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Thoughts from the Barnyard: The power of public speaking

4-H public speeches are the most dreaded requirement of the program but it is also the most beneficial.
Even though it is not for everyone, having the skill of public speaking does benefit in the long run of life.

For those readers who do not know me, I am an avid volunteer with a few groups. One group that I am proud to be a part of is the local 4-H club. Over the past couple weeks, I have witnessed many 4-H members from various clubs tackle the most dreaded part of the program: public speeches.

Public speaking is one of the requirements in completing the 4-H year. Depending on the child’s age, speeches can range from one minute to eight minutes. Their speeches can be on any topic of the child’s choosing and must be self-authored. Once the speech is written, the members start to practice saying it. On the day of speeches, members stand in front of the judges, parents, the other members and guests all in the hopes of not fainting or failing miserably in front of a large audience. Certain criteria are looked for by the judges, such as eye contact, use of notes and clear speaking voice.

I was a 4-H member myself back in my younger years. And I hated speeches. My stomach would be in knots, my mouth would go dry and when it was my turn to stand in front, my knees would bounce like basketballs. I suppose I would have much rather died than do the public speaking bit, but I survived to live another day.

I did not realize the power that comes from public speaking though at such a young age. Having that skill opened doors for me. By the time I was in Grade 11, my public speaking skills from 4-H gave me the opportunity to be a part of the Canadian Youth Against Impaired Driving (CYAID) team when Saskatchewan was hosting the national conference. I had to welcome speakers, lead chants and help other students navigate through the weekend long event. And now that I think about it, I wasn’t nervous at all that weekend.

As I walk through life, my public speaking has helped me with job interviews, meeting new people and even in my work. I must be comfortable enough to talk to someone, ask them questions and put it all to paper. I have met some of the most amazing people thanks to my skill. I even try to tell the kids in the 4-H club that they have no idea how much this skill will benefit them in the future.

I still get up on stage each year for public speaking, with slight nervousness. I volunteer to be the MC for our club speeches because I know it is not everyone’s forte. And every year, I am blown away by what these young members do. They get up there, some with no cue cards at all, and say their speech like they have been studying the topic for months. For the older members, the topics they are choosing demonstrates their level of maturity and speaks on what they are dealing with in life.

So, for all those 4-H members who are advancing to the next level, I wish you all the best of luck and remember, you will survive it.