The keynote to one of our camps last summer was Michael Hyatt, bestselling author to Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World. His message encouraged my 100 debaters to develop their own platforms in the brave new world of platform builders. One of my debaters asked me a followup question: “What if I don’t have a platform?”
What an incredibly honest question, asked by many young people I suspect. Young people typically are seeking a story of some sort to build a platform, but life hasn’t “happened” to them yet. They’ve got energy and enthusiasm, but no “wow” story that can lead to a platform. Yet.
I’d like to reflect on three proactive tasks young people can do to prepare a platform. I suspect these tasks will help develop skills that will make for powerful platform building later in life.
1. Focus on Building the Skill
Sometimes people come to debate camp with preexisting opinions on the debate topic at hand. We spend some considerable time taking down political and philosophical sacred cows, getting everyone at a base level of understanding on the resolutions to debate. This isn’t to persuade anyone out of an opinion. This is the game we play — forensics — and it is a humbling, academic exercise that sticks with you for the better.
See, debate is a scrimmage of the mind. It is a formidable skill that trains you to think, speak and persuade. Students who master the arts of logical thinking and are able to scrimmage with an opponent are building the most fundamental skill available in modern education. It is interesting to note that our Founding Fathers were raised in the academic arena of forensics education: taking sides of a resolution and being able to defend it. It didn’t really matter what your opinion was; you needed to defend it. This is a most healthy exercise of the mind, and I wish modern education did more of this.
To answer the young debater who asked, “What if I don’t have a platform?” I would say this: focus on building your skills. It doesn’t really matter what your defending. Shape your mind to be a strong thinker and develop your speaking strengths. When that platform idea comes around, you’ll be most trained to take it on.
2. Focus on Building Counsel
Okay, so you don’t have a platform yet. What you do have are relationships, and those relationships are your strongest assets in life. I think of the young debater who originally asked this question: she has parents, a debate club, new friends at debate camp, and a host of coaches eager to help her grow as a debater. She may not have a platform to build on yet, but she definitely has a community to grow from.
Building counsel is a step no one should skip. I suspect this is one of the most important reasons kids come to debate camp in the summer. Before competition comes around, students from all over the country assemble to learn the skills in speaking and debating. Even if little is learned, there are friendships developed that will last a lifetime.
Many (perhaps most) come to camp with no platforms, just like the young debater who posed the question. That’s okay. I don’t believe that’s because there is no platform ready to develop. But there are…
- Coaches. I hire champions to return to camp and coach the next generation of competitors.
- Parents. We have a 3:1 ratio of parents, many coaches themselves, who are eager to mentor.
- Teachers. Lots of parents and club coaches attend the camp and help out.
- Friends. Lots of great kids from all over the country. What better environment?
This is building a counsel of friends and mentors. The community formed at camp can be emulated in any academic discipline, and should be emulated for the young person eager to develop a platform.
3. Focus on the Obvious
We are often blind to what should be our platform. This plagues kids and adults alike. I’ve been a teacher of youth since 1993, and I have to admit I’ve seen some doozie responses to calls for building platforms, like the call Hyatt articulated last summer. It seems young people (I so love them, so don’t get me wrong here) make some mistakes…
- They try to build on someone else’s platform, building themselves up to be someone they were not made to be.
- They cling to a morally questionable platform, thinking themselves rebels with causes.
- They become emotionally high strung or desperate, full of enthusiasm yet without purpose or direction.
Our platform is sometimes right in front of us. We think our platform is insignificant or out of date or weird or something no one would appreciate. In reality, it is just the thing God is calling you to build upon.
Sarah Fallon, a 17-year-old with leukemia who, through the Make-a-Wish Foundation, came to debate camp eager to build her skills in speech and debate. She attended the Platform Track and learned much on developing her personal platform. She has been through chemotherapy and is in remission to one of the most brutal sicknesses that can hit a child. Can you think of a more obvious platform to build? You betchya: it’ll be leukemia and her experience battling cancer.
This discussion of platform building is spiritual, a discovery of how God wired you as a person. Sarah could make the mistake of regretting her circumstance, grow angry at her childhood disease, and run after a different platform. Grown people make this mistake, not just children, and they end up in jobs that bring them misery or develop careers that aren’t suited for them at all.
Pause, pray, and consider what may be right in front of you: a platform that others will find incredibly interesting and you know like the back of your hand.
I so love the energy of youth. They have the world at their feet. Though they may not have the life experience to develop a platform yet, they have plenty of opportunity to develop skills, pull together counsel, and focus on the calling in their life. I suspect this community of speakers and debaters will develop some mighty platforms for the world to see.