How I Perform Evaluations in Toastmasters

This was speech #3, Get to the Point, for Fox Valley Toastmasters on 2013-06-27.

Fellow Toastmasters and honored guests, today I’d like to describe to you how I perform evaluations here in our toastmaster’s club. I view evaluations has having two main parts. The first part is where I listen to the speech and observe how it’s presented. The second part where is I think and organize to prepare a speech of my own. For me, these two parts take the form of two sheets of notes.

The first part covers listening and observing, so I divide my notes into two parts along those lines. The first aspect is listening to the content or text of the speech itself. This is where I’ll take not of major elements I want to comment on, interesting turns of phrase, and the overall structure in case I want to comment on the use of introduction, body, conclusion, and so on.

The second aspect, or half of my notes, is observing how the speaker presents the speech. This is everything outside of the content itself, which you know from your Competent Communicator manuals:

  • Did the speaker use notes? Where they distracting?
  • Did the speaker use gestures? Did they add to the speech?
  • Did the speaker use vocal variety? Did it add to the speech?

Through trial and error, I’ve learned that it’s important to maintain balance in note taking. One trap I got into early was taking too many notes – I was looking at my paper, writing instead of paying attention to the speaker. Another trap I’ve fallen into was spending too much time on the content side, reproducing the outline of the speech. However, I’ve found that I tend to spend far more time in evaluation on the presentation than on the content, and the way I was taking notes wasn’t supporting the way I performed evaluations.

Once the speech is over and you’ve got your notes, it’s time for the second sheet of paper. This is where you think and plan out how you are going to deliver in your own evaluation. For me this takes the form of a kind of timeline. An evaluation is two to three minutes, so I make room for all three just in case, and divide the paper into three parts. Through experience I’ve found that make approximately four points per minute, so I divide up each minute in to four sections, giving me a kind of skeleton to hang the meat of my evaluation on.

That gives me 8-12 points. That may be daunting, but remember that a bit of it is ritual. Most evaluations start with “Fellow Toastmasters and honored guests, and especially our wonderful speaker…”. I usually continue with the title of the speech, the purpose if I know it. This can make a nice lead in to commenting on how well the speech fulfilled it’s purpose. And of course, the speech needs a conclusion, where I thank the speaker, perhaps reinforce a strong point, and turn the stage back over to the general evaluator. In total that’s three points – you’ve at least a quarter done, and you haven’t really had to say anything yet.

For the body, I aim for around four strong points, and three areas that might do with a little improvement. The wonderful thing about these number is how well they interleave, a technique often called sandwiching, so that I don’t dwell on either side two long. It also allows me to both start and end on a high point.

I view evaluations as two parts, which for me are two sheets of paper. In the first part, I listen to the speech and observe the speaker. In the second part, I think and plan out a timeline for my own evaluation.

Five Birds in the Bush

Ah, those vicious decisions. Focus on one thing, and I mourn for dead ideas. Indulge my interests, and the surer bets seem to languish for want of attention.

My interest in Disk Clock faded after a total lack of marketing doomed my brief attempt at selling Disk Clock in the Chrome store. I’ve marked it as free, and released Moon Disk and Disk Calendar. I’m of a mind to approach Scott Thrift about doing a version for The Present, and I’ll need an annual movement to show off.

Meanwhile, on the actually making money front, I’ve been in touch with someone looking for Rails tutoring, and I’ve a got a line on another training opportunity which could lead to some small but passive income.

My compatriot on the startup project is sure it’s fundable with a little more work, which would solve the immediate money trouble, and be it’s own adventure.

On Reflection

Another year rolls by. I never really got into new-years-resolutions, but I have been in the habit of reviewing my progress every quarter or so. I actually let a review pass me by this fall, but I sat down for a brief bit of reflection a few weeks ago.

It seems to be a year filled with fail. My goal for the year was to make some money from a new income source – not even sustainable, just get something started. I calculated a new set of average expenses and the money remaining won’t last the year.

Meanwhile it seems that I can’t help helping people, so I’m doing yet more work for free.

Siggnal didn’t have a nibble, so I behind to try working on a collaborative project. That’s been dropped in favor of another one, and I find we are often at odds as what that is to become. I’m constantly amazed at how often a day disappears without significant progress. E-mail, meetups, grocery shopping, cooking (and blogging – I’ve grown more hesitant to do conference reviews. And go to (or pay for going to) conferences) Even thought the products are my default activity, I don’t seem to get there very often.

Resolutions for the quarter start with “moving the ball” – starting with projects and doing the miscellany during breaks. The holiday break was splendid for this – no martial arts or meetups, so I plenty of time to cycle between projects and other todos without an immanent deadline. It really makes me question if I need to be doing so many extra activities.

It looks like I’ll need to take on some sort of contracting work. It will start small – paying attention and seeing what comes up in conversations. As I approach the next quarterly review, I may have to get more proactive.

Christmas Attack

It was a fairly normal holiday at my parents. We did the important things – coming together, and left out a lot of ceremony – tree and decorations. We are so distant now that gifts are token – we don’t know each other enough to say what the other wants, and there are few material things I want to begin with. (Perhaps there will be more with the money running out.)

The morning was pretty uneventful. I brought over my Wii. My parents were thinking about getting one, and it was pretty much gathering dust as I focused on other things. So there was a bit of an adventure trying to sort out all the cables, especially with the nicely hidden cabling of their AV setup. In the end, there wasn’t a good port on the TV, and it went through the front panel inputs of another box.

Later in the afternoon, some of their friends came over, and we played Uno Attack. The random-draw mechanism has a few obvious effects. The draw deck is held by the machine, and it only has one button, which often gives zero cards, but often spits out 6+. This essentially destroys the feature which saved the basic game for me: the strategic choice to draw instead of playing, which is far less attractive with possibility of filling up your hand again. The chance of getting away with none is cold comfort in comparison.

What saves Uno Attack is a set of new cards. Some are the obvious adjustments – draw X has to be translated into hitting the button. An interesting distinction is made between ‘hit twice’ (which is also a color card) and ‘hit till you get’ Far more interesting are the really new cards. Two of them give you an opportunity to affect a player who isnt’ adjacent to you, a constraint which is often dearly felt when you hear “Uno” across the table. “all hit” is wild but depends on the gadget, which gives nothing more often than cards. There is however one targeted card – change hands. This is colored, so you often can’t play it when you want to. And of course, you get your hand stolen as often as you pull off a nice swap. The other new card is ‘discard all of same color’, which offers a new strategic choice – it makes it possible to go out without having to say “Uno” (and dare anybody with a trade-hands) On the other hand, it tells the other players that you really truly are out of that color.

Backpacks

I’ve had my sturdy JanSport backpack for several years. It was still in good shape, and can be expected to last a while longer – the last one went on the order of ten years with one stitching job, and only had to be replaced when the zipper became unserviceable. One thing I liked better about the previous model was the vertical arrangement of the outer pockets. The current backpack has them layered, so one being full affects the capacity of the other.

However, I was getting tired of shuffling things in and out of the one bag as I changed destinations and modes of transport. I also figured that this one will wear out eventually, and so buying a new one would just use them up in parallel, rather than sequentially.

The bike accessories were one challenge – air pump, elastic ties, rag in case the chain fell off, tire patch, and sometimes a headlight. Getting all that into a package would be a good start. At the bike store what I found was an under-seat bag. However, I had to get a fairly large one to accommodate the pump. It was designed for permanent mounting, whereas I wanted a quick release so I could take it with me when locking the bike up. The construction was also very stiff, making it awkward to carry or put into another bag.

The solution seems to be a simple fanny-pack. From my brief tour of stores, a simple fanny pack is a hard thing to find these days – the one I found has side pockets on both both front and back. It works well enough – the main compartment holds the bulky items, and the outer pocket takes the smaller things that would otherwise find their way to the bottom and require a search party to be sent out. The quick-release clasp is a huge improvement over the loop-and-velcro arrangement of the bike bag, and the default attachment is to me, so it automatically goes with me when I lock up the bike. (Downside being it doesn’t automatically stay with the bike in my garage.)

As to the backpack itself, the most common trips were tech events in Chicago, and Martial Arts. I have a messenger bag that I used to carry the laptop in, but I found that it was uncomfortable for long walks across the city. My alternate, a Twelve South laptop case for the backpack, was also rather bulky. It was awfully convenient having all the accessories (video adapter, remote, flash drives) in a dedicated bag, however.

A little searching determined that office stores commonly had computer backpacks, so I headed down to the nearby Staples. They had exactly one Swiss Gear backpack. It’s overpriced, overdressed, and overcomplicated, but it fit the laptop well enough, and I didn’t want to spend the opportunity cost of driving all over the fox valley searching for the perfect backpack. I suppose that’s what the store counts on.

Surprisingly, I found a use for most of the compartments. Most of them are still mostly empty, and I often find myself fumbling from pocket to pocket trying to remember where something is, or just grabbing the wrong zipper.

Most of the martial arts paraphernalia went into the sparring bag. There a few things I usually want at hand when I’m home, and I didn’t want to haul the unwieldy bag upstairs. I experimented with a drawstring backpack “conference freebie”, but it could have really used one small pocket, and didn’t fully close on top in the event that I hit with some light rain. In the end I observed that I was removing pretty much everything from it when I got home, so I might as well use my trusty old backpack for that task.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving day itself was at my parents house. They had another couple over, and we passed a lot of time playing UNO.

UNO was beyond my memory when I was doing game design. At first it seemed pretty mindless, until I grabbed the rules and figured out that you could choose to draw even if you had a playable card. (I purposefully looked at the rules when it it didn’t matter, but got slammed with draws anyway.) It’s still a heavily constrained game where you often can’t do what you’d really like to because the color is wrong or the leader isn’t sitting next to you.

Last year, the idea rolling around in my head was that it was the first real thanksgiving. It had only been a few months since I left my job, I was traveling around speaking at conferences, and turning down job inquiries. This year I’ve been disenchanted by empty conference rooms, preparation time, and travel costs. Meanwhile, my savings is halfway down and I really ought to start thinking about how I’m going to support myself. I suppose I should be thankful that I’ve had a year without ‘work’, and still have some money left.

New Shoes

I’ve been a bit preoccupied during the last several months. It was easy to ignore the wear and tear, long ago replaced laces, and undone stitching as I bounced from project to project, ran errands, or took a walk. The cracks in the bottom meant that I had to be sure to wear the boots if there was a chance of rain. Of course I’ve also found that if you’re out in the rain for any length of time, an umbrella really doesn’t cut it, and you want something water resistant regardless. But with winter coming up, I definitely needed solid soles.

Shoe shopping isn’t my idea of a good time. The last pair of Birkenstocks gave me a good 5-6 years. I choose those in part because I had read that they used fairly sustainable materials, though I drove to the other side of Chicago to find a place where I could try some on. I wasn’t too keen on doing that again. I’d also heard of Tom’s Shoes one-for-one program, and figured that if I don’t care that much, it gives me an easy decision criteria.

I still had to drive out to Woodfield Mall to actually try some on. One thing I discovered is that the standard Tom’s Shoe is more of a light summer shoe – usually worn without socks. Not so much use for winter, but something I could use next year. The other thing I discovered is that they don’t have wide sizes.

There was one day where it was warm enough to give them a try. Lots of space in the toes was pretty much expected. With socks, the front of my foot was definitely squished. Without socks, I feel like my heel is sliding around loose. As an experiment, it may not work out. Or perhaps I should get some low socks and cut off the front part.

Meanwhile, I needed winter shoes. Tom’s also makes some ‘Botas’ with a little thicker construction, lined interior, and raised sides. They also have laces, which I imagine helps take up the slack in the shoe size; I got these a half size larger to account for thick winter socks. I had them out in the rain; the seemed to survive the first 30 minute walk okay, were wet by the time I got home, but comfortable the whole time.

Tom’s also makes some lighter laced shoes, but I was hoping to avoid them since I generally leave the laces tied and slip the shoes on. The laces one the Botas (without the sides up) are huge and I’m not sure what to do with them.

I do have one concern with the Botas – either I stepped in something, or the soles are delaminating. Hopefully it’s just a surface layer leftover from manufacturing and won’t be a long term problem.

Leaving Strange Loop

Tuesday 2011-09-20

Tuesday night I decided to pass on the Strange Loop cardinals game. Instead I met up with an old college friend who lived in the area. We drove across town against a gorgeous sunset, out to italian restaurant they had been meaning to try. As is often the case with restaurants, we had huge portions and I took home leftovers.

From there we wandered around some school’s campus. It may have started with a comment about fountains, though some of the campus fountains were turned off. We walked around a pond, lined with large rock samples of many kinds, and passed by the cactus garden on the way out.

Wednesday 2011-09-21

Wednesday morning I ate the leftover lasagna. I didn’t have utensils, so I just used my fingers (as nature intended). On the way out I got some more pictures of downtown St. Louis, and it’s erie blue fountain.

Since the train home was leaving in the afternoon, I headed out to the City Museum. I was introduced the City Museum by my friends from the previous night, during my trip to Strange Loop 2010. That was a night visit, so I figured I ought to get a look at it during the daytime.

Yup, that's a bus hanging off the edge.

That would be plane fuselages, which can be visited by wire tunnels

One of several towers outside, often connected to the planes by the wire tunnels.

The stone tower has this enchanting dragon inside.

A utility room transformed into a secret cave. Yes, you can go down the tiny passage, it leads to "20,000 leagues under the floor"

Many of the caves are sculpted like dragons and other creatures.

The interior shaft of the building is filled with old spiral staircases. Some have been turned into slides.

Theres the bus again, as viewed from the pond on the roof.

Traveling to Strange Loop

Sunday, 2011-09-18

The trip to Strange Loop started rather early Sunday morning – I had to get to the Metra station, to get into Chicago to take Amtrak to St. Louis, arriving with plenty of time to settle in during the afternoon.

Sometime while I was in Chicago Union Station, Sunday turned into a dark and rainy day. I didn’t pay too much attention to the weather. I got a seat next to the window and power outlets, but my neighbor was a friendly student traveling back to school. His main focus was biochemsitry, but he did some web page development and search engine optimization, so we had a little to talk about.

The moist weather did give me some misty shots of the arch on the way in. Things were starting to clear up by the time the train arrived in St. Louis. It was still overcast and wet, but not actively precipitating. The path from the train station to the hotel ran past CityGarden, a park, in direct line to the arch, filled with plants, water features, and art of all kinds.

Arriving at the hotel, I was confronted with The Elevator. The elevators at the Hilton St. Louis Ballpark have a touch panel where you select your floor before getting on. It’s not a very good touch panel – in fact it’s abysmal. Someone else clued me in to use a fingernail to activate it; I can’t help but wonder if someone bought touch sensors designed for pen input to try and save money. In theory putting in the destination floor beforehand allows the elevator system to plan more efficient routes. In practice, it felt uncommonly slow, and from what I overheard, many people agreed.

One of the reasons I arrived in the afternoon was to attend the speaker dinner. At last year’s Strange Loop I thought the pre-party went rather well, but this year I didn’t make much of the conversation. I went up to the rooftop bar afterwards; the view was poor as it had started raining again, and I failed to make an connections in the overcrowded room.

Working and Not Working

The year since leaving steady employment has been a study in contrasts. On one hand I’m busier than ever, and on the other I don’t feel like I’m going anywhere.

Having the freedom of my time has allowed me to attend various user groups and conferences. I spent a lot of time preparing presentations for some of them, but haven’t taken it far enough to get more than the cost of the conference, and once a hotel stay.

I think as close as I’ve gotten to an ideal day is making some progress, perhaps doing something else for a break, and then getting more done. In practice I usually start trying to check off items from the to-do list, and watch that turn into an all-day event. Or at least enough of the day – evenings are usually filled with martial arts or user groups. Sometimes it seems like the only days I make real progress are when nothing is really going on, and I can chew the usual round of email, laundry, groceries, etc. and then get a few hours of measurable progress, which actually seems to be a fairly rare event.