Presenting information to youth audiences can be exciting and dynamic. But, if I am being honest, it can also be a little intimidating. The students have many other things to think about and distractions abound. It can be tough to communicate a nuanced message on a legal issue without losing their interest. Talking at a group of youths for an hour isn’t going to be fun or helpful for anyone. Every group of youth is different, but here are some simple techniques I use when I present to youth:
1. Know your audience
Do your homework before you show up. If you know a little bit about your audience, you will be able to tailor your presentation to best get your message across. Try to gather information in advance about:
a. the size of the group,
b. the size of the space you’ll be in,
c. the level of familiarity your audience has with the topic; and
d. the language and education levels of your audience
Keep gathering information once you’ve started presenting. You should be able think on your feet and adapt your presentation to the audience in front of you. Slow down the pace of information if the youth zone out or stop asking questions, if the youth have low energy, get them out of their chairs, or if they seem bored try posing a challenging question.
2. Communicate in plain language
When you have advanced knowledge of a subject that you are presenting, it’s really easy to slip into acronyms or jargon. But there is a high cost to speaking in terms your audience does not understand.
Be thoughtful about the language you use. Explain unfamiliar terms, avoid acronyms and check in with your audience to make sure they understand.
Finally, speaking in plain language is not about simplifying your message. You can get across complex thoughts while speaking in terms that more people are likely to understand. It can be empowering for youths to understand what a difficult legal term means.
3. Get up and move
Getting students up and participating early in your presentation can help you keep their attention for the whole time. Here is my favourite activity to start the presentation off with.
Have your audience stand in a single line, shoulder-to-shoulder, in the middle of the room. Read a statement such as “Toronto needs more subways,” or “Drake is Toronto’s best artist.” If people agree with the statement they take a step forward. If people don’t agree with the statement they take a step backward. If people are unsure they can stay still. Once everyone has decided, you can call on people to explain their answer.
As the game progresses, start reading statements directly related to your topic. It will help you gauge the knowledge level of the youth and start to whet their appetite for the information you will be presenting.
4. Focus on benefits to the audience
I believe that your presentation is more likely to engage youth if you focus on the benefits to them. Often my goal at a presentation is not to make the youth experts on the topic that I’m speaking about. My goal is to make the justice sector more accessible. That means helping the youth build relationships with the people working in the justice sector, like lawyers, and helping them develop skills to recognize legal issues. Knowing why I’m there means I am able to craft better presentations and to adjust the presentation in the moment.
At the beginning of your presentation, when you outline your agenda, ask the youth what they want to get out of the session and if they have any burning questions to be answered. Your presentation will be more interesting and engaging if you are able to provide the benefits that your audience is looking for.
These tips have helped me engage youth while doing PLE. Most of all, remember to connect to your audience and have fun! When the audience is engaged, you will be able to focus on the content. Good luck!
By Katie Sharp, University of Toronto 2L