The Kids Are All Right!

I spent some time the last couple days judging a regional home-school speech tournament sponsored by the National Christian Forensics and Communication Association (NCFCA), and it reminded me about a number of things we might forget when we get busy doing projects, business deals, vacations, etc. As my good friend and mentor Ed DeCosta would say, my Reticular Activating System (RAS) was working overtime at the event…

Having home-schooled my kids. hanging out with home-schoolers was not new to me. But the size and scope of a home-school event like this was. I used to compete in Toastmasters tournaments and know what it takes to put on a 300 contestant event. That this was only one of several regional tourneys happening in Virginia is testimony to the strength of the home-school movement. I was there to judge and, by extension teach a little. But let me show you what they taught me.

New Experiences. I was talking with one dad about his kids and their speech journey. His kids started last year. They thought they would zoom in and be competitive right out of the blocks, but that first experience showed them just how much they had to learn. Fortunately, their overall experience, between meeting and making new friends, and seeing how kids both younger and older than they did both better and worse than his kids encouraged the children to buckle down and learn the art. They were doing better this year, and there will be another regional tournament they can attend in a couple of weeks to further refine their speeches. “Perhaps,” the father speculated, “they might even make it to the next level regional this year and see what they will need to do to compete on the national level.”

Being Prepared. Several of the speech categories involved extemporaneous speaking. In speech tourney lingo, these are speeches given where the speaker has a general idea of the topic, but won’t know exactly what her topic is until just before they must give the speech. Speakers get a few minutes to plan a speech. (Impromptu speeches don’t get any prep time.) Speakers can bring notes conforming to certain rules with them on old-fashioned index cards if they wish. Those that took the time to plan did much better than those who did not. They had access to a treasure trove of information, including quotes, facts, and other evidence that moved their talks from banal opinions supported by general facts to pointed, purpose filled talks. I wrote about this idea in my last post, and created the Leaderclip blog to show this idea for clients. (The RAS at work…)

Answer the Question. These extemporaneous categories all revolved around addressing a particular question the speaker was to discuss. Except in the debates, they did not know the exact question until they stepped into the room to give their speeches. Sometimes, speakers got so encamped by the subject they forgot to answer the question. From time to time, we all get so enamored with the sound of our own voices or giving all sides of a question that we forget to give an answer. In a speech tournament, that takes you out of contention pretty quickly. In business, it can cause you to lose a sale, or even a client. So be sure to focus on the audience and answer the question!

Call to Action. I judged two categories, Persuasive Speech and Apologetics (defending the faith) that ultimately require the speaker to offer a call to action — either to embrace a point of view or to do something specific. Some speakers told you about their issue but disinterest really ask you to take action on their analysis. In effect, they gave informational speeches, not persuasive ones. Others, not fully understanding the speech rules, which called for a clear introduction and conclusion, and put their call to action before their conclusion. A call to action is a conclusion. Sure, a summary is important. You want people to remember what you told them, so summarize. But then make your call to action. If done the other way, just as you give people a reason to act, you then give them permission to step back and do nothing. My father likens the sales process to a house tour. Once you leave a room, close the for and continue. Summarizing after you get people to take action gives them permission to back up and reconsider because you might have given them new information. You certainly create confusion and slow down the action. The best speeches carefully considered and summarized the evidence, pro and con, summarized, then called for action.

The Future is Bright. Hanging out with these articulate, well-adjusted young people you can see that America is in good hands for years to come. We will have problems to solve and challenges to overcome, but we are raising a generation learning to think, advocate, and act. Yes, act. It is amazing how many of these young people are not just talking about things, they are founding nonprofit organizations and/or raising money for things they believe. Are you acting on your beliefs and values? Why not join these young people (in spirit, at least) and live your values and beliefs?


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