What Comes After

NCFCA Alumni Highlight

Jonathan Carleton, NCFCA Alum and Former SAC Member

I still remember my first NCFCA tournament: the nerves, the last-minute practicing, the kindness of our host family, the performances of my speech, the kind words a judge wrote on her ballot.

I also remember my last NCFCA tournament: the last arrival on campus, the last line for script submission, the last speeches I would ever give in competition, the last awards ceremony, the last ballots I would receive.

I had been blessed by my participation in NCFCA in numerous ways during the intervening years, enjoying community, developing communication skills, and growing in character. But now it was all over.

Wasn’t it?

On a weekend late last month, I sat in a chair and testified in a collegiate Mock Trial tournament. The Friday before the tournament, I participated in a small-group discussion addressing the contrast between Christian and secular heroes in literature, among other things. Two days prior, on Wednesday, I delivered a feature-length presentation to a group of students on maximizing the effectiveness of their resumes, cover letters, and interviews. Before that presentation, I helped conduct interviews for applicants to a student leadership position, and on the Monday of that week, I spoke briefly for prospective students and their parents at an event hosted by the Office of Admissions.

My days of NCFCA competition have drawn to a close. That much is true. However, I still have numerous opportunities to apply the values and skills developed in the league to my life. The week I just described was an abnormally busy week, but it demonstrates the vast availability of chances to utilize communication skills outside of speech and debate competition for the glory of God.

I haven't completely given up competitive speaking.

This is my second semester as an active member of my school’s Mock Trial and speech and debate teams. However, just as in NCFCA, the end purpose of my participation in these activities should never be the competition itself, though I certainly enjoy competing; instead, both pursuits present opportunities to develop communication and critical thinking skills and, far more importantly, glorify God.

One advantage of my current situation over much of my high school experience is the greater presence of real-world communication scenarios. Since I began working in my university’s Office of Career Development in January, I’ve had the privilege to speak no less than eight times to a variety of audiences as part of my job. Not one of these presentations involved a memorized script, and while a number of them were brief, each one involved an opportunity to bless audience members and glorify God.

I know from personal experience how easy it is to lose this perspective, to worry about what I’m saying, whether the audience likes me, or—in the case of competition—what ranking I receive. My advice to all communicators, but especially those in the middle of the competition season for speech and debate (and here I include myself), is to remember why you speak.

I perceive three main types, or levels, or goals in speech and debate competition.

The first group consists of short-term, focused objectives, such as improving the timing of a platform speech, incorporating more examples into an Impromptu, or enjoying a particular tournament.  These goals are appropriate and may provide greater success and satisfaction in competition, but they fail to provide a holistic vision for the activity. One level higher is the middle tier of goals, which involves the recognition that speech and debate can promote the development of valuable life skills, including critical thinking and oral communication. Competition certainly can and does promote these skills, and I can personally attest to their importance: from answering questions in an interview for a prestigious scholarship to defending my personal beliefs in discussions, from delivering class presentations to speaking for my job, I have utilized the skills I developed during my time in the NCFCA in a wide variety of ways. Though a realization of the benefits of speech and debate provides greater perspective and motivation for participation, taken by itself it leaves communicators with no motivation to speak the truth or benefit anyone but themselves with their words.

Christian speech and debateThere is a third goal of speech and debate competition. At NCFCA tournaments, it is apparent in the worship that often begins mornings of competition, the prayers offered by staff and students throughout the day, and the final words of the league’s mission statement: “in a manner that glorifies God.” Bringing glory to God justifies and supersedes the other goals while answering the questions they left unaddressed: Why should we speak the truth? Because it glorifies God, who is truth. Why should we seek to bless our audience? Because God, who is love, has commanded us to love them. Why should we compete excellently? Because God is glorified when we work with all our hearts as unto him.

Constantly seeking to remember and pursue the goal of glorifying God can completely transform our speaking and our lives. I say this as one desperately in need of a reminder that every time I stand up to speak is a chance to give glory to my Heavenly Father. 

This, then, is my admonition to myself and any others who find it easy to forget the purpose of their speaking: set and pursue specific goals in your presentation, and seek to present your very best; recognize the skills competition is helping you develop, and intentionally practice the areas of those skills that are still outside of your comfort zone; and most importantly, constantly remind yourself and others of the why behind your competition, dedicating every word to Jesus. I can’t guarantee or predict your level of competitive success, but I can promise that putting him first will provide a purpose for your communication that will last far beyond high school.