Young People will Make or Break You as a Speaker

My 25-year-old daughter once told me, “If you really want to know how you are as a Speaker, do it in front of teenagers and then you’ll know for sure.”  She went on to say “they’re a tough crowd, with short attention spans and not easy to please.”

As a mom who should’ve received an award for the Most Time Spent at Her Child’s elementary, middle and high school I’ve always been around kids and just assumed they loved me because although I was firm, I was also loving, nurturing and gave LOTS of hugs.  I also spent five years as a Marketing Representative at a Charter School so I’ve had lots of “kid exposure.”

But because I created the Your Time to Shine Communication Workshops specifically with young people in mind, I knew I had to take her challenge.

Last week I had the pleasure and privilege of speaking to young people on two different occasions. One was a Youth Jobs Summit, where about 200 high school teens showed up in their quest to find a summer job offered by the City.  The other was at a workshop for applicants hoping to get hired for a non-profit job with Public Allies NC. (Those young people there were slightly older).

After completing both presentations, here are some speaker tips that will, hopefully, help you if you’re ever hired to speak to a group of young people:

Be Approachable:  Prior to speaking on stage at the Youth Jobs Summit, I went into the audience and met a number of the young people, complimented them on their attire (where due) and offered suggestions on how they could impress the interviewer with a few tips on having a good handshake, the importance of eye contact and smiling.  By doing that, they got an opportunity to see that I wasn’t just some boring, old adult who they could easily tune out once I hit the stage.  Because I had established a sense of relatability with them early on, they would be more inclined to want to hear more about what I had to say.

Don’t Lecture:  The last thing young people want to do is sit for 30 minutes or more listening to some “old woman” (or man) making them feel like they were back in the classroom listening to a a boring lecture.  And if your presentation is in the morning (as mine was), you may have a hard time reeling them in if they really don’t want to be there in the first place.  That brings me to my next tip…..

Be Engaging: No doubt about it, young people tend to have short attention spans.  If you don’t want them tuning you out and start texting or falling asleep then you will need to get them involved in some way.  Perhaps you may ask a question to get a show of hands or do some role-playing if your presentation calls for it.  If you have young people buy into what you’re doing with other young people from your audience, you are more likely to garner their attention and hold it.

Don’t Talk Down to Them:  In his article, Tips for Presenting to Young Audiences, Executive Speaker Coach Jim Endicott of Distinction Communication says:

“They may lack wisdom that comes with maturity, but the average high school audience of today is better informed than they’ve ever been before. Young people watch the evening news and are often more in tune with worldwide problems than some adults. Any speaker who stands before them with an attitude of being all wise will lose this audience in the first 60-seconds. Our young people encounter so much condescending speech in their daily lives that they naturally assume any adult who steps before them will deliver the same. You need to break that perception quickly.”

Give Them Something to Remember:  When your speech is over, you want to make sure you leave your young audience with some golden nuggets—something they can walk away with and put to use or to learn and grow from or give them some ENTERTAINMENT value.  When I was deciding how to approach my speech, I had a brainstorm to play off of Meghan Trainor’s song All About that Bassmaking the title of my speech “I’m All About that A.C.E. (stands for a great ATTITUDE + good COMMUNICATION skills = EXCELLENCE).  If you check out this video, you can see that I surprised them with my opening presentation:

All About that ACE

Ultimately, you want them to say this about you and your speech:


I’d like to thank you for taking the time to come to speak yesterday, Your experience is invaluable and really made your message shine. Your presentation was both fun and informative. Sincerely,  Justin Cooper

This entry was posted in Public Speaking, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge