Since 1926 4-H Manitoba has made public speaking training part of club participation — and young participants say they truly benefit from it
If the little girl in a blue dress enthusing about Smurfs at last spring’s 4-H provincial public speaking competition had a case of the jitters, she didn’t let it show.
Hallie Scott, nine, delighted her audience and judges, and the first-place trophy she won in the Junior One-Person Visual category in Winnipeg that day now sits proudly in her bedroom at home in McCreary.
She learned she’d have to write and make a speech when she joined the Busy Hands 4-H Club.
“I wasn’t happy about it,” said Scott. “Because I was scared to do it.”
But she faced her fears, first getting up before an audience at the Ladies Legion Hall in town, and then at Regionals in Ste. Rose. Mom Tammie Scott remembers her daughter’s reaction when the judges called her name at the Provincials.
“I think she was very surprised,” said Tammie. “And then she was very, very proud.”
I have something to say
In Notre Dame, 12-year-old Sarah de Baets of Somerset’s Combined 4-H Club earned the top prize in the Junior Public Speaking category. Her topic was a straw bale house on her family’s farm near Notre Dame. She memorized her speech and said giving it wasn’t “really as hard as it seems.“
“I do enjoy it,” said de Baets. “I get rather nervous, but once I’m up there I’m fine. And it just kind of makes me feel that I have something to say and that people will listen.”
There’s a lesson there for grown-ups.
“One of the No. 1 fears that adults have is speaking in front of a crowd,” said Julie Labossiere, 4-H Manitoba’s communications chairperson and organizer of the yearly provincial competition which rotates between Brandon, Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie.
“Being able to speak in front of people, about a topic they’re passionate about… we think it’s really important to teach members (about that) at an early age.”
Those involved in the competition say learning to speak in front of a living, breathing audience offers something that tweeting, blogging, and online blustering never will. Public speaking has been central to 4-H programs in Manitoba since 1926, while the provincial competition dates back to 1947 and remains a popular event to this day.
The result is untold numbers of young people, just like Hallie and Sarah, transformed from trembling next-in-lines to confident young public speakers.
“It’s really one of our cornerstones of the 4-H program itself,” said Labossiere.
Speakers at all competition levels are judged on a points system, but what makes a winner is an ability to connect with listeners. Labossiere, also a 4-H leader at Lorette and Ile des Chenes, sees that happen all the time. It’s amazing to watch and listen to these young people, she said.
“They are proud to present and share their stories with their audiences,” she said. “I get the sense they really enjoy it and they really enjoy the competition. They work hard and they really want to be there.”
The confidence they gain can last a lifetime, she added.
“Public speaking is a highly transferable skill,” she said.
St. Francois Xavier’s Fiona Jochum, 18, placed first in the 2012 Senior One-Person Visual category. Her presentation was on the need to wear a helmet to prevent sport-related head injuries.
The longtime member of Rosser Guys and Gals Club said having had to do a speech every year has helped her learn to channel her nervous energy.
“I still get butterflies because you don’t know how it’s going to go,” she said. “But once I start my speech, I forget about those worries and just start talking about my topic.”
She said she is grateful to 4-H for this training.
“It has certainly helped me in school when you have to give presentations and talk to the class,” she said. “You know how to enunciate. That’s good for sure. And it just gives you confidence, even in carrying on regular conversations or meeting new people.”
Mikayla Ruus agrees. The 15-year-old Ile des Chenes teen took first in the Intermediate Speech category for a talk about braces. She said she felt “the most nervous ever in my life.”
“But aside from how shaky my hands were, my voice was steady,” she said, adding her confidence and self-esteem grows with every presentation.
“Even in any other activity where I’m asked to go up in front of people, I’m way more confident,” she said.
In recognition of 4-H Canada’s 100th anniversary in 2013, Farm Credit Canada is planning a special Centennial Public Speaking Program and will award $500 to the winner in each age category at provincial competitions.
The event draws many dynamic young people, said Ted Young, a past president of the Canadian 4-H Council and now with the Canadian Young Speakers for Agriculture program.
And it is also key leadership training, said Young.
“A leader needs to be able to speak publicly. You have to be able to articulate, and succinctly and clearly speak to the issues.”
4-H Manitoba is gearing with the rest of the country to celebrate the 100th anniversary of 4-H in 2013. This is an occasional feature that will focus on the program and its achievements in its Manitoba birthplace.