Strategies to improve professionalism at fair

Prepare to interact with the public just like you prepare for the show ring.

Boy sitting with chicken at fair
Photo by National 4-H Council

During this summer season, many youth are preparing their animals and still projects for the fair as well as polishing their skills for the show ring. As this is a time of high visibility for youth and 4-H, Michigan 4-H also recommends specific strategies to be professional during interactions with the public at these events.

What does it mean to be professional? Being professional may sound like it only applies to adults who are established in their careers, but the skills of communication, respect and preparation can be valuable for youth in their fair projects as well as when they are preparing to enter the workforce.

Much of the preparation for fair often revolves around getting an animal ready for show and learning what to say to judges. However, there is also a chance at fair to explain your project to the public and people who have little to no knowledge about your project area but may have some curiosity. The conversation with the public usually involves explaining things in a different way than you would to a judge.

For instance, it is important to avoid jargon (specific words that only people familiar with the topic area understand) in your explanation and to clarify terms as you use them. You are also giving more of an overview of the work and engagement in your project instead of going as in-depth as you might with a judge and, at the same time, are encouraging questions from the other person in the conversation. Many people may feel intimidated to ask questions about something they don’t know anything about, but if you are open to dialogue and encouraging curiosity, they can learn something about your topic area as well as about all of the care and preparation you put into your project.

It is helpful to remember that when members of the public are wandering around the barns of your fair, they will see you as the face of 4-H. For better or worse, you will be representing the organization with how you interact with them. Treating everyone who comes through the barns with respect can go a long way in those interactions. People don’t want to feel like their presence in the barns is a nuisance or they may never come back. On the other side of that coin, if you are genuinely welcoming to visitors, you will certainly improve their immediate experience and you may even convince them to try out 4-H for themselves!

Learning how to communicate all the information you have learned over the course of your project is part of your preparation for fair. Practice talking about your project to members of your family, 4-H club and any other groups you might be a part of (sports, church, etc.) before the event. Creating a professional pitch or elevator speech is a great way to prepare for these short conversations with others about your project. You may also consider creating an educational poster to display in the barns during fair as a way to help people learn even when you are not around.

It is often easy to know what to expect in the show ring in regards to your appearance and demeanor, but remember that even outside of the show ring, you are representing your club and your county 4-H program any time people see you at the fair. Consider what you wear, how you interact with members of the general public, how much you pay attention to your phone, and the words you use when you are on barn duty or hanging out with friends. Your level of professionalism will say a lot about your character!

Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H Youth Development help to prepare young people for successful futures. As a result of career exploration and workforce preparation activities, thousands of Michigan youth are better equipped to make important decisions about their professional future, ready to contribute to the workforce and able to take fiscal responsibility in their personal lives. For more information or resources on career exploration, workforce preparation, financial education, or entrepreneurship, contact

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