Scouting magazine

Communication merit badge imparts an essential life skill

The silver border tells part of the story: It means Communication is one of the merit badges required for the Eagle Scout rank. But counselor Paul McDonald of Overland Park, Kan., thinks it’s even more important than that.

“If a Scout only earns a handful of merit badges, that really needs to be one of them,” he says. “Communication is something that everybody does.”

To teach Scouts the merit badge, McDonald holds frequent group sessions at a local library, usually on school holidays (like the day after parent-teacher conferences are held). He also assigns Scouts homework they must do before they attend. He says this approach works especially well for the Communication merit badge because several requirements combine individual and group work.

All for One, One for All

Requirement 3 (the five-minute speech) is a good example. McDonald has Scouts write their speeches at home and present them at the group session.

He does the same thing with requirement 4 (interview someone and introduce him or her as a guest speaker) and requirement 5 (attend a public meeting and report on what you heard). If a Scout forgets to interview someone ahead of time, there are usually a few parents hanging around.

The group setting is also ideal for requirement 1c (meet with other Scouts or friends in a small-group setting).

“If I’ve got 20 Scouts in the room from different troops, I’ll put them in groups of four or five and have them take turns,” he says. “Then we’ll come back together and say, ‘How did it go for you?’ ”

Remember the Reason

McDonald says it’s easy for Scouts to get distracted from the badge’s goal, which is simply to learn to communicate better.

“If a Scout — or anyone, for that matter — is giving a speech that has a lot of complex issues in it, they can tend to drop the fundamentals early on,” he says. “It’s far better to have a speech that maybe they’re not super excited about. The purpose is not to give a great speech; the purpose is to learn how to give a great speech.”

And if you as the counselor aren’t sure how to do that, McDonald recommends joining a group like Toastmasters International that lets you practice. 

“You don’t have to go through 750 speeches that are evaluated to teach the Communication merit badge, but it would probably be a good idea for you to have given one or two,” he says.