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Toastmasters Evaluation on TEDxSomerville Event

Posted by Magdalena Georgieva

Mar 31, 2014, 9:21 AM

I attended TEDxSomerville over the weekend and couldn’t help but look at how and whether the talks adopted the techniques we learn at Toastmasters. The efficacy of the ideas shared varied based on the speakers’ deliveries.


I watched for the things that the more effective speakers did and compared them to the things less effective speakers were missing. Here are the top patterns I would have shared with all of them, if I could have played the role of the evaluator:

Body language

Effective speakers embraced body language on stage. Aaron Cantor, for example, gave a powerful talk on movement that you can read about here. During his speech, he did a few handstands on stage and asked the audience to join him in a simple physical exercise. He was confident to move around the stage and also do crazy things that emphasized the points he made in his talk. This definitely grabbed the attention of the audience.

The less effective speakers didn’t move around much. They looked like they were frozen, and such body language weakens their content and leaves the audience bored.

Personal story

The effective speakers usually used some sort of a personal story to introduce an idea. Such a story doesn't have to be about the speaker personally, but can be about a friend, someone they know, or even someone they made up! The point is that it will add a human touch.

Matthew Dicks, for example, walked us through the life choices that led him to a career in writing and creativity. The path that he revealed was deeply personal and enabled the audience to empathize with him. 

The weakest talks didn’t incorporate any human stories. Remember that the human element draws the audience like a magnet and keeps people engaged.



Whenever you have a chance to break the ice and make people laugh, embrace that moment. The best speakers got closer to the audience by leveraging the power of humour. George Proakis, for exampe, found ways to inject humour into his speech, even though the talk was somewhat technical - about zoning by design. The audience responded with laughter and radiated warmth, whenever Proakis used witty metaphors or made clever statements like “putting people before parking.”

Vocal variety

This won't come as a surprise, but the most effective talks followed the shape of a rollercoaster when it came to their vocality. Helen Adeosun was great at using vocal variety to keep the audience engaged. During her talk about nannies and childcare, she asked rhetorical questions, projected well, and used facial expression to support her vocal journey.

The speeches that were less effective were monotonous, seemed like were just memorized, and felt rushed.

Call-to-action & Actionable Steps

The best talks included a call-to-action at the end (or even throughout).

Some speeches were even structured as a series of steps to achieve something. Cortney Rowan, for example, talked about healthy habits and outlined a few next steps for those interested in building healthy habits: make it personal, make it a collective effort, and make it surround sound.

The talks that were less effective felt like lectures of bored high-school teachers - they were theoretical, didn't include any next steps, and didn't present any actionable lessons.

Do you agree with these? What would you add or remove? Let us know in the comments!

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