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Top 7 Strategies for Speaking to a High School Audience

By Bill Lampton, Ph.D.

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As your career progresses, the likelihood of your speaking to a high school audience increases. You might present a Career Day talk, or even become the commencement speaker. Whatever the situation, you will need special strategies to capture and keep the attention of this hyperactive group. Consider these seven steps to success.


    Examples of extinct expressions are plentiful. Like a stuck record goes back to the time when our music came on vinyl records instead of iPods. At times the needle would get caught in the records groove, and play that one segment repeatedly. Similarly, like a broken record indicated a visible gap in the record, so the music couldnt continue at all. Because this generation has never played a record, your obsolete language could both confuse and offend the high school listeners. Another example: carbon copy. Say that, and you will lose these young people who never touched a regular typewriter, and have no idea that a carbon copy means identical.


    Almost the entire student body will be hyped about the sports program, whatever the season. Youll establish a quick connection when you say, Ive been keeping up with the Panthers this season. Great to see you are on your way to the state championship for the second year in a row. Ill be at the stadium this Friday night to watch you take one more step in that direction. If your topic revolves around teamwork, discipline, and leadership, you can reference the athletic accomplishments repeatedly


    Suppose you were speaking at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, New York City. If you failed to mention that Neil Diamond graduated there, you would appear uninformed about the school. You can find prominent alumni on the schools Web site, through an Internet search, and through talking with administrators. One precaution: Make sure the alumni you mention remain in good graces with the school, and have maintained a reputation of integrity.


    Indicate your awareness of the iPad each student has access to through a corporate grant, the recipient of the Teacher of the Year Award, and the major colleges chosen by a recent graduating class. More personally, describe the high school courses that helped shape your professional and personal life: I didnt want to memorize all that poetry Miss Blackwell assigned me, yet because of her I choose to read poetry for pleasure almost every day still. So understand that what might not seem valuable now could easily become an important factor in your later life.


    Lets assume you are talking about accomplishing goals that seem practically impossible. Try this: Have you watched what happens every season when American Idol tryouts begin? Around the nation, thousands of singers who think they have talent stand in long lines, waiting their turn for a thirty-second audition before the judges. Possibly their odds to enter the real competition are less than one in ten thousand. So why bother? Well, what if Kelly Clarkson had not signed up for the auditions in 2002 for the inaugural version of the program, because winning seemed hopeless? Then we would never have been thrilled by her rendition of A Moment Like This, or watched her become the first American Idol. So be like Kelly Clarkson. Forget the long odds, and believe that you will gain the challenging prize youre seeking.


    Universally, high school students have pet names for places and activities. Youll generate laughter and polite applause when you tell students you will be staying for lunch after the program, dining in The Ptomaine Kitchen, also known as the school cafeteria. Or if an upcoming spring break is known as Fun in the Sun time, tell them you remember your own days as a carefree beach bum and quip, Anybody got room for me in your car? I can pack real quickly."


    Certainly you want to establish your credibility as a competent professional. Even so, recognize that high school students will welcome your warmth and friendliness, too. Do the same things youd do if you were speaking with four or five of them informally in the hallway between classes. Smilegenuinely. Move away from the podium, and even walk out among the audience if you can become that venturesome. Show animation through your gestures. If you rely on notes at all, do so infrequently. These young men and women treasure personal conversation, and tune out when an adult starts lecturing. In short, show that you are enjoying the event, and that you hope they will too.

Bill Lampton, Ph.D., "Speech Coach for Champions," helps clients speak with "poise, power, and persuasion," so they will generate "attention, agreement, and action." His top-tier client list includes Gillette, Duracell, Procter and Gamble, Ritz-Carlton Cancun, and Celebrity Cruises. Visit his Web site to sign up for his complimentary online newsletter: http://tinyurl.com/otlcgz Call him: 678-316-4300 Visit his Facebook business page:

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Article Submitted On: October 25, 2011