A couple of weeks ago I was invited back again to give a talk to the year 11 students at the Brent PRU (Pupil Referral Unit). It’s a place where students have been given a second chance after being kicked out or expelled from school.
I went there on Wednesday to give the talk and I have to say I wasn’t quite expecting the day to go the way it did. The plan was that I would give a talk to the students in two separate groups and then we would give them practise interviews to help prepare them and exercise their social skills.
When I do these kinds of events I don’t really go in with a fixed plan or a rehearsed speech. I do prepare before hand with some notes and I basically get it clear in my head the message I want to get across. I do share a lot about my personal journey as I do feel it’s relevant to the kind of students there, who don’t fit in, in a normal school.
I feel it’s important to be be able to talk about yourself comfortably, not in an arrogant way, but in way the demonstrates possibility with a message. Speaking of which Arvind wrote a fantastic post on why it’s ok to blow your own trumpet.
It’s not the easiet thing in the world to relate to young people but there are a number of ways this can be accomplished.
1. Speak from the heart.
Be genuine and sincere with your words and be there because you feel you have something special to share which they will benefit from. You don’t have to plan something especially but by being you they will automatically respond to you.
2. Understand their personality.
Young people will act very differently to when they in a group as opposed to when they are alone. In a group they are comfortable with their peers and they might come across as confident, loud, full of self esteem but put get them in a room alone in an interview type situation and watch that facade tumble away. It is just a facade and on their own they are people just like you and me.
3. Use language they can relate to.
There’s no point in using big words they might not understand so keep it simple. Here’s another great trick: Watch how much they relax when you toss in the odd swear word or bit of slang in a jovial manner. Suddenly you’re not so alien to them and immediately you will see their whole body language change and they will relate to you in a very different way; like an equal.
4. Hook them in.
Find something to get their attention from the offset. For me it was using magic. I promised that if I could get their attention for just a short space of time I would do a really cool magic trick for them. Kids and young teens love that kind of stuff and so it’s a great way to get them engaged at the beginning. I didn’t dissapoint with the magic trick! 😉
5. Have a clear message.
Know why you’re there and what it is you’re trying to say. When I was there I was very clear that I wanted to convey and that was 3 things:
i) Never to give up. I saw a great line on Creating a Better Life by Lyman ‘If you fall down twice, stand up three times.’ What an awesome line. I quoted Lyman I could see from the body language that they all loved that message! I also told them to recongnise when they’re giving up; because that thought alone maybe enought to inspire them back into action.
ii) Discover your talent. You never know what your talents are until you try different things. I would never have discovered that I am good at magic until I tried it. I would never have discovered I am good at stand-up comedy until I tried it. I would never have discovered I was good at coaching until I tried it. Everyone has a talent and often they remain undiscovered. Find your talent and use it!
iii) Change the way you feel about failure. If you have a different understanding about failure and what it means for you it can mean a world of difference for your life. If failure no longer scares you imagine how your life would be different.
So there I was and I gave the talk to the first group in the morning. Unfortunately we had to be in a big hall which wasn’t the best room to deliver a talk in as it was very large, had poor acoustics and wasn’t intimate enough to hold peoples attention. I made the most of a bad situation.
Once I did the talk we then interviewed the students to give them some practical experience of being in an interview situation. I have to say I was totally blown away by how mature all these students were. It’s was a shame to discover that many of these students were there because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, but then, I learned something amazing!
Each of the students were so happy to be there! They were miserable at school but this environment gave them an opportunity to be somewhere, where life was a more flexible, and the learning environment was much more relaxed. It was the best thing to happen to them! I hope the staff there know just how much they’re doing for these young people and just how special they really are!
They all blew me away with some of the answers they gave to the questions I gave them. They gave some really well thought out answers and were so honest. Because they were honest it allowed me to then give constructive feedback which they could really take on board.
In the afternoon things were the other way around. I interviewed some of the students first and then gave a talk afterwards. That worked better as they became much more comfortable with me. This time I was sitting down with the students around me in a circle and because we were in a smaller room they could clearly hear what I was saying.
They all paid attention and really got into my message. I can see how some people being in that situation could be very easily intimidated but these young people have a different value system and that is why they don’t fit in a normal classroom. Other than that they are all incredibly talented and have so much to offer the world.
It’s important to understand that just because they are at the PRU it doesn’t mean they won’t go anywhere or make anything of their lives. They love being there because it suits their needs and because of that they have the opportunity of finishing their high school education and to go on to do bigger and better things. I’m still in awe of how talented and intelligent these youngsters are. I took so much away from the day. I was totally humbled and inspired by them and the amazing work the staff at the PRU do.
There was one student there who said something to me which you would generally expect from someone much older. He said he loved it when people put him down or criticised him for being at the PRU because when they did it made him stronger and motivated him even moreso to pass his exams and do better! 🙂