A few months ago a youth worker from El Paso, TX called me up and asked, “Do you want to speak at school assemblies for a week in Texas?”
If I would have answered him honestly, I would have responded, “No way!”
Why? Because who would be stupid enough to get up in front of a bunch of kids who don’t want to hear a speaker… and try to speak to them?
I guess I’m that stupid. That’s why in this article I’m going to give you 3 tips I’ve learned along the way that have helped me when speaking to kids in difficult venues like school assemblies. And guess what? These principles apply to my speaking at camps, to youth groups… even to adults!
Tip #1: Realize “I Suck”
I’ve been speaking to teenagers for 25 years. People actually hire me to do it. I probably spoke to about 5,000 teenagers last year alone (and I speak to far more parents and leaders than teens). And do you know what keeps me going more than anything else?
I know I’m nothing without God’s help.
Please don’t take this as cliché. It’s not. The only way I have a chance at making any kind of impact in the lives of teenagers is to humble myself before God and admit, “I need you for this… bad!”
Beware of the speaker who says, “I got this.”
We don’t got this. He does. And He let’s us be a small part of the process. The moment you realize that, you’re one step closer. So bathe this whole process in prayer.
Tip #2: Weave a Series of Stories
In my early years of ministry I spoke to middle school kids weekly on campus. In those years I quickly discovered one of the most effective tools that could actually hold the attention of wirey, distracted, ADHD tweens:
Stories work. In fact, when I first realized this, I couldn’t believe how powerful Bible stories were.
“Jesus was walking down the road with a bunch of his followers and he came to a city that no one liked. And in the middle of the city no one liked was a woman no one liked sitting by herself. So Jesus walked up to her and started a conversation…”
Try it. You’ll be shocked.
“One day God spoke to a prophet named Jonah. He said, ‘Jonah, I want you to go talk to a group of people in the city of Ninevah.’ Jonah winced. ‘Ninevah? Are you serious? No one should ever associate with… those people.’ God said, ‘Well, I don’t care what other people say; I want you to go tell them the truth. Let’s see how they respond.’ Jonah waited until he thought God wasn’t looking, and then he ran away…”
Stories captivate kids. In fact, the biggest trick is practicing the sentences you have to say between stories so kids don’t tune out in those few seconds.
That’s the secret of my two books with ready-made talks, 10-Minute Talks and More 10-Minute Talks. Those books are simply stories, with a wrap up, scripture, and small group questions. Easy peasy. (I don’t really know what that means… but my father in law says it all the time.)
Guess what? This works for adults too. Some of the best speakers are master storytellers.
Tip #3: Make Fun of Yourself
Humor is powerful. Some of us are funnier than others, but all of us can make fun of ourselves.
Last week I listened to an Andy Stanley sermon online. If you don’t know Andy, he’s truly one of the most amazing Christian communicators of this century. The guy is a bright light helping people easily understand God’s word and readily apply it to their lives. Phenomenal! Anyway… in his sermon he began telling a story about himself going to one of his kid’s sports games. This humorous anecdote wasn’t just funny, it helped him connect with his audience The story painted him as normal and imperfect… just like me. The story made me laugh at him, mankind, and myself.
Don’t be afraid to give examples from you own life. Pretend you’re in a small group studying a passage of scripture and someone asks you, “Share a time when you learned this… the hard way?” Typically you can think of something.
Humor breaks down walls, and vulnerable personal stories (not inappropriate, just transparently human) help people relate to what you’re communicating.
These three tips are key to communicating to young people today.
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Jonathan McKee is the author of over 20 books including the brand new More Than Just the Talk, Sex Matters, The Guy’s Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket, The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide for Teenager, and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers, Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation, and the 10-Minute Talks series. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan and his wife Lori, and their three kids Alec, Alyssa and Ashley live in California.