What Happens When We Assume


Several years ago, I helped restart the Cub Scout pack at my church. That work put me and other experienced Scouters face to face with kids and parents who know little if anything about Scouting.

One thing that fascinated me was seeing how much we experienced Scouters assumed that people knew. The most obvious example was the way we tossed about jargon without giving any explanation. And I’m not just talking about acronyms (although those are a problem); I’m talking about words like “district” and “council” that have specific definitions in Scouting.

But the problem goes deeper than that. After one of our organizational meetings, I realized that we’d never talked with new pack families about the purposes, methods, and values of Cub Scouting. We’d just assumed people know.

So what’s the takeaway for your troop? When new families come through the door—whether off the street or from a Webelos den—we need to explain Boy Scouting again like it’s the very first time. Tell them about the aims and methods. Show them a troop organizational chart. Refer them to resources where they can learn more about Scouting.

Whatever you do, don’t assume. As the old saying goes, when you assume, you just make an ass out of you and me.

Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.


Anecdotes at Eagle Courts of Honor, Part 2


Recently I posted ideas for developing anecdotes to share at Eagle courts of honor. As I said in that post, effective anecdotes can help you create a compelling, 3-D portrait of your honoree, showing that he’s more than a sum of badges earned and service projects completed.

The ideas in that post are useful if you’re the one telling the anecdote. But what if you’re the ceremony planner or master of ceremonies? Besides sharing that post with people you invite (or grudgingly allow!) to speak, what else can you do?

The first thing to do is lay down clear ground rules. Don’t just have an open-mic session where anyone can come up and say anything they want. Instead, encourage–or require–each speaker to write at least an outline of the story they want to tell. And keep the emphasis on the story; someone who can’t settle on a single story will likely tell one pretty good story and two that are pretty pointless.

If you worry about longwindeness, give people a time limit. In terms of word count, speakers generally talk at a speed of 125 or 150 words per minute, a rule of thumb that can help people plan their remarks.

If you are selecting speakers ahead of time, consider asking each of them to cover one particular aspect of the Scout’s life, such as his days as a new Scout, his experience at Philmont, his service as senior patrol leader, and his Eagle project. By assigning topics, you ensure that the stories won’t overlap.

If you offer an open-mic opportunity, consider limiting the total number of speakers. It’s a good idea to announce at the start of the ceremony that people will have the opportunity to tell stories so they can think ahead. And it’s definitely a good idea for the emcee to hover nearby as people speak, making it easier to subtly cut them off if they get long-winded.

Finally, consider creating a memory box or album where guests who don’t want to speak during the ceremony can write their stories. Some people are more comfortable sharing their memories this way–and the stories they tell may well stay with the honoree longer.

For more ideas, check out my new ebook, Showtime: 45 Top Tips from EagleBook.com and The Eagle Court of Honor Book; it costs just $2.99 and is available for immediate download.


Anecdotes at Eagle Courts of Honor, Part 1


A recent memorial service reflected a fairly long “open mic” segment. As I listened to family and friends share anecdotes, and as I reflected on those anecdotes later, I saw a lot of parallels with the storytelling that often goes on at Eagle courts of honor.

In both cases, the point of an anecdote is to illuminate the life and character of the person being honored. I think anecdotes are especially valuable at courts of honor, because many guests won’t know the honoree very well. Consider, for example, the younger Scouts in the audience who have only known him as senior patrol leader, the relatively uninvolved parents who barely know his name, and the school friends who only know a different side of him. The right anecdotes can help you create a fully realized, three-dimensional portrait of the honoree, showing that he’s far more than the sum of his merit badges, leadership positions, and community service.

So what makes a good anecdote? You can find plenty of advice on the internet (here and here, for example), but let me offer my own anecdote.

Two speakers at that memorial service I attended stood out to me. One told three separate stories, each of which was interesting enough on its own but none of which really illuminated what made the honoree unique. (For example, the departed was a veterinarian, and she talked about how he lovingly he’d cared for her pet, which is something you’d hope any veterinarian would do.) The other woman briefly described how the departed had hired her a few years ago, even though she had been job-hopping and had other issues in her life that would have given him good reason to round-file her application. She then described how he’d kept her on even when, not long after being hired, she got pregnant and needed to have different duties.

That woman’s story, with its singular focus and built-in sequel, said far more about the man than some speakers who talked far longer and knew him better.

What stories can help you create a fully realized, three-dimensional portrait of your newest Eagle Scout?

For more ideas, check out my new ebook, Showtime: 45 Top Tips from EagleBook.com and The Eagle Court of Honor Book; it costs just $2.99 and is available for immediate download.