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A Rising Star’s top tips for communicating effectively with young people


People say that teenagers make the toughest audiences. Catherine Attenborough, one of this year’s Rising Stars finalists, shares what she’s learned about communicating effectively with this age group during the competition.

I haven’t been 16 for a while, so when I found out I was presenting my campaign idea to the Family Mosaic Youth Forum, I’ll be honest – I felt quite ill.

There’s a perception that teenagers make the toughest of audiences because, unlike adults who tend to sit quietly and smile politely, even if they are bored out of their brains, teenagers can’t always be relied on for the same level of cooperation. How on earth was I going to keep their attention?

One chat with a Catalyst youth engagement practitioner later and I had some hot tips for a killer presentation. This is how I used them to win over my audience.

1. Keep it visual
I had thought PowerPoint would be the kiss of death for any presentation to young people, but apparently not if it’s full of pictures, colour and video. Use visuals to break up your talk. I avoided bullet points, exhausting Flickr and Google images instead.

2. Make it about them
According to developmental psychologists, this age group is typically quite egocentric. To connect with my audience, I needed to show how my campaign would benefit them personally. I explained that my idea would get them more Facebook likes, Twitter followers and social media shares. That got their attention!

3. Use competitions with prizes
Competitions raise energy levels. Kick off with a quiz and you’ve got the audience’s attention straight away, for a little while at least... I used a quiz at the end of my presentation to leave people on a high and feeling good about my talk. Pop culture questions like ‘how many Twitter followers does Justin Bieber have?’ made everyone laugh and you’d be amazed how many in the group knew the answer! And the chocolate prizes were appreciated at 6pm on a Monday evening.

4. Dress as a slightly less formal version of yourself
When I asked one of Catalyst’s youth engagement practitioners what I should wear to the youth forum, he looked me up and down, taking in my Thomas Pink shirt and suit, pursed his lips and thought for a minute, before saying kindly, “You could get away with jeans and a nice top you know.” Point taken. Smart casual is the way forward. But leave the Hollister at home; if you try too hard, you’ll make them suspicious!

5. Let them teach you
Unfortunately there wasn’t time to do this properly in a 10 minute slot, but if you can build an opportunity for the young people to show you a thing or two into your presentation, you’re onto a winner. Reverse mentoring is a concept with serious legs that I’d love to explore further as a way of engaging young people with housing. It’s all the rage in the States where companies are pairing digital natives with senior managers to bridge digital and generational divides. Read more here

Thank you for reading. I hope you find my tips useful. I’d be delighted to receive comments below. Have you tried any of these approaches? Did they work for you?

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