Trustyour Gut Instincts When Evaluating a Speech

Christopher Witt —  January 15, 2016

Use your gut instinctsOne of the best ways to improve your speaking is to learn from good speeches.

Over the years I’ve developed my own down-and-dirty methodology for evaluating speeches. There are more sophisticated ways to assess a speech’s merits, mind you. But this one works for me. It may work for you.

One caveat: I’m talking about how to analyze a speech for your own edification, not how to give someone else feedback about their speaking.

Step One: Trust Your Gut Instincts

Pay attention to your feelings during and immediately following a speech.

I’m talking about a simple appraisal of your visceral response that allows for only one of three possibilities:

  1. Love it!
  2. Hate it!
  3. Totally indifferent.

Or, put more simply, yay, nay, or bleh.

Don’t universalize your reactions. I’ve loved speeches that other people have hated. And people have raved about speeches that have left me cold. The same is probably true for you.

Be aware of your general emotional state. Sometimes our feelings have nothing to do with the speech itself. We may be in a foul mood to begin with—it happens—or preoccupied, depressed, or disengaged. In those cases, don’t blame the speaker.

Simply notice and accept your emotional reaction. Trust your feelings, your intuition, to provide useful information.

Step Two: Choose a Speech Worth Analyzing

Discount those speeches that leave you cold.

“Bleh” speeches are the lowest of the low, as far as I’m concerned. They’re not worth the effort to evaluate.

Don’t bother with those speeches you hate.

You can learn from them, of course. But you’ll usually only come up with a list of things not to do.

So save your energy for those speeches that excite you, the “yay” speeches.

Step Three: Figure Out Why You Reacted That Way

Why did you love that speech? What did the speaker do or say that caused you to react the way you did?

Your spontaneous answer will often give you the most insight.

  • “The opening story blew me away.”
  • “I felt like she was having a personal conversation just with me.”
  • “I loved his use of language. It was almost like poetry.”
  • “She made me see things in a completely different way.”
  • “He gave me an idea I can use to solve a problem that’s been bothering me for a long time.”

Then ask yourself two other questions:

First, ask how the speaker did what he/she did. If you loved the opening story, for example, examine it in as much detail as you can. What is it about the story and how it was told that moved you so much?

Then, figure out how you can apply what you’ve learned to improve your own speaking. Never imitate another speaker, even someone you admire. Learn from them. Take the best of what they do and adapt it in a way that suits your personality and style.

Don’t try to be complete or thorough, fair or balanced in your analysis. That’s not what you’re trying to do here. Your goal is to come up with one insight, one way to improve your own speaking.

Trust your gut instincts when analyzing a speech, because at some point you’ll need to trust your gut instincts to give a speech.

On a related topic, you might want to check out my thoughts about How Leaders Speak.

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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.