Wednesday, May 13, 2009


(Explanation: I had a rough idea for a maybe persuasive speech kicking around in my head. So, today, I sat down and I tried to write it. And then, as I was writing, I thought to myself "hey self, if you plan on doing NaNoWriMo this summer, you better figure out if you even can." And myself was like "Whatever." So, I decided to see if I could actually write 1667 words in one day.

So, this is both a rough draft of a speech for next year (maybe) and a test. It's 1899 words, and it took about two and a half hours (with a break for making funny videos with Jay). I don't know why I'm posting it here, probably to get your input, because I really value your input. Also, it's obviously to long for a speech (that was the point though) and it rambles. So this is sort of a test, to see if what I'm capable of putting out (without editing) is going to be complete crap or not. Oh yes, and please don't read it if you have better things you should be doing, like prepping for nats or writing a novel. Thanks, it would make me feel bad if I felt that you had been prevented from productive activity by reading what I wrote. Remember, this blog is for me, not you.)

In the National Christian Forensics and Communication Association, what basically happens is this: Kids go into a room, give their speech, get ballots, make their speech better, and repeat. You see, in the NCFCA, we're being taught the skill of presentation. We learn how control our voice and our movements so that our audience finds what we are saying to be aesthetically appealing. We're taught to be convincing, to be logical, essentially... we're taught to “sound good”. As judges, it's your job to decide how “good” we “sound”. You weigh factors like our originality, our development of the intellectual and emotional aspects of our topic, our eye contact. Your job is to critique how we present our speech. Our methods, our styles, our presentation. You critique what we are saying.

Now, before we proceed, let me first say that I think the league does a good job teaching a good skill. I think that learning to “sound good” is important, if you sound bad, nobody wants to listen to you. I think that the league does well at this task of developing the how of presentation.

With that in mind, I do feel I have an honest critique of the league as a whole, my fellow competitors, myself, and all who seek to learn how to present effectively. And that is this: Don't lose sight of the goal.

What I mean is this: The real world want's more than just a skilled presenter. They want a skilled presenter with a message. People care about what you are saying, and why you are saying it. The how is important, but more so are the what, and the why.

Maybe this concept is a little hard to grasp, so I'll provide some examples.

Because of my participation in the league, I've learned valuable presentation skills. Now, I can do two things with those skills, I can continue using them to make speeches that “sound good” and win trophies at tournaments... or I can take those skills to the real world and make speeches that “sound good” but have a message behind them. One way that I've been able to do so is with my robotics team. The coaches all know that I participated in speech and debate, and as a result, I'm the guy that always gets asked to represent the team at awards presentations, fundraising events, and demonstrations. Now, because I participated in NCFCA, this isn't really that hard for me. Because I learned how to present, I've been presented with opportunities to present. But the speeches that I'm giving aren't competition speeches. Nobody who listens to me is there to critique my vocal rate and pitch, they're there to hear what I have to say and learn why I'm saying it. When with my FRC team, I'm presenting to help our team, that's why. I'm not doing it to get trophies or to get feedback on my presentation skills. In this way, public speaking is actually very different from what goes on in the NCFCA. When speaking in public, the real public, we are communicating messages for the sake of the message. In the NCFCA, even as I give this speech, we are constantly conscious of how we present.

Perhaps another example demonstrating how important the why behind public speaking is appropriate. Although a rather overused example, this one is also a pretty good one. And that is Adolf Hitler. Everybody recognizes that Hitler was an accomplished public speaker. He had the ability to sway people with his words, and it was that power that allowed him to lead the Nazi movement. Hitler was a skilled presenter who “sounded good”, he had mastered the art of the how. But the what and the why.
...The what and the why were messages of racial superiority, conquest, domination, hate, war. Imagine if Hitler had had the what and the why in the right place. Imagine if he had used his presentation abilities for good. Imagine that, a movement with the strength of the Nazi movement, but for humanitarian aid, or for ending AIDs in Africa, or for political reform. That is what Hitler had the power to do, he had the means, he had the how. But he didn't.

Now, I'm not suggesting that the NCFCA is training up a bunch of Hitlers. Hah, so far from it. The very NCFCA mission statement says that the league is all about helping students to learn and exercise analytical and oratorical skills, addressing life issues from a Biblical world view in a manner that glorifies God. (NCFCA Mission statement)

But, I think that here in the NCFCA we sort of take the why and the what for granted. We just assume that nobody is going to turn out like Hitler. And I think, if we use that extreme, it's a safe assumption. But we also make assumptions that the people here are going to go on and do great things. Maybe that isn't such a great assumption. So what can we do?

Take your skills into the real world. It can be scary. I know that when I first started presenting outside of the competitive arena, I wasn't really sure how to respond. You have a whole different audience, they're listening to what you're saying, not how you're saying it. They're want to hear why you're doing what you're doing, not how well you do it. Some people might be inclined to think that there is less pressure, because there's no competition. To that, I have only to say that if competition is providing you with pressure, you need to reevaluate your why. In a way, the real world has more pressure, because your cause means something. Of course scholarships are an exception, they are equally concerned with the how and the what. But when you're actually just talking with people...

There's a difference between presentation and communication. I think that the NCFCA teaches presentation skills. I come in this room, I give my speech, and I leave. It's my job to talk, and your job to listen (I hope you're not done before I am). But communication is a two way street. It doesn't work if only one of us does the talking. I'm not communicating right now. I'm presenting.

Communication on the other hand means that both of us are presenter and audience. We're both talking and both listening. And it doesn't work if both of us don't do both things. Communication skills involve more than just presentation, they involve listening. Not everybody does NCFCA, not everybody has been trained to present well. So you have to be a skilled listener.

Now, due to the rules of the NCFCA, every word I say must be pre-scripted, which means that I have no choice but to present. If I asked you a question, I could wait for you to answer. But I couldn't respond to your answer. In this way, it's really impossible for us to communicate with each other, the only thing I can do is send your messages. It's one way communication, which is no real communication at all. And so, I'm not being taught to communicate the way the real world communicates. In debate, of course, this is a different story, but even there, the communication is focused on the how and not the why or what.

(The only exception, is Lincoln Douglas debate. Lincoln Douglas debate is all about the why. The discussion of ideas. Because it is so much shorter, the quick back and forth more closely simulates communication than presentation. Unfortunately, because the ideas discussed often are difficult to explain, the short time often makes it impossible for judges to fully grasp the ideas being discussed. For this reason, Lincoln Douglas debate is often judged based on who “sounded good”, rather than who's ideas were the most sound. This is neither the fault of the judge, nor (in many cases) the debaters, it is simply due to the fact that philosophy is by nature more complex to understand, and therefor requires more time to understand.)

But I digress. Let me attempt to condense the thoughts presented thus far.

First and foremost it is my observation that the NCFCA teaches presentation skills rather than communication skills, regardless of what it's name might say. The very system that this league is based on, the competition model, is judged based on how students present, now that they present or why they present.

Secondly, it is my observation that when speaking in public outside of the league, the reason that you speak, the why is of far more importance than how you present. People show more interest in your message then they do in how you give it.

Thirdly, as a side note, I agree that presentation skills are important. As the example of Hitler clearly shows, the ability to present effectively carries with it great power. But only the message that you present or the reason you present will determine if that power is used for good.

And so, what needs to change? I challenge my fellow competitors, evaluate why you are saying what you are saying. If it is to win trophies, something needs to change. There are those among you who communicate out of a real desire to spread a message. First, what is that message? Secondly, has your involvement in the league caused you to focus on how you present the message at the expense of why you are presenting the message? I know that there are those of you who carry a much needed message, and that your message has not been affected by the competition model used in the NCFCA. To those of you, I sincerely congratulate, you've done a better job than I have.

This message isn't really directed at those of you who that holds true for. This message is for those of you who, like me during past years, didn't know why you were competing. The competition exists to teach you how to communicate. But never forget that there has to be a better reason than that. Communication for communications sake is worthless. There has to be a purpose for communication. And so, will you use the skill that you learn to spread messages like those spread by Hitler? Because I doubt not that this league has endowed upon some of you the self same skills posses by Hitler. The skills to present in a manner that will sway others. It is my sincerest wish that this league has also endowed you with the correct motivation for communication: The furthering of Christ's Kingdom. And so, I challenge you, don't lose sight of the goal. It is an empty world when you are without a goal, and an even worse one when you possess the wrong goal. Never lose sight of the goal. Never forget that what you learn here is only good if you use it in order to win others to Christ. And, as you are trying to win them to Christ, remember that they don't care about whether or not you “sound good”, they want to hear good news, not news presented in a pleasant manner. They want to know why you love them enough to speak to them. Tell them why you love them... because He first loved us.


  1. Oh, this is good! It embodies and articulates an idea that is crucial for us, as communicators, to understand. (I wonder though...if a person knows that a message is important- see, I don't doubt that you care about what you're saying here- is it useful for someone to comment on it? Hum, maybe it's encouraging to know that people agree?)

    "Communication on the other hand means that both of us are presenter and audience." I never thought about it that way before! :)

    The conclusion is excellent, as well.

    In terms of making the speech "sound good"- of course you know how to edit it yourself (unless you want me to give specific comments, which I'd be glad to do, whatever). Hm...if your audience is your judges, it seems a little strange for you to be telling them the attitude they should have in competition- they're not the ones competing. What are you trying to convince them of? That the league is incomplete without the right goal? To encourage their kids to speak the good news?

  2. "Hum, maybe it's encouraging to know that people agree?"

    It is, but this really isn't for that. This is what I've been thinking about today, so it goes in my online journal (of sorts)

    "know how to edit it yourself (unless you want me to give specific comments, which I'd be glad to do, whatever). Hm...if your audience is your judges, it seems a little strange for you to be telling them the attitude they should have in competition"

    This, above pretty much all else, is the reason I question whether or not I'll do the speech next year. Because... it's not written to the judges. I need to find a platform where I can address competitors without actually participating in the competition :/

  3. I won't write too much, because I agree with pretty much everything you said.
    It is definitely something that has annoyed me that there is barrier between you and the judge, because they cannot talk. It's like how in a sermon no one asks questions!
    What I do disagree with is this statement: "Never forget that what you learn here is only good if you use it in order to win others to Christ" I think that there are other GOOD uses for communication than winning others over to Christ...that's me being nit picky.