What Toast Masters Has Taught Me About Feedback


Since last April I’ve been attending ToastMasters at least once a month to get the repetitions necessary in order for public speaking to become natural.

This has been a great experience as I have had the chance to give four prepared speeches (two of which i typed up for this blog which you can find here, and here), a number of unprepared speeches, and three evaluations of other speeches in front of the room. The curriculum has been tremendous and I have gained a lot from joining this club to hone the craft of speaking. 

What I didn’t expect to get out of TM was the leadership skills that are baked into their curriculum. Namely, regarding feedback – which can be one of the most important tools in the toolbox. 

After a prepared speech is given, someone in the club is assigned to stand in front of the room and deliver an evaluation on that speech. The evaluation should be 95% feedback, and only 5% advice. The curriculum teaches the evaluator to simply hold up a mirror, with their feedback, so the speaker can see and hear how they are being perceived. Once this is accomplished closing with 1-3 tangible pieces of advice can be useful. 

Below are some of the most useful lessons I have learned that have changed the way I deliver feedback. I hope it can help you too.


It is important to understand the difference between providing feedback and offering advice. Feedback is information, while advice is an opinion. Evaluations should be based primarily on feedback. The evaluator should give the candidate information about what was observed. This helps the candidate to learn how they are being perceived.


Advice →  Feedback

Don’t be scared →  I noticed you were shaking.

You must speak up →  I had trouble hearing you.

You need to improve your eye contact →  I saw that you were averting your eyes from the crowd.

How to “hold up the mirror” by providing observations:

  • Start your evaluation by stating the observed behaviors in an honest, respectful way.
  • Concentrate on the action, not the person. Use “I” messages when you give your feedback. “I” messages keep the focus on behaviors, not the person.
    • “You were inspiring,” is about the person. “I observed how passionately and energetically you inspired the audience with your personal story,” is about the behavior.
    • “You only focused on half the room,” is about the person. “I noticed you spent most of your time on the left half of the room,” is about the behavior.




Leave a Reply