Four steps for improving youth communication skills

Having conversations about animal experiences can be challenging. Use these four steps to spur an informed discussion.

Four steps for improving youth communication skills

Speaking in front of an audience can be intimidating, especially for youth. Having experience speaking in front of others is a great way to be better prepared for new situations and future success. Whether delivering a prepared presentation, an impromptu conversation or even an exchange on social media, Michigan State University Extension offers these four simple steps to help have a more productive conversation.

  1. Know what you are going to talk about. If the topic and audience is known ahead of time, be it months or even a few minutes, jotting down a few notes can be helpful to make sure your thoughts are organized. Mind maps or even just a bulleted list of ideas can be very helpful in keeping conversations on topic and geared towards what you really want to say.
  2. Do your research. Even if it is a topic you already know a lot about, take the time to do some research so you have references to support what you are saying. Learning more about the issues, as well as current events, will add more to the conversation. Remember to check your resources to make sure they are creditable and look for biases that may be included in searched articles. This will help you avoid spreading misconceptions about agriculture. A few reliable sources to look at are United States Department of Agriculture, national or state producer associations such as National Pork Board or Michigan Pork Producers, breed associations like the American Angus Association or peer-reviewed scientific journals such as the Journal of Animal Science.
  3. Listen and observe. Take time to listen to others and observe things first hand. By first listening to your anticipated audience, it will help you better choose the language you use to communicate. If you were talking to a group of people already familiar with animal agriculture, you could use jargon or go into greater details than a group unfamiliar with your topic. Also, take the age of your audience into consideration. If you happen to be talking to a group of young children, the words you choose will be very different than if you were speaking with adults. Observing situations and the audience will also help you better frame your thoughts.
  4. Practice! Practice improves abilities and decreases fears associated with public speaking. Parents, friends or even a mirror can be a great way to hone your skills. Accepting and listening to feedback from others is also a wonderful opportunity to continue improving your communication skills.

Consider applying these steps throughout your 4-H experience. Whether asking a buyer to attend the fair and bid on your animal, explaining how you completed your project or discussing current issues, these steps can be applied and help youth have a more meaningful and confident conversation. As a final recommendation, Michigan 4-H member Victoria Olger of Clinton County recommends, “When speaking, one should be knowledgeable about their topic and portray confidence.”

For other helpful tips for public speaking, see:

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