should avoid some common issues when rating speakers. Some of these are as follows.

Central Tendency

This is the tendency of an evaluator to rate a speech as average, near average, or close to the midpoint of the numerical scale. This is probably the most common evaluation error and possibly the most serious. It allows the evaluator an easy way to evade responsibility in giving the speaker a fair and valid evaluation. Another version of this bias is to rate a speech low in one category if they have scored high in another, thus leading to a combined score of “average”.

To avoid this error, evaluators should approach each rating category as if it were independent of the others. In general, evaluators who remember that this portion of the evaluation is one of simple measurement should have few problems.

The Compensation Effect

Somewhat akin to the central tendency problem mentioned above, this problem refers to the inclination of a rater to rate a speech low in one category if they have already scored high in another category. Conversely, it includes rating a speaker high in one category if they have already scored low in another. The overall effect is to end up with an average or near average score.

In general, this rater has already judged the speaker’s performance and is fooling with the scores to get to total to “come out” right. This is a serious problem, but it can be easily addressed. Concentrate on the measurements documented in the text part of the evaluation. These data are the facts that will make up the final appraisal.

The First Impression

Here, raters score a speech based on their first impression, ignoring behaviors or results occurring later in the speech. This happens most often when an evaluator is unfamiliar with the speaker’s prior speeches. It is said that one never gets a second chance to make a first impression. Raters should realize that everyone uses first impressions as guides in determining how to interact with others, and act accordingly.

This type of error can be minimized if the rater confirms to the letter of the evaluation form and process.


Speech evaluators can avoid these common errors by considering their efforts as “measurement” rather than “judgement”. For more information on speech evaluation, see this video tutorial (How to Evaluate)  at Toastmasters International.

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Author: Lock Lyon

Lock Lyon has been a Toastmaster for over 10 years, and is a prolific author and blogger specializing in information technology issues. In 2021, Lock was designated an Information Champion by IBM Corporation. He currently spends his time writing and speaking from his home in central Michigan.

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