July 31, 2012

NJC’s Andy Long (left) helps new Colorado FFA Executive Committee Member Brooke Miller of Eaton (right) analyze the reason for a particular speech she is contemplating during the special training that was given to the state officer team in July.

NJC’s Andy Long (left) helps new Colorado FFA Executive Committee Member Brooke Miller of Eaton (right) analyze the reason for a particular speech she is contemplating during the special training that was given to the state officer team in July. (Courtesy Photo)

By Barbara Baker

One of the highlights of the annual Colorado FFA state convention is the announcement of new state officers chosen to serve for the following year. This group of young people, who have undergone extensive interviewing and scrutiny by a selection committee during convention, pledge to lead their fellow students with honor, commitment and a real sense of style and pride. Very quickly, it becomes apparent that part of that sense of style will depend entirely upon how well they are able to speak when they are up in front of a group of people.

Five years ago, Terry Ruch, who is the assistant director of admissions for Northeastern Junior College, himself a past Colorado state FFA officer and now a very accomplished public speaker, offered some public speaking training to the newly appointed officers.  Since that time, the 10 new state officers have arrived on campus in July for a week-long, three credit public speaking class.

“These young people will be out talking to FFA members, lawmakers, school boards and others and we want them to be able to communicate effectively so that they can have an impact on these groups,” explains Ruch. This year, Ruch was joined by NJC’s Dean of Enrollment Management Andy Long, to run the 45 hour course. Both Ruch and Long are seasoned speakers who spend most of their time on the collegiate recruitment circuit from August to February, talking at various venues to potential NJC students and parents. They are often asked to be guest speakers at other venues. This year Long was honored to be the keynote speaker for the Colorado Council on High School and College Relations annual conference, which attracts about 500 participants from all over the state to a Denver meeting. Ruch, who is a Denver-area recruiter for NJC, is one of the most sought after speakers at college night programs in the metro area. Both have a fabulous way of connecting with their audiences and have created their own fan clubs.

The two patterned this year’s course after Ken Davis’ book entitled “Secrets of Dynamic Communication” and they called upon some other great speakers to help with the training. Daren Williams of the National Cattlemen’s Association and Scott Stump with the Colorado Community College System were guest presenters during the week. Stump once served as a national FFA officer and worked for the national FFA organization before coming to Colorado.

“Several FFA officers from last year stopped by this year to talk about how valuable this training had been for them,” Ruch notes. “Some of them said that they are using the speech structure we taught them still, even after they have left office.”

Much of the philosophy of the class was based on how one moves an audience from impression to impact. “You can get up and tell someone that they should do this or that all day,” Ruch said, “we’ve been working with them to help them understand the kind of message they can deliver that will make people want to do whatever they should do, to move them into action. Our goal this week is to help them know how to effectively get an audience to take an action.”

During the week, the students were asked to do several types of speeches including an enabling speech, an obligatory speech, and to come up with an effective way to introduce themselves. Some of it was serious subject matter, some of it was done just for fun. “We have them work on hand gestures and voice fluctuation and the art of storytelling, but ultimately, we want them to understand that the content of the message is what really can make an impression and have an impact,”  Ruch explained.

Brandy Jo Marrinan of Alamosa, who is now serving as an Executive Committee Member,  completed two years at NJC and has taken several public speaking classes, indicated that while her college classes have helped her be a better speaker, and perhaps helped her get a state office, they didn’t compare to this training. “Brandy said that she has always understood why you need to be a good speaker, to keep people’s attention and get a message out, but she hadn’t learned about making sure what you say is going to have enough impact on your audience to hopefully get them to take some type of action,” Ruch notes. 

Brandy Marrinan’s speech on reasons to eat more beef was so effective that by the end of the week, everyone in the class had given their own tummy a name. Marrinan sketched out the various class members and documented each  tummy’s identity as she doodled during the class.

Brandy Marrinan’s speech on reasons to eat more beef was so effective that by the end of the week, everyone in the class had given their own tummy a name. Marrinan sketched out the various class members and documented each tummy’s identity as she doodled during the class. (Courtesy Photo)

Marrinan had some fun during her week. In one of her for fun speeches, her goal was to impress upon her audience that they should want to eat more beef.  Part of her tactic was actually giving her stomach a name, “Elbert” and talking about all the reasons why “Elbert” wanted to be fed beef. By the end of the week, everyone in the class had given their own tummies a name and were in agreement that their tummy needed beef. “Talk about an impression that moved others to action,” laughs Ruch. 

At the end of the week-long training, instructors hope that the officers take what they learned in the class and put it to good use during their year of service. Most of them will drive more than 25,000 miles, visiting local chapters and attending ag-related events. Five of the 10 state officers this year have attended, or will be attending Northeastern Junior College.  Since the college began tracking it in 1976, an average of seven current or past Colorado FFA state officers are on the campus each year.  The college has enjoyed a long and equally beneficial partnership with this state youth organization.