“What has striped hooves, mottled skin, and spots? The Appaloosa horse, that’s what!”
Don’t be too harsh– I penned that demonstration introduction as a 9 year old for my first County Events. I’ll never forget my first County Events. I read my index cards the entire time, my mother almost fainted from the stress, and I earned a red ribbon despite being the only one in my category. We also had free hot dogs for lunch. All in all it was a great time, and set me off on my 4-H trajectory to success.
And thus, I’m a believer in County Events. I believe in giving youth an opportunity to showcase their project learning, and I believe in giving youth a positive opportunity to stand up in front of their peers and speak as a way of improving their confidence and their competence. Do I believe County Events is the only way of doing this? No. But, I do believe it is an extremely important component of a well-rounded county 4-H program which sets youth on a path for greater project mastery, possibly even advancing to an awards trip to National Congress, National Conference, or a 4-H Scholarship.
But, here’s the million dollar question…how do you get kids in the door?
Things to think about:
- Start new families off on the right foot. Some counties have a strong culture of strong County Events, others do not. The good news is you can change culture. When new families begin share with them that County Events is something in which ALL 4-H members participate.
- Set your date early. Advertise it frequently. As in- every week, every month. Include a countdown in your newsletter.
- Think about how you market. No one says you have to call it “County Events.” It can be a “Showcase,” it can be a “4-H Share Fair.” Find something that appeals to your audience and describes what you are doing. You may still call them 4-H demonstrations for purposes of competition, but when I marketed these to elementary school students I used to refer to them as 4-H project talk shows.
- Promote team demonstration opportunities. I did a whole team demonstration one year just because it would give me more time to hang out with my best friend afterschool (I could claim we needed to practice). Use this to your advantage!
- Focus on trialability. 4-H members want to see what they are getting into before jumping in! Offer opportunities for them to test the water! Have your County Council members (or you) visit club meetings to share their demonstrations or speeches, Facebook Live some events this year so others can see, and invite 4-H members to come visit even if they aren’t quite ready to participate.
- Speaking of trialabilty, hold your event somewhere open to the public if you can. Whether that means having speeches at the Fair, Share-the-Fun at the mall, etc. have it such that the public can see the great work of the 4-H members. This is a great way to market the good work of our youth, potentially leading to new members, volunteers, and other supporters. OR- think revenue enhancement… When I see a show, I pay an admission cost. Promote your Share-the-Fun contest as a “Talent Revue” open to the community (Free for 4-H families, low-cost/donations for community members). Perhaps even offering an adult or celebrity (ex: local county commission) division.
- Train! 4-H members don’t come armed with all the resources they need to produce a good 4-H demonstration, speech, or Share-the-Fun act! Whether you offer countywide workshops, club visits, online video trainings, volunteer (adult or older youth) coaches…you have to have a plan of support for interested 4-H members. Check out this handy resource: Creating a Visual Presentation
- Appeal to parents. It’s rare that I have met an 8 year old who is eager to sign up when asked to participate in a public speaking contest. However, parents that see the value in the program, are very eager to sign their children up.
- Host a good event! Make sure you recruit QUALIFIED judges well in advance, train them well, book a good facility, know competition events, and make it a true event! I’m talking banners, balloons, confetti- if you’ve got it! It should look like a 4-H event! And don’t forget the signage! Little details make a big difference.
- Don’t forget the social/fun time. Chances are there will be some downtime between the end of events and award presentation…use this time wisely! Whether conducting icebreakers, asking one of your star demonstrators to share their 4-H talk in front of everyone, sharing a County Council skit, showing a slide show, or giving a “commercial” for the next big thing coming up on the 4-H calendar, plan something fun and memorable for your captive audience.
- Thank them afterwards. When you mail out scorecards (and yes, I’m an advocate for not mailing scorecards out until after you’ve had a chance to review them), send a personal letter to your participants. Remind them that County Events may be their first step to District Events, 4-H University, National Congress, National Conference, and even college scholarships! Thank them for sharing.
For more ideas, don’t forget to attend our NE District Web-Training on “Managing 4-H County Events” with State Events Coordinator- Tara Mercurio on December 8th!
Tune back in next week for: 4-H Grows #5: Camp!