I began my career as a youth speaker. While I do many programs now for professionals, I still enjoy presenting motivational school assemblies and keynotes at student leadership conferences. Youth speakers aren't cheap, however, and I'm often asked if it's really worth the money and class time to bring in a motivational speaker for teens.
I understand why some would ask. So many motivational speakers spend too much time entertaining and not enough on substance. The reality is that anybody can be a speaker. And many people who really want to be entertainers use motivational speaking as their outlet. They throw in a perfunctory message to justify an hour of jokes.
To connect with teenagers, a youth speaker does have to be animated and funny. This is especially true at the beginning of the presentation when the young audience is still sizing up the speaker. They assume they're being pulled out of class to listen to some yahoo telling them to just say no. They must be won over quickly, and humor is the easiest way to do that.
But the purpose of the humor should be to get their attention so the speaker can deliver an important message. That message should be the real meat of the program. There must be depth. It's great if the kids have a good time, but they should leave the presentation in deep thought, applying the speaker's concepts to their own lives.
For this reason, it's critical that teachers reinforce the message. Back in class there should be follow-up discussion. Students must reflect on the program and make it applicable to their lives.
Skeptics say that the value of motivational presentations is short lived. But you could say the same thing about the value of food. The benefits may seem temporary, but they're essential to our survival.
Over the years I've had students share a risk they took, a goal they achieved or a girl they asked out because of the courage they felt after hearing a presentation. I've had suicidal teens and cutters reach out for help. While I aspire to get better, I believe whole-heartedly in my work and that of my colleagues. Students need positive messages from a variety of adults. For some young people, the right youth speaker may be able to connect in a way other adults have not.