I came back to work last week with a renewed sense of optimism as I prepared to sit down and write this week's editorial. A lot of that came from spending a day serving as a judge during this year's U-Bus-2-Us tournament at Mountain Home High School.
Each year, the gathering of motivation speakers representing schools across southern Idaho give the Talkin' Tigers speech and debate team "home field advantage" in terms of competing against so many talented individuals. At the same time, it gives people in our community a chance to see the level of confidence these students have in terms of public speaking by evaluating how these teens perform in a variety of different public speaking venues.
The types of events offered have expanded greatly since I was a member of my own high school public speaking team 32 years ago. Some students reenact the roles of different characters from very funny or very serious screen plays while others try to pitch different products or read from radio broadcast scripts.
That's just the start. An entire day of the two-day tournament here is devoted to several forms of debate. They use very structure formats with students given extremely limited amounts of time to state their case, defend their position and refute the opposing views.
By the time these students compete here, they've already overcome the initial "butterflies in the stomach" they had the first time they had to speak in front of an audience. Take it from someone who suffered from this form of stage fright, that's no small task.
Instead, these students come across as very poised, confident individuals presenting material they are very knowledgeable speaking about. They've conducted countless hours of research to develop their speeches, which doesn't include the time they needed to build their props or other materials they use in their presentations.
Call me sentimental, but I truly enjoyed my three years on my high school's speech and debate team. I started off in an event known as humorous interpretation in which I had to play the role of several characters from the classic television series, "Get Smart."
However, I never quite got the knack of comedic timing and ended up going into extemporaneous and impromptu speaking, which tested how well I could think on my feet with a minimal amount of planning. It was a better fit for my abilities and landed me a seat at the state finals in my senior year of high school.
Things certainly have changed over the past 30 years when it comes to this style of public speaking, although some aspects remain the same.
Competitors come to these tournaments looking like they're preparing to attend a gathering of lawyers or state lawmakers. Nearly all of them come dressed in business suits and dresses with jeans and T-shirts seriously frowned upon.
That emphasis on professional appearance is just one of the disciplines these students accepted when they joined their team. It reminds them of the importance of looking your best when trying to persuade a judge that has to rate their performance against several other competitors, all of whom are battling for that number one ranking.
But that's just the start. Each student is trained in the use of non-verbal cues like proper eye contact with their audience in addition to ensuring their arm gestures and body language are used to emphasize a specific point. With few exceptions, you won't find any of them with their arms crossed or fidgeting on their feet.
What's changed the most over the years are the tools available to today's speech and debate students. In addition to stacks of supporting material, most competitors are armed with a laptop computer containing additional facts and figures to support their case.
To a point, I'm a bit jealous. I would've loved to have the types of material that students today might take for granted. Most of what I relied on came in daily newspaper and monthly news magazines.
Despite these tools, the underlying goal of these speech and debate students is to sway the judges to their position, which sometimes comes with unique challenges. For example, some students will enter the room unaware if they will support a specific position or fight against it until the flip of a coin before the debate begins.
That means that students are required to fully understand both sides of some often very controversial topics. I can't think of a class in school that stresses that type of critical thinking.
And that's just one benefit. In addition, each of these students will use the training they received when they apply for their first job or when they meet with a college admissions officer. Having the experiences of being on a speech and debate team gives them a unique advantage.
Over the years, our Talkin' Tigers have proven themselves to be a very formidable team and remain nationally ranked. Many of them have gone on to compete in state-level competition with a few others qualifying for the right to take on the country's best in national-level events.
On Thursday, the Talkin' Tigers will once again test their mettle as they compete in the district finals, which Mountain Home High School will host for the first time in eight years.
I wish them my very best for continued success.
-- Brian S. Orban