Teenagers must be the toughest audience you could ever have. I’ve always had a high regard for teachers, but after presenting to a group of 14-year olds at a “take your hormone-ridden, emotionally charged, and self-image obsessed kids to work day”, I have a full-on admiration for them. Managing to keep the attention of kids who’d rather be anywhere but listening to a government bureaucrat tell them how important they are is no small feat, and if you can pull it off (especially daily in a classroom), you’re a hero. A goddamn hero.
The astonishing truth, though, is that their apathy and lack of focus is mostly an illusion. It’s very possible that they do care, are actually paying attention, and are interested in what you have to say. But they have a code to live by, and that requires them to look aloof, never smile, and for god’s sake — don’t ask a bloody question. Even if they find something funny, they need approval from the class to visibly react. Laughter is an agreed upon response that requires buy-in from the collective.
On the other hand, it can be fun. It’s a challenge, but think of the opportunity. When tasked with presenting to teenagers, you can actually influence the future. You can inspire ideas, incite vision, give hope. These are all great things, and when done with savvy, you can leave the stage feeling like you’ve engaged a generation and have ensured us all a better future.
Here are a few tips that helped me:
- Don’t even try to be cool by using their lingo. That’s death, because it’ll show. You’re more than likely a decade behind on current language. You’ll look like that awkward uncle who says stuff like, “Dude, that is so sick. You should jam it on the one!”
Don’t lecture them. They’re always being told what to do, and face it, you’re not the boss of them. Just speak to them like THEY’RE adults. Respect their intelligence, no matter how lacking it may appear.
- Give them coffee. Yes, a 14-year old on caffeine is a sight to see. Most of them won’t be used to it, and will come to life in ways they’ve never experienced.
- Let them turn on their cell-phones. I know! Crazy! But think about it. They’re always being told to turn them off, and it kills them. Take away their phone, and you take away their lifeline — because nothing happens unless they can post it on their social media network. (If you really want to engage them, give them a Twitter #hashtag they can use to tweet some of your points — you’d be surprised at how focused they can suddenly be).
But the number one rule of presenting to teenagers — don’t be boring.
That’s lit, man.