Guest Blog- A Letter to the Disappointed, By: Anna Johansen

This article was originally posted on ethosdebate.com by Anna Johansen. Anna is an NCFCA Alumni with a great perspective! She wrote this article after a Regional Championship.  I am blessed to be able to share her message with you all… I think this is a message that needs to be shared, especially after Nationals…

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Guest Post- 2016 NCFCA Impromptu Champion

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Abbey Lovett competed in Speech and Debate for many years, before becoming The NCFCA National Champion in 2016. Abbey is also a fellow blogger, you can visit her blogs at: https://lovettup.com/ Here is her perspective from The NCFCA 2016 National Championship last year…

I waited backstage for the moment to come. My heart was racing. I couldn’t decide if I was about to pass out or throw up. This was it, the showcase of excellence. I walked onstage to greet a cheering audience of 1,500 people.

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Guest Post- Gina Reynolds- Impromptu for Life

My friend, Gina Reynolds, blessed us with this post. Being able to think on your feet is a life skill. However, it is a pet-peeve of mine… When competitors decide to compete in Impromptu- and they do NOT practice! Do not be one of those people who only participate in Impromptu at a Speech Tournament. In order to master this skill you need to practice. I would not allow my child or a competitor to compete in Impromptu (which is typically wait listed) unless they practiced. Gina gives great practical advice…

Impromtu For Life… By: Gina Reynolds

You know, I just love a good quote. Quotes can be great discussion starters, provide inspiration and be motivational. What’s more: they are perfect for practicing impromptu speaking.

One of my favorite quotes of all time, Robert Frost said, “Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” 

Why would you or your students want to practice Impromptu speaking? Simple answer: to develop better thinking and speaking skills. Actually, I have found it is an incredible way to develop strong thinking skills. Developing the speaking skills is just a bonus!

Practically speaking, thinking “on our feet” is a skill we all need in life. Have you ever been at a bridal shower and been called out by someone sweetly asking, “…would you give the blessing?” Quick, think! Or how about at a church prayer meeting when the pastor asks, “…would you mind sharing with the group how your Aunt Matilda is doing?” Wow, how do I begin? Maybe, it’s in a more formal setting, like a job interview where you get a question you hadn’t anticipated. You think, how do I answer this? All the while trying to think of a way to verbally stall without rambling!

So how do you practice impromptu speaking with your students or children? It’s simple. Find some “topics” and let them chose one to speak on (see the pdf below.) Then give them a short time, we use two minutes to “prep” for a (hopefully) 5 minute speech. At first it seems daunting, but the more they do it, the better they will get!

What should they do in their “prep” time? Write a bullet point outline. It’s just like writing a regular speech or paper. Have an intro, that hopefully catches attention. Move on to usually 3 main points, each with some sort of illustration or story to support it and finally conclude. This is not the time to write out complete sentences, but encourage words or short phrases that will jog their memory.

Now, put your paper down and give the speech. What? Put the paper down? Yes. Here’s another skill that can be developed through Impromptu speaking, visual recall.

Visual recall will become very important to students, especially if they move on to college. It’s the act of “seeing” what they wrote on the paper, actually visualizing it in their head. Writing notes also helps your brain remember it. It’s really interesting how just writing things down works, but I digress. If you want to know more check out this article on Why We Remember What We Write. Just the fact that your student wrote it down, even if they never look at the paper again, will help them remember their points and stories.

I must confess, I have been slacking. I’m on my last student in our homeschool and we haven’t been doing a lot of creative or fun things. Well this morning I did some long overdue “teacher prep” and made my daughter some new impromptu practice slips. She’s going to love them, they are Dr. Seuss quotes! One of her favorite quotes of all time is , “A persons, a person no matter how small.” Dr. Seuss. I’ve included a pdf download in case you want to use them too. We might as well make the learning fun!

Now, once you’re hooked on the benefits of Impromptu speaking it’s time to polish and hone your skills with us in the NCFCA (National Christian Forensics and Communications Association) and compete in Impromptu. More on that next time….

Gina Reynolds is the wife to Chris for 28 years and the homeschool mother to Logan (23), Taylor (20), Ariel (18) and Lexie (16). She enjoys encouraging and helping other homeschool moms by leading a local co-op, speaking at conventions and women’s events, vrepresenting Total Language Plus curriculum for the states of MI/IN/OH and IL, coaching speech and debate, and blogging on various subjects of interest to many homeschool families (http://ginareynolds.com.)

Students’ Perspective- NC- The Largest Qualifier

Some of may or may not have noticed… There was no blog post last week! Perhaps you were like so many Speech and Debate families and you headed to Black Mountain, NC, for one of the largest NCFCA Speech and Debate Tournaments!! Almost 400 homeschoolers/competitors gathering to tackle 11 different Speech categories and three types of Debate! Kristi and I had the pleasure of judging almost 200 students! Believe me- I wasn’t on vacation, although I had a blast! We both did! I am always so blessed with how God is working with in these students. It is amazing what IMPACT they are having!

We could write a post all about what the Lord taught US… But we thought it might be more fun to let you see what God was doing in the lives of those who were were able to attend and compete… We asked the question…

What did God teach you at NC- the largest NCFCA Qualifier of the season?

J- (student)- Humility. NC is such a big tournament and it’s humbling to see so many other talented individuals competing. It was such a refreshing and enjoyable tournament.

L- (student)- ….that even after you fall out of the competition- you can still learn! And if you don’t do as well as you had hoped, you have to go home, work hard, put in the effort, and come back stronger than ever. Working hard at something and giving it your all will have much more lasting and beneficial results, rather than getting any trophy.

G- (student)- That there’s still more to learn.
The unknown competition and different judge pool made the massive tournament even more intimidating. I didn’t recognize any of the people in my rooms, it was (for lack of a better word) scary. As everyone went through the motions, breaks were upon us sooner than later. Many people who were expected to break did… Not.
As I got more comfortable talking to outside Regions and take in account my ballots, I see that there is a whole other style of communication and we must adapt to it. I’m not saying there’s this secret code we have to learn, but that we must be willing to change our ways to properly communicate to others.
I’m still learning how reach people through my words, and NC helped me get a little closer.

J- (student)- I learned the importance of being likeable to the judge, in general (smiling, using humor in debate, for example); and remembering, from the beginning, the judge is in the room.

Z- (student)- You can achieve your goals when you set your priorities and apply yourself with hard work. After a disappointment at a Regional Qualifier,  I was feeling very upset, and not certain of what to do about it, before the NC Open. But then I remembered that the main purpose of my competing was not to win tournaments, to bring home medals, or to receive popularity because of my success, but to glorify God through my conduct towards others and in the way I compete. When I had that mindset while preparing for the North Carolina national open I found that I was able to perform better and to be more comfortable in tournament while presenting. Not only that but when I had a bad round I was able to remind myself that as long as I glorified God I had achieved my goal. By the end of the tournament I did better than I ever thought I would. I couldn’t have been happier with my personal performance and I feel like having my priorities straight and working hard during the tournament were big components to my success. And it served as a reminder to me to never give up, and to always give God the glory for my success to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat.

H- (student)- How easy it can be to get complacent in your own region and how easy it can be to begin to expect certain things that you really should never take for granted. For instance, breaking in debate or people agreeing with you on certain speech topics, or even people just enjoying your speaking style. It’s incredibly natural for those things to begin to be so normal to you that you fail to appreciate them. Being at a National Open really shook that up for me and gave me a broader perspective on NCFCA.

G- (student)- Sometimes the best thing to before a round is take some time by yourself to relax and focus. If you’re feeling nervous before a round or even the entire tournament just remember that if you focus on the competition you will usually be in a good head space to perform well. Take a few deep breathes and make the competition your priority. Also, I found one of the best ways to make yourself and the judges comfortable before any speech is to simply… Smile. show them those pearly whites. I noticed not enough students smile before they give a speech. I watched several from different categories and none of the performers utilized that time before the speech to make a connection with the judge. You’re influencing that judge from the moment you walk into that room. Give it your all, not from the start of your speech but from the moment you walk into that room.

N- (student)- …that in order to be more passionate and engaging when giving a platform speech you have to think of your speech as a conversation. Be excited about what you are talking about!

H- (student)- …learning to accept constructive criticism with thankfulness. I am learning to be kinder and striving to mentor the youngest competitors in debate rounds. I am challenging myself to be focused under pressure despite unforeseen distractions.

We are constantly in AWE of what God is doing through Speech and Debate! Love these kids! Love our God!

Guest Post- Julie Sanders- Giving Feedback

At almost every tournament I go to, people don’t feel qualified to judge. Spectators say to me, “I’m not qualified to judge,” or, “I don’t know what to write,” or even “You can find someone else better to judge, rather than me.” Parents, can also, often feel the same way- whether they are judging at a tournament, giving feedback at club, or working with their own student! My friend, Julie Sanders spoke to the moms of her club on the value of giving feedback. She and her family participated in Speech and Debate for 8 years with their three boys. “I learned and gained so much from our time with NCFCA.” Here is what she had to say on giving feedback…

“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Prov. 27:6

Why do we need feedback?

We need to give constructive feedback to our children/students/competitors so they will learn and grow as communicators. How else are they going to grow? Feedback gives us a connection between what we are doing and saying (something we have control over) and the impression we are making on the audience (something we don’t have control over). Feedback gives insight on whether we are hitting or missing the mark. When it is given in the right spirit, we can improve in areas in which we may or may not be aware of our weakness. Just like having spinach in your teeth, you want to know about it, even if it’s embarrassing or uncomfortable. While many moms feel insecure to give feedback, we can help the students through being uncomfortable and learn to do better next time.

Critique vs. Criticize.

Critique is to evaluate (a theory or practice) in a detailed and analytical way. Not ignoring the good points, a critique is a thoughtful, detailed evaluation. Criticize is to indicate the faults of someone or something in a disapproving way. You criticize when you state your opinion with no positives.

My friend and speech coach, Tim Downs says, “Work with what they’ve got – don’t overturn what they’ve done. Find something in what they are doing that you can improve upon. You don’t want to recreate someone in your own image. Don’t want to say, ‘What you’re doing is wrong, so I’m replacing it.’ Don’t do it.”

How to Share Critique

Give OREO critiques – sandwich the suggestions between two positives.

First give one positive and be encouraging, even if the only thing the student did well was to stand in front of you and say a few words. Oftentimes, I point out that the first time is the hardest time. Now that’s behind them! Don’t give empty flattery (i.e. an enemy’s kisses). Don’t say it’s good if it’s not. The students need to know where they stand to learn and grow.

Positive observations need to be:

Specific – articulate the specific gesture, bit of content or moment where the student did well (i.e. I liked when you smiled when you talked about your dog. You really looked sincere.)
Personal – talk about the way you felt as an audience member. Let the student know the impact he/she made on you.

We all have areas to improve and have blind spots (i.e. wounds of a friend). Knowing what to work on helps us to focus our energies on where to improve. It also keeps us humble. Be careful not to make it so the student feels like a failure.

Needs Work Suggestions need to be:

Specific – articulate what exactly needs work, not generalities (i.e. Say “Your eyes need to stay focused on one person for a complete thought,” NOT “You need to work on your eye contact.”) This even applies to seasoned communicators.
Objective – ask questions about what you observe to draw out the feeling of the student. Talk about the element, not the person or how the speech made you feel. (i.e. Say “Your gestures need to be bigger and more descriptive, NOT “You looked nervous,” or “I didn’t feel like you really meant what you said.”)

Finish with another “Well Done!” or reiterate the first praise with sincerity.

When a student comes to you for feedback, ask him what he wants help with. It’s usually too much to try to tackle delivery and content in one coaching session. Either way, when you’ve given some feedback, have him repeat his speech with improvements—applying the things you’ve suggested. With experience, comes confidence. Give students a safe place to build confidence.

How to Give Feedback on Delivery

Subtle messages are passed to our audience through the non-verbal communication of your delievery. Many communication theorists would say non-verbals are close to 90% of all communication. Through your feedback, you want to help students get rid of distracting non-verbal habits so the message of their speech comes across unhindered. It’s easier to coach delievery if you break it down into parts. Two primary aspects of non-verbal delivery (there are others) are:

Eye Contact – Coach the student to deliver one thought or phrase per person. If he shifts eyes during a thought, he will undermine his effectiveness as a speaker. That’s the first place to start with anyone. Solid eye contact builds confidence in the speaker and keeps the audience engaged during the speech.

Incorrect eye contact includes scanning the room, looking at someone briefly and darting back again, and looking only at one person.

Movement – Coach students to move purposefully. Move at the start of a point or during a transition from one point to the next. The student can also move to emphasize a point for clarity. Be sure to have the student start and finish her speech “center stage.” Stand with straight posture, arms at her sides, feet apart about shoulder width and even distribution of body weight.

Incorrect body movement includes swaying, shifting weight, standing on one foot, sticking the heel or hip out. Help students become aware of annoying habits and train them to stand still and speak.

To help coach a student with movement, so it looks natural, have her practice like this. First, ask her to stand in the center to deliever the introduction. At the beginning of the first point, she needs to make eye contact and then walk toward a person in the audience to the right or left. This provides connection with that person and helps him understand the point. It also gives the speaker a reason to walk – to make a connection. Then the speaker should stay in that general area of the stage while she is sharing an example or story to illustrate the point. Her eye contact can move naturally to other people on that side of the room.

At the start of the next point, coach the speaker to look at a person on the other side of the room and walk toward that person while speaking. She should stay there while illustrating that second point, making eye contact with others in that area. In general, if they let their eyes drive the movement, it will look natural and will support their content, not detract from it.
How to Critique Content — Platform Speech

Consider the Audience – Many times students chose a topic for a speech based on what they like. Help them realize that “what they like” is a good place to start, but if they stop there, they will be neglecting one of the primary reasons to give a speech. To communicate means to “have something in common.” So when we communicate through a speech, we are seeking to have something in common with our judges by the end of the speech. We will only accomplish that when we get our audience to care about our topic.

So coach your students by asking, “Why do I care about this?” Help the student to understand how to make you care by asking questions.

For example, if you have student come to you for coaching and he wants to give an Informative on video games and how to play them. You could ask, “Why should parent judges care about videos games?” He could answer, “Well, they should care about what makes their kids happy. Or maybe they care about ways to connect with their kids while gaming.” You could say, “That’s a great point! Parents do want to learn ways to connect with their kids. Can you think of other ways to help parents learn how to connect with their kids?”

Now, you’ve coached that student on his topic and taken it from something only he is interested in to something a parent judge could be interested in.

Make a Point – Just sharing examples of something isn’t giving a speech. Brainstorm with students to figure out what to say. Tie the story to the points. The speeches need to challenge, inform, or persuade the audience. Understanding is the responsibility of the speaker. As the coach, you get to help them make sure their speech connects and makes sense so their audience understands them.

They can practice with Impromptu as a mini version of a 10-minute speech. Students should have 2-3 points for their topic. Then, they need examples to illustrate their points. They could tell a personal story or use examples from books, news, etc. Be sure the examples connect to their points. If your students aren’t making clear points in the impromptu, talk this through with them, then have them try again.

In conclusion, don’t forget to tell your students the things they are doing well. Tell them often the things you’d like to see more of. Encourage the good; correct the distracting, but only as the students feels comfortable. This will help them to own their work. The goal is to help our students improve—providing specific, objective feedback and giving them time and space to practice the new skills. Learning comes through practice and as coaches, we are charged with making sure the learning is done in a safe, encouraging place.

It starts with feedback.

Duo Interpretation- Tips from AJ Neumann

In honor of our new release- The Ultimate Duo Handbook... An Essential Guide to Duo Interpretation. Here is an excerpt of the book...

AJ Neumann participated in Speech and Debate for five years. Each of those years he participated in Duo Interpretation. It was one of favorite Speech categories. Four out of the five years, he had FOUR different duo partners. He qualified to the National Championship in Duo Interpretation four years in a row, with three of those four partners.

AJ describes his Duo partnerships, how they came to be, and what valuable lessons he learned through each one of them...

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What’s in a Name: The One Thing Juliet Got Right

By: Anna Johansen

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I stood at the double doors clutching a blue folder in my nervous hands, already overwhelmed. There were hundreds of teenagers in there– confident, talented, experienced, suit-wearing, future-lawyer-type speakers and debaters. Over 400 of them. The girls wore heels and curls and lipstick; the guys hauled briefcases full of debate evidence and articles from the Economist.

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Guest Post- Competition- Should we all win? By: Gina Reynolds

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As we move into the season where some organizations are preparing for Regionals, others Nationals… Another level of competition never-the-less. Regardless of what happens next it is an accomplishment to make it thus far. Can you imagine if it was all just over- no play-offs, no award ceremony, no finish line… Here is the perspective of my dear friend, Gina Reynolds…

By: Gina Reynolds

I recently encountered an attitude that really frustrated me. I guess I should not be surprised in this day and age of changed curriculum and tolerance. We are supposed to applaud everyone, and there are no winners or losers, right?!!? Seriously, this type of thinking is so flawed.

You may be able to try to take competition out of the classrooms, shelter your kids from the “pain”, work to suppress the natural desire to succeed, or portray an attitude that you don’t care but why would you try to do this?

Competition is not only helpful, the American way and all that, but also a very Biblical principle.

1 Corinthians 9:24 ESV “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.”

The writer here is talking about a broader subject but assumes as a universal principle that if you enter a race you do so to win. You are “competing”; it is a given. Our very nature tells us to succeed and do our best. It’s part of life.

We are to strive to do our best. The Bible tells us in 1 Cor. 10:31 ESV, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” I’ve had this one up on my kitchen wall for years. And yes, the writer was talking about food for idols but the principle remains. We are to strive to “glorify” God. Does it really glorify God if we don’t “run is such a way as to win?”

God wants and expects our best. No, we will not always “win”, but if we strive for that we are constantly improving and “doing our best”. It’s a principle I like to call Excellence.

It reminds me of the saying, “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”

But can we do things “excellently” apart from competition? Sure, it may be possible. But I have to tell you, if I know I’m bringing my Apple Pie to the fair for judging I am more careful that my crust looks perfect than if I’m serving it for Sunday dinner. Maybe it’s just me, but I seriously doubt it!

I’ve seen it in teaching speech to students. When it’s just for a class the students are not as motivated to turn out an “excellent” speeches, but when they are required to give it at a competition their level of time and effort to do well goes up significantly.

So PLEASE don’t pretend you are not competing when you are, don’t pretend you don’t care, and certainly don’t act like you are all spiritual for having these attitudes. Most certainly please don’t criticize others who are striving to win. God does want us to run in such a way as to win, so go for it!

Iron does sharpen iron, so don’t let yourself get rusty.

Gina Reynolds is the wife to Chris for 28 years and the homeschool mother to Logan (23), Taylor (20), Ariel (19), and Lexie (16). She enjoys encouraging and helping other homeschool moms by leading a local co-op, speaking at conventions and women’s events, vrepresenting Total Language Plus curriculum for the states of MI/IN/OH and IL, coaching speech and debate, and blogging on various subjects of interest to many homeschool families (http://ginareynolds.com.)