It can be a scary proposition when giving a speech, being evaluated or taking on a role at a meeting. When the brain feels threatened, it releases adrenaline and this impairs the mind to work as effectively and creatively. The focus under threat is fight, flight or freeze.

What is SCARF?

Recent research in neuroscience has shown that there are five interpersonal primary rewards or threats that are important to the brain. David Rock of the Neuroleadership Institute created the model of SCARF. 






 If you can find ways to increase several of the elements of SCARF at the same time, either in yourself or others, you not only have a powerful tool for feeling great, but also improving performance.  You can demonstrate compassion by providing what the brain craves.

Imagine what it feels like when you interact with someone who:

  • makes you notice something good about yourself (raises status),
  • is clear about expectations (increases certainty),
  • lets you make decisions (increases autonomy),
  • connects with you at a human level (improved relatedness) and
  • treats you fairly.

You are likely to feel calmer, happier, more confident, more connected, and smarter.

How does SCARF apply to a Toastmaster club?

I believe it has enormous relevance in creating the right atmosphere. Using the principles of SCARF you can create a warm, humorous and safe environment, where members and guests can perform to their highest standards. You may like to consider evaluating the SCARF for your own club, leadership, or evaluation.

What could you do to improve your SCARF?

I used this in my general evaluation at a recent club meeting and below are my observations.  

Element Evaluation

What could you do to help people feel more valued?





When guests arrive, it is important to find out their names, welcome them and make sure you say their name correctly.

The President can set the tone of the meeting in their introduction to help everyone feel welcome and important.

When you come onto the ‘stage’, you can help your own status by getting grounded and having a confident stance and presence.

Evaluators can raise status by giving positive, constructive and praiseworthy comments. Negative feedback can be delivered without devaluing the receiver.


What could you do to establish clear expectations?

How could you reduce uncertainty?

Every role holder can create certainty by setting the expectations and clearly defining their role for the meeting, especially for guests.

The agenda gives certainty of what will happen in the meeting. It is the Toastmaster’s role to be well prepared and make sure that is achieved.

Evaluators can state in their introduction what they are looking for in the speech. They can be clear and certain in what they like and their recommendations.

If using terms like ‘transitions’ or ‘rhetorical questions’, explain their meaning as not everyone may understand.


What choice can you give people?

How can you empower people?



You can check with the speakers what they want to be evaluated on.

The Pathways programme may give more choice of topics, but some members may need help with this. Timing of delivery can give autonomy rather than be imposed.

Involving people  in meetings can help them feel empowered and more part of the club. It creates variety when people can choose a different way to explain or carry out their roles.

Use of language in evaluations can impact on this. Words like ‘could’ can be used rather than ‘should’ for example.

Using rhetorical questions in speeches gets the audience involved and thinking.


What actions could you take to improve trust?

How can you improve team relationships?



Warmly welcoming guests can help them feel part of something.

The room layout can isolate people or encourage togetherness.

Trust in the roles tends to come from being prepared to deliver a professional performance.

Evaluators can show empathy and respect for the speakers in how they give their feedback.

The Table Topic Master can make it easier for participants by loudly and clearly stating the question and then repeating it after choosing someone.

Using appropriate humour builds easy rapport with the audience.


How can you improve people’s perception of your fairness?

What can you do to show your integrity?


Properly preparing for your role is showing integrity to keep your promises and being  fair to the audience.

Evaluations are clear, true and fair.

As an evaluator, you may have to recognise your own mistakes. E.g. Saying a lot of ’ums’ whilst picking this out to the speaker.

It is also important to give examples when making suggestions.  E.g. ‘One improvement to the speech would be to use the stage more’ (and demonstrate how)

What will you do to wrap your Club in a massive SCARF?

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