Evaluating speeches can improve speaking skills

April 04, 2013|Lisa Prejean

Have you ever been listening to a speaker and found yourself wishing that things could be different?

If only the content was organized a little more efficiently ....

If only the speaker would make eye contact with the audience ....

If only the person in the next seat would sit still ....

If only the auditorium would be warmer ... or cooler ... or lighter ... or darker ....

Whatever the case might be, the changes would add to your enjoyment and appreciation for the speaker and his task.

Those might also be the key to giving a successful speech yourself.

One of the assignments that we do early on in speech class is an evaluation — or case study — of a speech.

The evaluated speech can be in the form of a sermon, a campaign message, a motivational speech, or some other kind of message delivered in a public setting.

By evaluating how others present a speech, students become more aware of their presentation content and the methods they use to deliver that content.

As with any paper, the case study starts with an introduction.

Who is the speaker?

What is the speaker's credibility? Where did he go to school? What experience does he have?

Where was the speech delivered? When was it delivered?

Why was the writer in the audience? (Other than for the purpose of completing this assignment?)

The next step is evaluating the speaker — his appearance, purpose, knowledge, attitude and speaking skills. How do these detract from or add to the speech?

Then the message is examined. How is the content of the message structured? Does the style of delivery fit the content?

The listeners are also evaluated. What is their purpose, knowledge, attitudes? How well do they listen? How does this affect the speaker's delivery?

What kind of feedback is the speaker receiving? Is it direct, indirect or delayed? Is the feedback positive or negative? How does the feedback affect the speaker and the message?

What is the noise level in the auditorium? Are there physical distractions, psychological distractions or both? What kinds of delivery channels are being used? Verbal? Visual? Other methods?

Describe the auditorium. How do physical and social elements of the setting affect the speech?

In a cultural context, how are the expected "rules" being followed? What are the expectations of the listener? What are the expectations of the speaker?

In conclusion, what was the overall quality and effectiveness of the presentation?

Obviously, the case study is very involved; however, the process is valuable because it forces students to think about all the elements that go in to making a speech.

If I can get them to apply to their own speeches what they've learned through evaluating another person's speech, they will be ahead of the ball game.

That would be a good pitch for my class, eh?

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send email to

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