The Scoutmaster minute is a tradition for sharing a thought or idea at every troop meeting. There are books and websites replete with lots and lots of minutes (here’s mine) but I have never really used them all that much.
Many years ago I tried to have a formal Scoutmaster minute prepared for each meeting. I soon sensed that my Scouts were enduring rather than enjoying my orations evidenced by the many unmistakable signs of adolescent behavior that indicate you are being politely ignored; the rolling eyes, the vacant stare, the shuffling feet.
I think of myself as a better than average public speaker; I’ve written, directed and acted in a couple of dozen stage plays and a couple of movies, I’ve been asked to speak at Scouting functions, I’ve led loads of Scout’s Own services. This doesn’t seem to matter to my Scouts at all. They are a tough audience, they are not easily impressed.
If my Scoutmaster’s minutes were supposed to inspire Scouts, to bring relevance to the Scout oath and law, they were not getting very far.
Over time I learned how to better hold their attention and, hopefully, say things that they will actually hear. Here’s a few points you may find useful:
Tell a story – Scouts will listen to stories. Fact is better than fiction; real life is so much more interesting. Allegorical stories have their place but I suggest you use them infrequently.
Be subtle – Don’t bludgeon them over the head with the obvious; they get it. If you have a great quote that means something to you just read it; you don’t have to say anything more. Let it stand on its own and sink in. If the message is ‘a Scout is trustworthy’ they will understand without being told. If you aren’t sure that they understood ask them – this leads naturally to:
Engage in a conversation, ask some questions – ‘What would you do in the situation I described?’, ‘How would you feel if that happened to you?’, “Have you ever been in that type of situation before?’. These should be rhetorical questions that you will answer as the story evolves ‘ I know that I would feel betrayed’, ‘this happened when I was a boy’, ‘ when this happened he decided to…’ . Sometimes Scouts will speak up, sometimes not. When they do you know you have their attention.
Be yourself – ‘It always makes me a little nervous to stand up here and speak, but here goes…’. If you are nervous or fell awkward don’t be afraid to tell your Scouts. They are nervous and awkward too. Scouts sense honesty and trust when you are yourself – uncertainties and flaws and all. Be completely, transparently, and completely honest. This is not aimed so much at what you say so much as the state of mind you are in when you say it. People in general and Scouts in particular know when someone is being insincere or superficial. Being honest in front of any audience is both terrifying and the key to speaking well.
Your thoughts and experiences are just as good and probably more relevant as any written in a book or on a website. If something doesn’t inspire you it won’t inspire your Scouts.
Speak to Scouts, not at them.
If you bomb, bomb fantastically! – Wow, I guess that story was actually pretty bad huh? I’ll try to do better next time!
Keep it to a minute – Sixty seconds is plenty of time to get an idea across. Edit relentlessly.
Practice – Know your message. Resist the temptation to read it out of a book or from notes. Think it through and, ideally, say it out loud with a timer. If you can record and listen to yourself that’s even better. After a year and a half of podcasting I can listen to my own voice without cringing but it took some time.
Tell a joke – I tell a joke (a lot of times one from that week’s podcast) as a Scoutmaster’s minute pretty regularly. My jokes are usually so awful that they laugh at the telling more than the punchline. I think they are relived that nearly all the jokes I tell have no great moral message.
How do I know that anything I say is getting through? I don’t. I have yet to have a Scout come up to me and remark on how inspiring I was and I am not holding my breath either. What they will remember is that you made an honest try at sharing your thoughts with them -something they will value that for the rest of their lives.