Features — 05 December 2013
Bekka Wiedenmeyer
Managing Editor

The secret to the rampant success of the Talk Hawks isn’t genetics. It isn’t a special gift for speaking or some other intangible element. Instead, it’s a simple recipe. Not easy, but simple.

It begins with organization, but the foundation is hard work. Experienced coaches season the student debaters and they work on their craft in an environment made to feel like home.

These students are a testament to the diligence of Las Positas College students.

Having etched the school on the collegiate forensics map, the Talk Hawks are an example of what can be accomplished right here on campus.

The best part? They’re just average students.

“I didn’t know too much about (the Talk Hawks), but once I started I loved it. I love everybody in here,” Talk Hawk Jake Averill said.

Step 1. Choose a topic.

Depending on what the student likes, it could be a humorous after dinner speech or a serious persuasion. The coaches may help by choosing a couple different pieces that they believe suit the student, but the decision can be made by the student.

Last year, Talk Hawk Josh Thompson was admittedly not great at performing pieces portraying more than one character. This year, coaches Tim Heisler and Jim Dobson saw so much progress that they gave him a prose piece with four different characters, allowing him to flex his new strength.

“We try to play to people’s strengths, and topics are a big part of that,” Heisler said. “In that sense, we can customize to what you like to do. That’s one of the reasons why we’re very good.”

Step 2. Research the topic.

This depends upon the speech. It could take up to a week or longer, especially if it’s an informative or persuasive speech that has to be written by the student.

For example, Talk Hawk Nathan Bolin wrote and performed a persuasive speech about trains.

He had not previously planned on giving a speech about trains, but with the proper research and writing, he saw decent success throughout the semester with the speech.

Step 3. Condense the speech.

The hardest part about the research phase is perhaps deciding which research to keep. This is crucial, especially if the piece is interpretive, pulled from a longer work such as a 50-page short story. With only 10 minutes of speaking time, it’s hard to decide what needs to stay and what needs to go.

“Working on the speech is hard ‘cause when you’re writing it. It has to be a certain amount of time. It has to be structured very well. Figuring out what the structure’s going to be, cutting it or adding on to it. Figuring out what to cut is the hardest thing for me,” said Talk Hawk Jacob Alexander-James Montez.

Step 4. Memorize the speech.

This goes without saying. When a student goes to tournaments, he or she doesn’t want to still be using cards. It’s distracting to the judges, doesn’t look polished and overall doesn’t make a good first impression.

Step 5. Rehearse the speech.

This is most likely one of the most important parts of the process and most helpful for the students.

It can be accomplished in one of three ways: alone in a separate room, in front of peers or in front of the coaches. A mix of the three could be the perfect recipe to success.

Room 4211 plays a large part in the students’ ability to rehearse. Before the Barbara Mertes Center for the Arts was built, the Talk Hawks only had room 711 available for use on Friday afternoons. If they wanted to meet any other time, they had to do it in an office.

Now, with the ease of their own room, they can meet or rehearse whenever they want.

“They’re here all the time working on stuff. The amount of hours that we’re putting into this now because of this room makes it all feasible,” Dobson said.

If rehearsing alone, there are adjoining rooms to practice in.

In fact, when standing in room 4211, it is not uncommon to hear voices echoing through the walls from students rehearsing their speeches.

If rehearsing in front of coaches, the students are prepared for different responses based on which coach he or she is giving the speech to.

“Janet (Brehe Johnson) is mother hen. When things don’t go well, she’ll say, ‘hmm, you should work on that a little bit. We’ll see you tomorrow!’ Jim is the football coach. He’s expecting you to be a seasoned member of the team, so you should expect to be yelled at and over time you learn. Everybody’s a little different. I’m a huge teaser, everybody knows that. I’m very sarcastic. I get my point across in different ways,” Heisler said.

At a certain point, though, all the coaches do crack down.

“There’s a moment of tough love for everybody. Sometimes you have to look them in the eye and say, ‘this is not cutting it,’” Heisler said.

According to the students, though, the tough love is what brings it all together.

“Our coaches are awesome. They grill us,” Averill said. “When you do it in front of them, you have to act like they’re the judge and they just have that face. They won’t let us go until it’s perfect.”

Some students even say that this is the main factor to their success.

“Tim and Jim are very passionate about this,” Talk Hawk Heather Crockett said. “They’re very involved and they really care about the team on an individual level, and as a whole. That’s the main factor.”

Step 6. Perform. It’s tournament time.

If the numerous trophies and placards on the walls are an indicator of anything, it’s that the Talk Hawks have seen major success over the past year.

And while part of their success can be attributed to researching, memorizing and rehearsing, another part can be attributed to the Talk Hawks themselves.

“You learn your family. You learn your team, as well,” Heisler said.

Family and team are synonymous when it comes to the Talk Hawks.

They spend hours and hours together every week, drilling their speeches and making sure they are perfect for tournaments.

They support each other when they do well in tournaments, and they support each other when they don’t do so well.

“Everyone’s still very positive about it. This last competition I went to I didn’t place and I was really upset, but everyone was still really nice. They said, ‘It’s OK, there must be something more we can work on.’ Everyone’s nice, no one’s rude,” Averill said.

Home is another word that is used to describe the Talk Hawks.

“These are the nicest people I’ve ever met. I’m being totally sincere. This is like my second home,” Alexander-James Montez said.

They’re just average students, but with a simple process, they become extraordinary.

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