Posted by Sharon Zenz
My first exposure to Rotary was as a high school student, competing in speech contests. I won my first Rotary Club contest, and took home a desk pen set with the Rotary emblem on it. It looked so official and grown up.  I appreciated Rotary Clubs and Lions Clubs for inviting me and other students to speak to them, for fostering our skills, and showing that they were interested in what we had to say. And, let's be honest, taking home trophies or money, along with bragging rights, was also pretty cool. (Yes, I still have my trophies.)
When I joined Rotary, I was thrilled to get to help co-ordinate the speech contest, so that other kids could have the experience I'd had. I believe deeply in the power of being able to present yourself and your ideas through public speaking. No matter what your occupation, it's a skill that you'll need. Can you hold an audience's attention? Can you address the topic clearly, and with relevent information? Do you have research to back up your ideas? Are you able to speak with confidence, but avoid condescention?
Plus, as I told my students when I coached speech and debate, studies show that fear of public speaking ranks higher for most people than fear of death. If you can do something that terrifies most people (grown, adult people!), you should pat yourself on the back!
Every club partners with schools in their area; for us, that's Bishop Manogue Catholic High School and Damonte Ranch High School. Homeschooled students are also invited - that's something that both I and my children appreciate, since my younger two children were homeschooled.
We've had the opportunity to host polished, articulate, capable students, as well as some who have less experience and polish. I'm very proud of giving all of them the opportunity to speak to a room full of interested adults. Every student speaks on that year's topic, allowing them to both research what's being done in the world, and apply their own experiences to the topic.
A few years ago, we hosted a student whose mother had profound hearing loss. She'd just received her cochlear implant; our contest was the first time she'd ever heard her daughter, who'd won many awards at debate tournaments, give a speech.
This year's topic is: "Making Connections As We Create Lasting Change." I know what I might say - what will our contestants say?
Our club contest will be held on February 18 in the Tamarack steak house. If you'd like to judge, keep time, or tally votes, please let Sharon know!