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Sandwich Evaluation Gone Astray?

The sandwich technique has been the standard evaluation technique used at Toastmasters.  It has been mentioned quite often in the ‘Effective Evaluation’ pamphlet that comes with the New Membership Kit.   The basic properties of this technique are evidently beneficial:  When you start with the ‘bread’ by mentioning the strength of the speaker, it liberates the tightly guarded self-defense mechanism of the speaker, so that he or she can be more accepting of the constructive feedback, which is the ‘meat’ of the sandwich.  Then, the evaluation would end with more bread, to reinforce the encouragement that would provide the impetus for the speaker to try better next time.  However, in this article I would point out some of the psychological barriers that could be encountered when the technique is unintentionally over-used or misused.

When the technique has been blatantly overused, the evaluation is not only rendered ineffective, it can also lead to more defensive posturing on the part of the listener.  Perhaps even in real life, i.e. during performance review, you have seen how this technique has shortcomings.   The boss wants to talk to you, but first begins by saying you’re doing a good job.  However, inside your gut, you’re just waiting for that ‘but’, that criticism which will eventually fall upon you.  No matter how much ‘bread’ has been given, you feel that the entire talk is simply about the meat.  The bread of the evaluation simply had not achieved its purpose.   The situation at Toastmasters isn’t as harsh, mainly because we’re all peers.  However, the similarity in the discourse of the evaluation lies in how each part was delivered, and how the listener perceives it in return.   


I believe that the problem does not lie in the technique itself, but that the evaluator tends to use it as an end in itself.  During the speech, the evaluator may sequentially scored the speaker on what was done well and not so well in many categories ranging for content, vocal variety, to body language.  When constructing the 2-3 minute evaluation, the evaluator may use the sandwich technique to selectively choose a couple of good points, book-ending the constructive feedback.  I am reminded of the puzzle pieces that my son play with:  there are 4 puzzles in a box, which has 4 equal partitions to house the pieces from the different puzzles.  After my son is done playing, he can just put the pieces back in to the separate partitions.  In this analogy, the partitions represent the template specified by the sandwich technique (good point, improvements, good point).  The puzzle pieces represent the notes that have been jotted down by the evaluator.  When constructing the feedback, it beceomse easier for the evaluator to simply put the good points/improvement points into the pre-arranged structure.   As a result, the evaluation may not resemble a whole entity, but instead it’s just a collection of almost unrelated pieces, like Frankenstein.  It would have been better if the puzzle pieces were put together into a whole puzzle.   For newer members when this technique is used and presented superficially, the evaluation can still be valuable.  However, for more experienced speakers, the ‘color by numbers’ approach would appear contrived, unauthentic, thus taking away the spirit of the sandwich. 


So, the question is, not why the sandwich technique is flawed, but rather, how to make it whole.  I believe that the process should  be similar to putting together the puzzle pieces.  Perhaps, instead of hitting all those points, the evaluator should focus on one core message, and pull together the points in order to support that message.   In my opinion, when evaluating whether a speech is effective or not, the central criteria is whether the speaker has achieved the overall objective:  To entertain, inform, to motivate or inspire.  So, I would aptly begin with the evaluation stating what I think is the objective of the speech, and rate how well that objective has been met (outstanding, very good, satisfactory, need improvement).  Then state the areas in the speech that has made or break the objective.  And when I assess these areas-- the organization, word usage, vocal variety, body language, stage movement, etc.--, the assessment should all be related to the objective of the speech.  Only so, can the evaluation be considered as a body of work, instead of a hodge-podge of thoughts.  I will try to do that at my next evaluation. 


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