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4-H and Presentation Success | Mary Biever | One Writing Mother

4-H and Presentation Success

One of the most important lessons I work to teach public speaking students is flexibility. They need to change on a dime and keep going.

This week, when Vanderburgh’s 4-H Tech Club team rehearsed to give presentations at a state meeting, I distracted them during rehearsals. There were times I walked across the back of the room, clapped my hands, jumped, or gave them funny looks while speaking.

It’s a deliberate technique I use while coaching speakers to give them experience maintaining their focus during presentations. Each presentation experience presents its own challenges, and we frequently cannot anticipate what those challenges will be until they happen.  Learning to maintain focus prepares speakers for unexpected challenges.

These kids were not only flexible but found ways to solve problems. When we arrived at the hotel the night before presentations, we tried to figure out where we could do a final rehearsal. One of the youngest team members scoped the front of the hotel, talked to the hotel clerk, and got permission for us to use a meeting room free of charge that night for a rehearsal. As luck would have it, the room they rehearsed in that night was the same size as the one they presented in the next morning. As team members held computer parts and demonstrated their use, they found ways to help each other and turn equipment to give a better presentation.

The team members adapted what they said and when they said it whenever needed. They listened to our suggestions and found ways to improve their presentation but still keep it as their own and not ours. As slideshow photos were switched and timings tweaked, the team kept their focus. If they felt stress in those final adjustments, they didn’t show it.

As this team rehearsed, I didn’t anticipate when we got to the actual room that the setup we had carefully prepared would be completely flipped. Team members used to showing something on their right had to switch to their left, and vice versa. When we got to the room and realized they would have to reverse everything they had practiced, I said nothing but mentally kicked myself for not having them practice both ways.

However, they made it work and took the switch in stride. After a quick rehearsal with the new setup, they began the presentations, giving the same demonstration to 4 different groups, to a total of 110 adults.

No one in the audiences would have guessed they had flipped their presentation.

What was their secret to success? 4-H had prepared them well. They all had several years of experience giving demonstrations at the county level. Three of the five team members had also competed at state 4-H demonstration contests. One team member had competed in state level judging contests.

Most remarkably, they have had those experiences at such young ages.

The Tech presentation team ranged in ages from twelve to sixteen. I wonder how they will use those experiences later in life.

They give me hope for all our futures. And they remind me that when we set a bar of high expectations, and it is met, great things happen.


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