Redefine Evaluation

By Sue Vineyard
From The Great Trainer's Guide, Heritage Arts Publishing, 1995

First of all, reshape your definition of “evaluation” by substituting the word“suggestion” for it. Then realize that those “suggestions” are opinions thatyou can act on, accept, file in the “interesting file” or throw away with the trash.

One person told me in all earnestness once that I should eliminate all humor, casual conversational tones and war stories in my training, so that I would seem valid to audiences. She said it with a straight face that I suspect always had been “straight” and never wrinkled by smile lines. I nodded positively and told her I would certainly consider this…as she walked away, she turned to add, “Good, I’m glad I’ve helped, and if you really want to be known as an authority, get a Doctor’s degree in something!”

Great idea…think I’ll write my thesis on “Confessions from Over Functioning Seriousers” or “Theoretical Data Analysis Regarding the GlumGlums of our Planet.” I’ll make it into a book and have Irma Bombeck write the Foreword…Hmmmm…

Keep in mind that evaluative comments reflect opinions of an individual who may have been forced to come to the training, had the car break down six blocks from the building and had to walk the rest of the way in a pouring rain, ruining an expensive pair of shoes! Believe me, nothing short of a miracle would put that person in a positive frame of mind.

I’m reminded of a training I did on a rainy day in a very economically depressed area of another state that went very well except for three folks sharing one table. All day they groused about everything…the chairs, the room, the handouts, the soft drinks, etc., etc.

I wondered what they would say on their evaluation and was glad they’d left the training room when I glanced at their comments which were all good when discussing the content, but ended with:

“I’d expect more common sense from a national trainer than to have held this training during a rain storm.”

I came down with a case of the giggles on that one and understood the rain storm gave them a way to vent their frustration at the economic climate in which they were barely surviving. Bless their hearts . . . I hope it helped them release some of their anger and actually pray it never occurred to them that the training had been on the calendar for nine months…rain storm or not!

When designing evaluations for training or assisting conference planners to do the same, keep the following in mind:

  1. Aim questions at training content and presentation, not trainer personality.
  2. Craft fair, not loaded, questions.
  3. Word instructions and questions simply and clearly.
  4. Keep it short…use check-off format as much as possible.
  5. Offer space for comments.
  6. Do not demand people sign their name but permit it if they choose).

Allow the participants enough time to complete the evaluation at the end of the workshop, or at the end of each of its segments if that is your or the coordinator’s choice.


At this point I must admit to a quirk I have about evaluations: I never read them on the day I’ve trained. It’s not that I’m afraid to, it’s just that I’m usually exhausted at that point and personal criticisms that I can put in perspective at a later time, can make my blood pressure rise. I wait a day or two until I’m rested, then look them over. Frankly, I discount two categories: those that say I walk on water and those that say I’m an agent of the devil because I dye my hair (I don’t, but one participant thought so and assigned me to the guy with the red cape once!). Both are too extreme and probably reflect some state of mind of the evaluator, not the real content of the training.

I have a dear friend, who is an outstanding trainer, that says she never even looks at evaluations unless she’s trying out new material. She claims SHE knows if the learning objectives were accomplished better than anyone in the room, so she thanks the event coordinator profusely then deposits them in the next recyclable paper bin she sees!

How you choose to use evaluations is up to you. I prefer to see them as opinions I can use or lay aside as I plan future trainings. When developing a new training subject, I work hard to examine all the comments carefully and work to refine it to be the best it can be.

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