Last October I had the unique experience of competing in public speaking at the National FFA Convention. I spoke about the topic of the gluten-free diet and how its increasing popularity affects agriculture. I ended up making the top sixteen and then being eliminated after the semi-finals; however, the experience and journey I had through researching, writing, practicing, and competing with this speech taught me many expected and some surprising lessons.
First and foremost, I learned what it meant to truly pour hard work, time, and your soul into something you are passionate about. Shortly before competing at National Convention, I remember printing my manuscript, and for some reason the details about the document popped up. It showed that from state convention in June to August I had spent over 20 hours editing the document itself. That was only the fifth or sixth version of my speech I had created. I spent my free time looking for new or updated articles about the gluten-free diet. I practiced my speech in front of my friends, teachers, advisors, and even several adults in my community. My speech was my baby, and I became passionate about my topic. I even tried the gluten-free diet for a week to gain perspective.
The next lesson I learned was about advocating for agriculture. I learned how to write a speech that could draw the attention of people who might not normally care to listen. I learned how to be sensitive to peoples’ beliefs but still offer the facts. I addressed crowds of people with different backgrounds and different beliefs about agriculture. My favorite part was answering the judges questions, because most of the time they seemed genuinely interested in learning about my topic versus asking questions to fill the five minute question slot of time.
Finally, I learned how to learn from my mistakes. With each practice and competition, I learned something to make my content or presentation better. Some mistakes were harder to learn from than others. In the middle of my finals round at State Convention, I froze for what seemed like forever in the middle of my speech on stage. Although I was able to find my place and continue, I learned about what kind of mental mindset it takes to give an eight-minute speech straight from memory. I used to be scared of public speaking, so it took incredible courage for me to stand up in front of so many crowds.
I met some incredible people and learned some valuable lessons through my yearlong journey in the prepared public speaking competition. I learned what it truly meant to be passionate about something, how to make myself a better agriculture advocate, and how to learn from my mistakes. Oh, and I might have gotten over my fear of public speaking after hours and hours of speaking in front of crowds. Overall, it was an experience that I will never forget.