I will never forget the day our yearbook came out in my freshman year of college. Keith, a friend, had prided himself on his disinterest in the whole thing. While nearly every other student was looking the yearbooks over and signing them for friends, Keith told us he didn’t care to buy one; he was totally apathetic about looking at stupid photos of the meaningless activities on campus that year. It was all so…childish and self-absorbed.
What made this episode funny is that while a bunch of us sat in the dining hall looking at the yearbooks, mine sat in front of Keith as he ate his lunch. It was just begging him to crack it open and look it over. Finally, when he thought no one was observing him, he opened up the yearbook and began leafing through it. Before long, he was on an intentional hunt for something in that book. I finally noticed and asked him: “Keith—what are you looking for?”
“Uh…nothing. I am just looking at pictures of my friends.”
“Yeah, right!” we all said, laughing. Sure enough, when he arrived at the page he was searching for, there it was staring him in the face: his own mug shot. His senior picture. In full color. Everyone leaned over to see this apathetic student smile as he found himself in the “stupid” book. Needless to say, he was a source of comedy for us that day.
Keith, however, represents a principle for teachers and youth leaders. Regardless of what people say, when they open up their school yearbook, they’re looking for their own photo. Students listen to speakers the same way: They’re looking for themselves in the talk. They want to know where they fit in. They are asking: Does this subject have anything to do with me? Is it relevant to my life? Is there something for me to take away?
Teachers fail when we get so wrapped up in the information we’re transmitting, we forget kids are tuned in to W.I.I.F.M. Radio: What’s In It For Me? If we prioritize information above translation into the lives of our listeners, they often check out mentally. Especially in our noisy, cluttered, distracting culture, we must help kids translate and apply information to their personal lives.
Questions to Ask Yourself
As you prepare your comments before you speak or teach, try asking these questions:
- Why should a student listen to this message?
- Does it involve them at an emotional level?
- How could it change their personal lifestyle?
- Will this message matter tomorrow as they begin their day?
- Can each specific audience demographic practice the big idea?
- Is this message concrete enough to be useful?
- Does this message satisfy someone at the “soul” level?
- How could someone apply this message to their life?
Now, here’s my question for you: Do you focus on being interesting or interested? Seth Godin differentiates these two ideas brilliantly. Let’s be honest. If you’re not that interested in what your audience is thinking about, it might be you’ll be less interesting to them. Jim Rohn once said, “The goal of effective communication should be for listeners to say, ‘Me too!’ versus ‘So what?’”
What do you do to ensure you are being relevant to your students?
If you enjoyed this blog, it’s an edited portion from my new book, Habitudes for Communicators. It is now available in digital versions for Kindle and iBooks. Take the free Habitudes for Communicators assessment to discover your communication strengths and weaknesses.