Both matter.

I just finished participating in a Toastmasters Evaluation Contest today. That probably sounds really strange to someone who has never been to one before but in this contest a “model speaker” gives a 5-7 minute speech and the contestants listen to the speech, have 5 minutes at the end to write notes and formulate their comments for the speaker, and then have 2-3 minutes to give an evaluation.

A lot of people think that Toastmasters is just about speaking, but listening is also a huge part of it, especially when preparing an evaluation. You must really be paying attention, and listen carefully to what is said and how the speech is delivered. But then the evaluator is tasked with giving honest feedback that includes encouraging words, specific praises, and helpful suggestions.

I like to use the sandwich approach when giving an evaluation: name some positive things first, give some suggestions, and then finish with some more positives. This is not a new technique, and it certainly isn’t limited to Toastmasters or formal evaluations. I find it beneficial when working with clients, employees, other industry professionals, people I serve on committees with, and of course, my children.

Some personalities see the “suggestions” right away (like Reds) because they are quick to size up what needs to  be done to make things run more smoothly or be more efficient. But I think the key lies in the delivery. Generally speaking, people “hear” suggestions better when they are offered in a genuinely kind, helpful and tactful manner.

If you want to improve your communication skills in all areas – speaking, listening, and offering feedback – I really encourage you to check out Toastmasters.

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