By Kelcie Jones
California FFA State FFA Secretary
America’s No. 1 fear, said to make a grown man cry, is known for its ability to cause perspiration, confusion, and lack of reason. What fear could possibly cause such a huge impact on Americans each year? The infamous, and occasionally disastrous, fear of public speaking.
I recall a time in my life when answering a question in class, reading aloud in the library, or even introducing myself to a group of people could cause my heart to nearly beat out of my chest. That was until I discovered the prepared public speaking contest offered by the Future Farmers of America (FFA).
The more than 540,000 members of the National FFA organization have the opportunity to compete in Career Development Events (what we call CDE’s) that will prepare them for their choice of more than 300 careers in agriculture. Whether it’s livestock evaluation or agriculture sales, the FFA has it all.
When it came time to choose my CDE, I decided now was the time to improve upon my fear of public speaking. Hesitantly, I signed up for the prepared public speaking contest. This contest requires participants to prepare and write a 6-8 minute speech, memorize it, deliver it, and undergo 5 minutes of questioning by a panel of judges at the conclusion of the speech.
Last fall, it was time to select a topic for my speech. In talking with Dale Moore, the American Farm Bureau’s deputy of trade policy and biotechnology, I became aware of the inefficiency of current government food aid and the opportunity America could have in working with biotechnology companies like Monsanto to take the steps necessary to support the fight against world hunger. I knew that this information was a call to action, to inform people about this issue and shed light on the harm our current system inflicts.
In my speech, I highlight the destruction caused in sending physical food aid to foreign countries. Foreign agriculturalists can be put out of business and American agricultural reserves (currently holding around a million bails of cotton) can be depleted. Rather than spending billions of dollars to ship our reserves, which are already at a record breaking low, the U.S. government would be doing our country and underdeveloped countries a favor by providing a monetary incentive to biotechnology companies and research centers to create and donate improved seeds to countries in need. This system would allow America to build up our reserves, encourage technological growth in the agriculture industry, and would be a long-term solution to world hunger; rather than taking the current “Band-Aid” approach.
With this speech and through help from agriculture teachers, industry leaders, and parents willing to listen repeatedly, I was able to take this concept further than I ever would have imagined. As the year progressed, I received 1st place in the South Valley FFA Section, took 1st place in the San Joaquin FFA Region, and then receiving the title of California State FFA Champion. I concluded my time in the FFA becoming the 3rd place prepared public speaker in the nation. Along the way, industry leaders and FFA members were informed about this issue.
And I was able to overcome my own fear of public speaking.
It’s mind-boggling to think that concepts that could improve American agriculture or even help feed the world could be held captive in our minds simply because of a fear to share. America’s No. 1 fear can seem impossible to overcome at times, but success could be infinite, communication could be direct, and American agriculture could thrive.
The choice is up to us, to share or not to share. In some cases, people’s survival is the question that we can answer.
Photograph: Kelcie Jones receives an FFA public speaking award.