Feared more than death and taxes, adults are petrified of speaking in front of people.
I have to admit, my mind began to wander a bit during the county 4-H public speaking contest the other night. Listening intently to young 4-Hers talk about their latest projects, their hopes for the future, their thoughts on agriculture or caring for the land, I couldn’t help but admire these students who stood before total strangers and told their stories with ease.
They could communicate the chaos of trying to get projects ready the day before the county fair or chasing their 4-H calves down the road after they broke away from the wash rack. We could laugh with the youngsters. We could cry with them and ponder issues with them as well.
From most surveys, adults hate public speaking, maybe more than a double root canal. Grown men and women, pillars of their communities, admired by their friends and families alike, experience legs of Jello and cracking voices when they are asked to speak in front of a group.
That’s unfortunate. Farmers and rural leaders these days are called on more than ever to be able to communicate their message clearly and concisely. They must speak before urban and rural groups and organizations. They testify before legislative committees. They sell and describe their wares at farmers’ markets. They serve and network on commodity boards and in agriculture organizations. They are required to communicate every day.
That’s why 4-H and FFA public speaking contests are so important. These competitions are training the agriculture leaders of tomorrow to communicate with the public in a way that everyone can understand. My own daughters are far ahead of me in that area. They’ve been participating in the 4-H contests since they were 7 years old.
When I was a teenager, the county 4-H speech contest was huge, with 40 or more participants. The competition was fierce and the winner was admired greatly. Today, we have a difficult time getting a dozen participants. Today, there are too many distractions for kids, and public speaking contests aren’t really on their radar or in their priorities.
But learning how to speak well in public should be. It is a life skill that will serve them well in agriculture or in any profession they might choose.
For my daughters, speaking in public is natural, so they should be at ease as adults. They’ve done it before.
So, I would encourage farm families to nudge their children to participate in speech, demonstration and other communication contests for churches, schools, 4-H, FFA or other school and farm groups. They may not appreciate your insistence now, but down the road they will not have the same fear of speaking as most adults, and they will be better equipped to tell the farm and food story to the next generations of consumers.