Two weeks ago I gave a lecture on leadership to a group of 16-year-old adolescents who – during the entire session – managed to… not smile. Wow! I faced a mix of frustration and incomprehension. But then again… what a great learning experience!
As speakers – at least at Toastmasters and depending on the topic – we’re mostly facing quite friendly audiences. Or at least the give us some credit. When you are confronted with such an indifferent, cool, almost hostile audience like those 16-year-olds, the only thing you can do is keep smiling and be perseverant.
After this rhetorical Waterloo I scribbled down two lessons learned:
1) My leaders were not their leaders
Leaders? – We think of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Vince Lombardi and Theodore Roosevelt. But… Vince Lombardi was in the prime of his life in the 60ies. Gandhi, isn’t that the guy in that movie? Winston Chur-who?
16-year-olds have other leaders in mind. I asked them. Four guys said the same, obviously copy/pasting the others: “My parents!”
As a speaker we are always challenged to put ourselves in the shoes of the audience and build sympathetic bridges. I could have asked other 16-year-olds about their role models before giving that speech. For sure, I will do it next time.
2) Making it tangible works well
An autocratic leader? You can state examples of dictators like Stalin, Hitler or Mao Tse-tung. But guess what, Palpatine, the emperor of the Star Wars saga caused the only laugher of the whole session – a big success!
And why? The use of Palpatine transmitted the same message of autocratic leadership, but in a much more tangible way for the audience. It confimed me in always looking out for more tangible examples (mostly metaphoric constructions). Your audience and their long-term memory chips appreciate it a lot.