The Power of Feedback

My Toastmasters Series – Part IV

In this post, the 4th of my Toastmasters series, I will focus on feedback. I will explain how feedback is one of the key elements of Toastmasters and why it is extremely important to me. I will also share some tips on giving and receiving feedback both from Toastmasters International and my personal experience.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Some say “feedback is the breakfast of champions”. I like to say “feedback is like a gift we give each other”. The concept is the same. Feedback is an indispensable tool we all need to learn how to use if we want to learn and grow and if we want to help others to do the same. Feedback is one of the main reasons why I love Toastmasters. The culture of feedback at Toastmasters is incredible as it’s always given in a positive and encouraging way whilst providing very valuable observations on areas for improvement. Becoming a member of a Toastmasters club really helps you build a growth mindset. Nothing is impossible. You quickly realise that public speaking is not a skill we were either born with or not. It’s a skill you can learn with feedback and deliberate practice. Like any other.

During a Toastmasters meeting¹, there are several opportunities to give and receive feedback. When giving a prepared speech, you will be assigned an Evaluator who will give a 2–3 minutes speech to give you feedback. The other members are also encouraged to provide feedback on your speech either via post-it notes in pre-pandemic meetings or via Zoom direct messages nowadays.

Another opportunity to receive feedback is when you participate in the Table Topics session. Every Table Topic is assessed by a Table Topics Evaluator. Their role is very difficult in that they have between 4 and 6 minutes to evaluate up to 10 Table Topics. That’s a lot of feedback concentrated in only a few minutes!

The Grammarian will share their report at the end of the meeting which will contain feedback regarding the use of the English language to most of the speakers.

Finally the General Evaluator will provide feedback for the meeting and the club in general, focussing on all those functionary roles that haven’t had the opportunity to receive feedback during the meeting, e.g. Toastmaster, Evaluators, Grammarian, Table Topics Master, Timekeeper and Sergeant at Arms. This is really to make sure that everyone who’s spoken during the meeting is receiving feedback.

Toastmasters International provides a few tips for both receiving and giving feedback, which I am going to summarise below. If you’re receiving feedback, they advise to:

  • Listen carefully to what the evaluator observed.
  • Have an open mind and refrain from all judgments, otherwise you may miss out on some valuable information.
  • Ask for clarifications and make sure you understand all the observations.
  • Be engaged and give your full attention.
  • Stay positive and don’t take it personally. After all, they’re only trying to help!

When you’re evaluating someone else’s speech, Toastmasters International recommends to:

  • Make sure you’re providing feedback rather than advice. Feedback is information, while advice is an opinion. Share observations rather than suggestions.
  • Understand their objectives and their personal goals. Adjust your expectations based on where they’re at in their journey.
  • Give positive feedback. Try and encourage them by highlighting what they did well.
  • Provide constructive criticism. Point out areas for improvement respectfully by sharing what you observed.
  • Give more positive feedback than constructive criticism.

When you’re going to give a speech, it’s even more effective if you seek specific feedback and ask the evaluator to focus on specific areas you’re currently working on and trying to improve.

When I am not a Toastmasters member, I am also a massive fan of feedback. At work, since becoming an Engineering Manager a few years ago, I’ve always been striving to create a feedback culture in every team I’ve worked with. I consider feedback a great way to learn more about yourself quickly and effectively; at the same time, it’s a great way to create trust and help others to improve.

Below I will share a few tips from my personal experience:

  • Start by soliciting feedback for yourself and show that you’re willing to take it onboard and make changes accordingly. Obviously only for the feedback you consider valuable, not all feedback is good!
  • Make it about the behaviour, not the person. Use expressions like “you did”, not “you are”.
  • Be specific. Always support your theory with specific examples.
  • Explain the impact of their behaviour. For instance, tell them how their behaviour made you feel.
  • Share your observations and avoid prescriptive language.
  • Choose the right time. Some feedback has to be given immediately to be effective, while in other circumstances you can wait for the next occasion.
  • And the right context. Some feedback has to be delivered on an individual basis, some can be given in front of a group. This also depends on the personal preference of who’s receiving it.
  • Last but not least, feedback doesn’t have to be all constructive. It’s important to also give positive and reinforcing praise, actually, if possible, more of that!

On the last point, I strongly believe in the power of praise and at some point in the future I will write about it in my blog. In a nutshell, I believe praise is incredibly important as it allows you to show people what good looks like to you and reinforce a specific behaviour you want to see more of. As a byproduct, it also makes people feel good about themselves, which is not a bad thing.

In conclusion, I strongly believe that all of us should always make an effort to create a culture of feedback, whether that is at work, at home or in other group settings. And for this very reason, I strongly believe the feedback culture at Toastmasters is one of the main reasons why you should consider joining a club.

In my next post, I will write about impromptu speaking, don’t miss it!

[1] For more information about a typical Toastmasters meeting, please read one of my previous posts here.

Passionate engineering manager with a strong technical background and a genuine interest in Agile leadership and Lean principles. Musician as a hobby.

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