Future Business Leaders of America – California State Leadership Conference

FBLA_Logo I was fortunate to volunteer as a speech contest judge for an impromptu speech contest for High School students held Friday and Saturday as part of the State Leadership Conference of the California Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA).

FBLA is the largest and oldest business student organization in the world. It promotes competent, aggressive business leadership and helps students establish career goals and develop character and self-confidence. The goal is to facilitate the transition from school to work. To accomplish these aims, FBLA holds conferences and seminars; sponsors a competitive awards program; produces national publications; and provides scholarships, programs, and other services for its members.

Impromptu speech contest

The 2011 State Leadership Conference took place on April 14-17 at the Hyatt Regency in Santa Clara, CA. I had responded a call for judges for a speech contest which came through at Cisco, where I am currently an executive communications manager.

The speech contest, similar to a Toastmaster Table Topics contest, requires students to speak for three to four minutes on a specific topic, such as No amount of travel on the wrong road will take you to right destination. I helped judge an elimination round on Friday afternoon where 15 students competed for a place in Saturday’s final round, with the top two winners from the State going on to the national conference this summer.

Suit Up for Success

CA-FBLA 2011 Leaders

FBLA conference regulations dictated a dress code requiring professional attire to a quite persnickety level of detail (Males: Banded collared shirt may be worn only if sport coat or business suit is worn. Females: Capris or gauchos with coordinating jacket/suit, worn below the knee). It was a unique experience to walk the hallways of the hotel surrounded by so many perky adolescents putting their best foot forward.

I wondered if the irony of choosing this conference theme for an event held in the heart of Silicon Valley – where leaders such as Scott McNealy, Steve Jobs and, more recently, Mark Zuckerberg, dress in anything but suits – occurred to the FBLA? Of course, there is something to be said for knowing how to suit up, and I’m sure there are still industries where dressing in suits is key to success (perhaps if you want to rise to the top in the Funeral Home Industry?). But, seriously, these students were anything but an “empty suit”.

Scary smart scholars

These 16-18 year scholars showed a scarily smart level ability and confidence. They were, as public speakers, almost without exception, at or above the level of many adult Toastmaster members, and equal, in some cases to the most accomplished Vice-Presidents I’ve worked with in corporate America over the past decade. In fact, most adults would be challenged to match their ease and ability to stand in front of a room and communicate clearly and confidently.

Be afraid, be very afraid…

If you are a student who intends to pursue a career in business or a parent of a student and you are not aware of FBLA then I urge you to check them out. If you ever find yourself competing for scholarships or college places with FBLA members then you should not underestimate the abilities of these students. They would easily bury most other candidates.

If you are an employer looking for top-notch talent, look no further.

FBLA Areas of focus

In addition to the speech contest, there were a vast number of tests and presentations taking place on everything from Accounting to Cyber Security; Desktop Application Programming to Digital Video Production; Marketing to Network Design. I sat in on a ten minute presentation by three young men from a Bay Area high school on network design which would qualify any of them for a summer internship at Cisco.

Podcast Interview

To hear first-hand what being a student member of FBLA involves, and the background of the organization, I sat down with Ms. Shelina Noorali, Vice President, Central Section, who is a Junior at Monache High School and Mr. Robert Franklin who is Board Chair and a teaches business education at Los Banos High School.

To hear what they told me, click on the podcast icon below.

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As a ten-year Toastmasters International veteran [and 2011 Pro-Track class member] I have served as speech judge for the California Academic Decathalon, both at the county and state levels, and constantly marvel happily that the future is in good hands when teenagers can command the attention of a room with their insights, both prepared and ad-hoc. It is even more gratifying to hear of FBLA because it says competence at public speaking is more extensive than I realized!

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