Now…What do I do with my ballots?

You’ve got a stack of ballots from your first tournament, and you KNOW you want to do better next time.  So, how will those ballots help you improve?  As you read through them, remember several things:

  • Ballots are supposed to be constructive criticism. We have asked judges for feedback – even when some of them did not want to give any!  Be able to take that criticism as you read through.  If you can’t accept constructive criticism, you’ll never grow as a speaker.
  • Some ballots will not have much on them except a rank. Those are tough to deal with, but they do have a place in your own personal assessment.  Set them aside for now.
  • As you read your ballots, look for trending comments. Do you see again and again that you need better enunciation?  Well, guess what?  You need better enunciation!  If you read a comment several times, take it to heart – especially if it is one of those criteria specifically listed on the ballot.  Those don’t change over the season, and you’ll be measured by them all year long.
  • Read the feedback to see if you connected with your judges. Did they understand your topic or your story?  Did they follow or were they confused by the ending or conclusion?  Did they agree?  Were they inspired or challenged?
  • List all the practical advice that you get. Many judges take the time to offer specific helps about improving your thesis or adding a point or suggesting some blocking.  Those are all ideas worth actually trying out before you discard them.

Now, once you’ve read the ballots, noted the trends, listed suggestions, consider this too:

A ballot is a response to your speech.  Even if it isn’t the response you were hoping for, it IS a legitimate response to your speech.  THIS is what one person thought or felt after watching your speech along with the other speeches in your room.  So don’t blow that off!  Just because someone’s grandmother has never judged a speech or debate before doesn’t mean her opinion about your round isn’t valid.  Try to understand what the response actually is without just reacting defensively – or worse, arrogantly!

  • Is the ballot filled with glowing praise? Congratulations!  You connected with at least one person in your audience.  You are doing some things right!  Make note of the things this judge particularly liked and keep those.
  • Is the ballot hostile? Congratulations!  You made a strong enough statement that someone wanted to engage with you.  You may also be doing some things right!  What upset the hostile judge?  Was it your topic or your tone?  Was it a particular scene that was a bit offensive or struck a nerve?  Did the judge misunderstand what you were trying to communicate?  Remember this is a valid response from someone outside your world who has not been digging around in your speech for weeks.  You might need to change one or two things:  take out the scene, change the tone, or reword something to clear up a misunderstanding.
  • Does the ballot have very little to say? Well….that might mean you did not make much of an impression on your audience.  Either the judge didn’t know what to say or didn’t remember enough about your speech to say much.  You probably need to strengthen your impact!  Can you boost your vocabulary?  Can you enhance your vocal variety for a more memorable delivery?  Can you up the energy level of the speech?
  • Do you have conflicting ballots? Does one judge love what a different judge hates?  That happens because the people in your audience are real people and they all have different perspectives.  They are not programmable when it comes to your speech!  If half your audience loves the speech and half hates it and you are getting equally strong responses on both sides, then you are very engaging.  You just have to decide if you want to stay there in that controversial place and keep delivering to the middle or if you want to try to win over the hostile side by moderating your position.  That is your call.

Once you’ve identified what the response seems to be to your speech, be ‘coachable.’  In other words, take what those ballots say and make some adjustments.  Challenge yourself to win over that judge the next time (or one who might have a similar reaction.) Try some of the suggestions for your club or family.  If they flop, so be it.  You tried.  See if someone else has a more workable idea.  That original suggestion might just be the springboard to the idea that is your smashing success!

If your friends are willing to share their ballots from the same round, compare what the judges thought as they measured you against each other.  What did they seem to like better about the speech that ranked higher?  Is there a trend among all the judges in what they liked better?  That is a place you can improve!  This might be especially useful with those ballots that have not so many comments on them!

Recognize that not every comment on a ballot will be valuable to you.  Your speech is after all YOURS.  You will probably get some comments that just cut the wrong way or that seem to go against something that is obviously working according to most of your ballots.  Let those go.  Ballots will NOT ruin your life!  This I promise.

A few take-aways:

  • Someone took the time to listen to eight speeches and write about them. Someone who didn’t have to do that.  Be grateful for their investment.
  • Your judges are often far more uncomfortable about what they are being asked to do than you are about giving a speech. They want to help.  Sometimes they don’t know how.  Believe me I have sat in JO with judges literally crying over the ballots because they are so overwhelmed.
  • Your judges want you to succeed. They are not trying to hold you back or show some sort of dislike for you.  They want you to grow.  They want you to be effective.
  • Your attitude toward your feedback is paramount to your growth as a speaker. Don’t be above critique!