A successful speech has engaging, well-researched content and is delivered with charisma and grace. To critique a speech, it’s necessary to evaluate the speaker’s abilities in both speech writing and delivery. Determine whether the speaker used facts and anecdotes to make a convincing case, and decide if his or her style was engaging enough to keep your attention through the end. Sharing your critique with the speaker will help him or her improve for next time.
Evaluating the Content
Decide whether the speech resonates with the target audience. The content, including word choice, references and anecdotes, should be tailored to the audience who will be listening to the speech. For example, a “don’t do drugs” speech aimed at first graders will sound very different from one meant to teach awareness to college students. As you listen to the speech, try to determine whether it hits the mark or seems a bit off.
Do not base your critique on your own personal opinion, but on how the speaker would be perceived by a wider audience. Your own biases should not come into play.
If possible, note audience members’ reactions to the speech. Do they seem to understand it? Are they rapt with attention? Do they laugh along with the jokes, or do they seem bored?
Evaluate the speech’s clarity. The speaker should use correct grammar and easy to understand language, making it pleasant to listen to the speech and follow what it’s about. Within a few sentences, the main subject of the speech should be clear, and the rest of the content should build in a smooth, understandable manner to support the speaker’s thesis. Again, whether or not you agree with or like the speaker should be less important than what the speaker is saying. When you’re deciding whether the speech is clear, consider the following questions:
Is the introduction effective? Did the speaker make his or her primary argument apparent within the first few sentences, or did it take awhile before you figured out what he or she was getting at?
Is the speech full of distracting tangents that do not relate to the primary argument, or does it build in a logical manner toward the conclusion?
If you were to repeat the speech to someone else, could you recite all the main points or would you have trouble remembering what it was really about?
See if the speech is convincing and educational. In a well-written speech, arguments are skillfully put forth to prove a larger point. The content of the speech should demonstrate the speaker’s expertise on the subject at hand, and the audience should come away feeling they learned something new. Look for gaps in the speaker’s reasoning or places where further research would have made a point more convincing.
Listen for names, dates, and data cited to back up the points the speaker is making. Write down any names, dates, statistics, and other research-related information given by the speaker so that you can look it up later. After the speech, do some fact checking to make sure they’re accurate. Inaccuracies in data are very important to notice because they can impact the credibility of the talk.
If you must critique the speech directly after it is given, using the internet to quickly fact-check a speech can be useful. Wait for the question and answer, meet and greet, or break period to look up the speaker’s points.
See if the speech has personality. Anecdotes and the occasional joke break up the serious tone of the speech and keep it from getting boring. If the speech is too dry, it doesn’t matter how convincing the argument is; people will never hear it, because they’ll be too distracted. When you’re determining whether the speech is engaging at a high level, ask these questions: Does it start with a good hook? In order to engage people right away, good speeches usually start with a funny or intriguing point that draws the audience in.
Does it stay engaging the entire time? A good speaker will pepper anecdotes and jokes throughout to grab and keep listeners’ attention.
Are the anecdotes and jokes distracting, or do they help build the speaker’s argument? Some listeners will tend to miss the important points, listening only to the hook. The best way to properly critique a speech is to wait for the speaker to make a joke and then listen very closely to what he or she says afterward. Think of jokes and anecdotes as highlighter pens, pointing out the main ideas.
Does the speaker use illustrations judiciously? One really superb, memorable illustration is better than three that don’t stick with the audience and are only partially related to the main goal of the speech.
Evaluate the closing. A good close should tie up all of the points and give the audience new ideas for using the information they’ve been given. A poor closing will only summarize the points, or outright ignore them and go on to a topic that has nothing to do with what the speaker has been saying for the rest of the allotted time period.
Remember that the ending of a speech is one of the most important parts in the speech making process. It should regain the audience’s attention and be powerful, thoughtful, deep, and concise.
When ending a speech, the speaker must also exhibit the greatest level of confidence one can muster, since this technique will help the audience also gain confidence in the speaker’s presentation.
Assessing the Delivery
Listen to the speaker’s voice inflections. Does the speaker talk in a way that makes you want to keep listening, or is it easy to tune out? A great speaker knows when to pause for effect, as well as how fast to speak and at what volume. There’s no one perfect way to deliver a speech, since everyone has their own style. However, all great speakers share in common a capacity to keep their listener’s attention. Here are a few things to keep in mind: A person who is speaking too loudly may seem aggressive, while one who is speaking too quietly may struggle to be heard. See if the person seems to have a good sense of how loudly to speak.
Many speakers tend to speak too quickly without realizing it. See if the person is speaking at a pace that sounds natural and easy to understand.
Watch the speaker’s body language. The way the speaker holds him or herself should project confidence and charisma, making the audience feel engaged and included. Someone less skilled at public speaking might look down, forget to make eye contact, and tap his or her foot, while a great speaker will do the following:
Make eye contact with audience members in several different spots in the audience. This helps each part of the crowd feel included.
Stand up straight without fidgeting too much.
Use natural arm and hand gestures from time to time.
When appropriate, walk around the stage instead of leaning against a podium.
Listen for filler words. Too many “ums,” “likes” and “uhs” take away from a speaker’s credibility, since they make him or her sound a bit unprepared. Listen for these words and make a note of how many times you hear them. While saying a few filler words is natural, they should not overwhelm the speech or be noticeable in any way.
See if the speech was memorized. A great speaker should have memorized the speech long in advance. Using a typed page of notes or using powerpoint to jog one’s memory is acceptable, but glancing down too many times can be distracting for audience members.
It was once acceptable to carry a series of notecards and read from them, but this is no longer the case.
Memorizing the speech allows the speaker to engage with the audience through eye contact and body language, and prevents the speech from sounding like it’s being read from a book.
Assess how the speaker manages anxiety. Most people suffer from stage fright. Public speaking is the second worst fear in North America, ranking above death. Great speakers might be nervous on the inside, by they’ve learned ways to hide that from the audience. Look for signs that the speaker is nervous so you can offer a critique that will help him or her improve next time.
Note any repeated movements or gestures that take away from the content of the speech; these could be signs of nervousness.
A shaky voice or tendency to mumble are also signs of nervousness.
Giving Constructive Feedback
Take detailed notes during the speech. Bring a notebook and pen to the speech, so you can make note of areas that need improvement. Writing down a shorthand account of what the speaker said will help you to organize the points when it’s time to deliver your critique. Being as detailed as possible in your notes will help the speaker understand exactly what to work on for next time.
If there are no restrictions against it and you have time, record the speech using either a video camera or a tape recorder. This way, you will have the opportunity to play back the speech more than once to get an idea of what point the speaker was making, as well as how well they said it.
Organize your notes so there’s a section on content and a section on delivery. Include examples to back up your evaluation of each.
Discuss your assessment of the speech’s content. Deconstruct the speech by part, starting with the introduction and ending with the conclusion. Give an overall evaluation of whether you felt the main points of the speech were adequately presented and reinforced, and whether you felt the speech as a whole seemed convincing and credible. Would you consider it a successful speech, or does it need to be revised?
Tell the speaker what elements of the speech were interesting, which parts were confusing, and which areas need more references to back them up.
If there were certain jokes or anecdotes that didn’t work, let the speaker know. It’s better to be honest now than to let the person tell the same bad joke twice.
Tell the speaker whether you felt the speech was appropriate for the intended audience.
Give feedback on the speaker’s delivery. It is in this area that speakers often need the most feedback, since it’s difficult to evaluate your own body language and style. Give the speaker a gentle but honest critique of the effectiveness of his or her body language and delivery, including tone of voice, pacing, eye contact, and posture.
It might be helpful to discuss the concept of emotional intelligence, or EQ, which refers to the ability to read an audience and keep people engaged by affecting their emotions. The point of making eye contact, speaking clearly and sounding natural is to make the audience feel as though you care about them and you want them to understand where you’re coming from. Helping them feel included will make them more likely to stay engaged.
If the speaker seemed nervous, you might suggest that he or she practice techniques that help reduce stage fright, like exercising before the speech, laughing before the speech and practicing in front of a small group of people first.
Point out the positive, too. The speaker you’re critiquing likely put some time and effort into writing and practicing the speech. Any time you’re giving a critique, it’s just as important to point out what went right as it is to discuss what needs improvement. If you’re working with a student or someone who needs help improving their speech-giving skills, be encouraging and complimentary so they have the confidence to keep working on their skills.
Try the feedback sandwich technique: give the person a compliment on an element of their speech, tell them what needs improvement, then give them another compliment. This classic way to deliver constructive criticism makes the medicine go down more easily. For example, you could tell the person he or she started with a brilliant hook, but you were confused about how the second point related to the thesis. However, the conclusion clarified the main point.
As a way to encourage the person to keep learning and improving, you might suggest he or she watch videos of speeches given by famous speakers. Point out similarities and differences between the speech you’re critiquing and the famous speech.
Use an evaluation form, rating scale, or point system in a classroomsetting or competition. This helps you assign a grade to the speech or decide who presented a better speech.
Offer suggestions for improvement, if appropriate. During speech classesand speech competitions, it is important to help students understand how they can improve their public speaking skills. Be specific and encouraging, offering constructive criticism and praise.
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