Julia Holbrook Outtalks SkillsUSA Competitors Yet Again!

exclusive interview


Siela Zembsch, EMC Staff Writer

On April 24th, Julia Holbrook headed to Syracuse for the States SkillsUSA competition and came home with gold. The skill she competed in, called “extemporaneous speaking,” is essentially everyone’s biggest fear: speaking for 3-5 minutes about a particular topic in front of a panel of judges. And yet, Julia clearly has what it takes. I recently sat down with her to talk about exactly why she’s so good at extemporaneous speaking, her experience at SkillsUSA, and the upcoming Nationals competition.

Siela: I heard that you went to States recently for extemporaneous speaking! How did you choose extemporaneous speaking as the skill that you would be doing?

Julia:  My English teacher, Mr. Buckley, said, “Hey, you’re good at creating stuff out of a whim and just off the cuff; you would be great at extemporaneous speaking.” I said, “Oh, OK, sounds hard but I’ll try it.”

Siela: Could you say a little bit about the contest and what you had to do in it?

Julia: So, a moderator brings you to a room and they sit you down. You have a thesaurus, a dictionary, a book of quotes, and you have the rule guide for Skills USA, which is the competition the organization is through. They say, “OK, do you understand what the competition is about?” You say yes; it’s just a 3-5 minute speech. And then they read you the topic. The topic was, “How do you know you’re career ready?” So, I copied down the topic and you get five minutes to write down [what you want to say].

Siela: When you got the topic, did you feel like you knew what you wanted to say?

Julia: When I got the topic, even before then, I always write down the key points of Skills USA and how to incorporate them into my topic. So, I write about your personal skills (which are soft skills), like character, teamwork, stuff like that, and then your technical skills, which you learn in your trade. For me, in criminal justice, it would be like handcuffing and fingerprinting; for a health occupation] it would be how to change bedpans and give medication. And then you also talk about the workplace skills that you do, so how to cooperate with others, stuff like that. I felt like I knew exactly what I wanted to say, I just had to switch around all of my main points to what the topic was about.

Siela: What was running through your mind as you were preparing and giving your speech?

Julia: So preparing for it… Making sure I remembered a closing statement. Because at Regionals, I forgot a closing statement. But, while giving my presentation, I wanted to impress the judges and make them laugh and stuff, and entertain them. So, I was like, “Alright, well, when I’m saying this I’m going to be kind of sarcastic, but just super outgoing and stuff.” And I think that’s what I did, because I had some of the judges laughing.

Siela: That’s awesome. So it’s not only an informative speech, but you’ve got to make it entertaining and keep their attention.

Julia: Yes.

Siela: That sounds really hard, but you’re definitely good at it. I would not be able to do that.

Julia: It is pretty hard, but I’ve come to love it. I like everything about Skills. I believe in it so strongly, because so many kids have to sit in class all day, and they could be doing something else. They could be improving their lives, and the way you can do that is through Skills. All the technical training, your personal skills, working together to make yourself a better, technical individual for the workforce. I love it.

I like everything about Skills. I believe in it so strongly, because so many kids have to sit in class all day, and they could be doing something else. They could be improving their lives.”

— Julia Holbrook

Siela: That sounds like an amazing opportunity. What did you guys do at Skills USA when you weren’t competing?

Julia: At States, we all were in a waiting room, a staging area, if you will, and we just kind of sat around and talked. I met some people from NYC and I was talking to them and I was like, “Yeah, I live on a farm.” You know, “You live on a farm?!” I go, “Yeah!” They go, “Oh, that’s awesome.” And I was like, “Yeah, I have cows.” And they go, “You have cows?!” And I go, “Yeah!” And then I go, “I don’t have WiFi.” And they go, “You don’t have WiFi?!”

Siela: Oh my god. That’s crazy that they can’t imagine what it’d be like to live in Galway… So, you went to Regionals first, right?

Julia: I went to Locals first. Locals is the school-wide [competition], just for F. Donald Meyers. And I got first there. Then I went to Regionals, which was at Schenectady County Community College, and I got second. And then I went to States.

Siela: So, when is Nationals?

Julia: June 24th to the 28th. They’re flying me back right before graduation!

Siela: Oh my god! Where are they?

Julia: Louisville, Kentucky! I’m going with my teacher, David Foldi, and he’s also bringing another one of the students because their teacher’s afraid to fly.

Siela: Oh no! That’s so cool though. Will you get time to explore Louisville at all?

Julia: They jam-pack our schedules so much that it’s just…

Siela: Like, you just do the speech and then… Well, good luck in it! Thanks for the interview!