Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Speaking in Front of People

During my Ag Books for Kids presentations, I had a young lady in one second grade classroom shyly ask me if I was nervous standing up in front of all of them and talking. I replied that I wasn't, and she asked why. I told her that a lot of it was because I started talking in front of people at her age, through livestock judging. You could tell she was having a hard time grasping not being nervous when speaking in front of other people, and it reminded me of myself at that age.
I was eight years old, and very shy, when I attended my first local 4-H livestock judging practice. I didn't know what to expect, and was quite taken with this form of comparing and judging pens of four heifers, bulls, lambs, hogs, etc... I soaked up the lessons taught that day like a sponge.
To provide a little insight, when you judge livestock, there are four head in a class. There are beef, sheep and swine classes. You place each class from best to worst, based on physical quality, and genetic potential in some instances. You are given 12-15 minutes to judge each class, then you hand in a card with your placing and name. Each class is worth a maximum of 50 points, depending on how you placed it compared the official.
Then came my first set of oral reasons. Reasons are just as they sound, you tell an official a practiced verbal speech on why you placed the class you did. There is a specific guideline in how you tell the speech, but each set primarily comprised of unique details and comparisons from that particular class. During your 12-15 minutes of judging, you also need to take notes for any classes you're giving reasons on, so you can prepare an accurate set. You will judge all the classes, then at our local judgings we would break for lunch, then come back for reasons. By the time you've judged 10 classes, you will want your notes to remember individual animals from hours ago, Especially since there is no going back to look at them again.
Prior to giving your reasons, you will be provided 10-20 minutes to prepare, depending on where your name falls in the order that people are giving them. Each set of reasons is also worth a maximum 50 points, and the official will score a person on their ability to communicate their decision, how well they saw each animal in the class, how smooth their speaking is, how long the set was, and how well they picked up on all the various comparable facets of the four animals.
So, you can score very low on a class and very high on a set of reasons on the same class, or vice versa, depending on how well you speak and how well you saw things. If you saw the class correctly, and placed it very differently from the official, and can effectively explain why you placed it that way, reasons may be a good way to help offset blowing the placing.
Some people teach kids to give what are called "canned reasons," where they just memorize one set of reasons, and say it for every set, only changing what species of livestock they're talking about. I despise canned reasons because they don't actually teach you to verbally defend your judging choice, and have scored kids very very low for giving them to me.
Sorry, off my soapbox, and back to my first set of oral reasons. I had done my very best placing this class of Hereford bulls, and was having fun. I practiced hard, but was pretty confused by all the guidelines you're supposed to follow when giving reasons. Then I had to walk into a room, all by myself, and tell my reasons to none other than the owner of the bull (I didn't know that at the time). Alone, just me and him. Talk about pressure. I made it through, and the man spent several minutes helping me improve for future sets afterward.
Long story short, I went on to judge livestock for 11 years in the 4-H program , then in college, and have probably given thousands of sets of reasons over the years. Judging paid for half my college, and allowed me to see over half of the U.S. while traveling to various judging contests. It also enabled me to overcome my shyness and nervousness when speaking in front of people. It's done the same for thousands of other people as well.
I can still clearly remember how scared stiff and nervous I was that first day, during that first set. It's hard at eight years to make what is considered a big decision when judging a class in 12 minutes, write down correct and accurate notes, then review those notes hours later and prepare a speech on them in another 12 minutes.
But, I can confidently say that learning how to make a good decision based on the big picture and the little details, then be able to verbally back it in a clear, concise and accurate manner, are skills that have greatly impacted my life, and will continue to do so. After a while it becomes habit, and something you can do with almost any decision in life.
I recommend getting young kids involved in livestock meat, vegetable and/or wool judging often when people ask me about helping improve kids confidence, speaking ability, future college choices and their decision making abilities (not that I'm asked every day, but it happens from time to time). I do fully realize that a good deal of my judging based success is directly related to the quality of the program I was involved in, which was superb. But, there are quality teachers in numerous 4-H programs and FFA chapters across the country, and exposing kids to 4-H and/or FFA, and to judging livestock, meats, wool or other things, is a great way to help them learn critical life skills that will give them a leg up their entire life. It's also fun : )


  1. you are invited to follow my blog

  2. I think I like your writing so much because it reminds me of what's should be doing! I consider myself a writer but I am very out of practice and very lazy! I love that you find the simplest inspirations and expand on them simply to share your experiences with us. Thanks for the boost...I think I will be getting to submitting a piece to our ranch wife diary section in our local paper now!