[Lessons Learned] Presenting to HS Students

Random Observation/Comment #415: The reward of educational influence can be obtained without a formal “job” in academics. While I’m growing in my career, I will always find time to be a mentor.

see lemons present

In March 2014, I was given the opportunity to speak to 60+ high school students at Baruch HS for an hour session. What did I talk about? Pragmatic Presenting.

I’ll write a separate blog entry about the specific material I spoke about, but I want to focus this post on my lessons learned and general presentation tips for HS students.

  • Know your purpose. I was there to help them with an upcoming conference within the school, so I wanted to give practical and pragmatic advice that they could clearly use for their upcoming presentations and future endeavors. I focused on communication more than public speaking. Remember that this can’t just be a passing idea, but rather an obvious theme throughout your presentation.
  • Know your audience. High school students are a very fickle crowd with a short attention span and probably stray random thoughts (I barely remember anyone who spoke to me when I was in High School). I used visual aids, videos, direct tips, and interactive sessions to keep their attention. I made sure the analogies were something they could relate to and I tried commanding their attention like a teacher would.
  • Use visual aids. Presentation Zen worked very well here. I spoke with as little text on the slides as possible and tried to make each slide clear with a single photo or one word on the screen. I literally used photos of Jerry Seinfeld and Morgan Freeman in order to relate it to my speech. (for Seinfeld I told the joke about how public speaking is the #1 fear and death is #2…so you’d rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy. And for Morgan Freeman, I said that you should use voice inflections unless you have a voice like this guy.)
  • Make it interactive. Do not make it a one-way presentation. Make it a story, interactive workshop, and conversation. I called students up (specifically seniors who have submitted essays or prepared for interviews) and tried to change the dynamic of just having someone stand up there. Pragmatic examples were key.
  • Speak to them like adults. Knowing your audience does not always mean treating them with bias. I’ve found that treating students with respect and providing them with responsibility actually encourages them to step-up to the challenge.
  • Relate to them. Remind them that we’ve all been in those chairs and we’ve all wondered where things go. When someone asks me “What did you want to do when you were growing up?”, I’d say “I still don’t know what I want to do.”  Career paths are not straight lines – even the ones that seem that way were filled with hundreds of milestone decisions that could have gone in many different directions. Let them know that grown-ups are really not that different.
  • Have fun. The best presentations I’ve seen are where the presenter is passionate about what they’re talking about and clearly want the room to learn for the sake of learning.

It’s not like we’re up there so they can pass a test – we’re up there sharing knowledge and inspiring the next generation. I never realized it when I was on the other side, but that’s truly something special. Thank you to all the teachers (parents, volunteers, and mentors) out there. You’re all fucking awesome. Keep that shit up.

~See Lemons Present to HSs