How Not To Talk to Teens By Mark Zuckerberg

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Mark Zuckerberg is a boring speaker and presenter.  The man is a genius and ridiculously rich but he is a horrible orator.  As I listened to his keynote address several tips on how not to talk to teens came to mind.

Don’t buy personality.  The whole bit with Andy Sandberg was a flop.  Seriously, I couldn’t tell if Zuckerberg had him on to entertain him or entertain the audience.  Either way it came off as an attempt to pay another person with personality to soften the crowd.  But I see the same thing happen in youth ministry but on a lower budget.

The way I typically see it played out in youth ministry is when youth worker buys or “finds” (sometimes steels because God doesn’t care about copyright laws) an opening video.  The video makes everyone laugh.  The only problem is when the youth worker starts talking the teens recognized the scam.  The youth worker was trying to buy some personality in order to soften the crowd.

Don’t create a problem and then sell a solution.  Zuckerberg went on to create a fictitious problem about sharing your whole story on FB.  If I wanted to share my whole life story I’d write a boring memoir but I’m not attempting to write my life story on Facebook.  Zuckerberg lost me when we tried to create a problem then sell his solution.

I see the same thing happen in youth ministry.  Well-intentioned youth workers create fictitious problems for youth in an attempt to grab their attention then they try to pass on an easy solution.  The only problem with this way of speaking is that teens pick up on it pretty quick then begin to dismiss you pretty quickly.

Don’t wait for dramatic responses without a build up.  Every good speaker can feel when things are flowing and people are being drawn deeper and deeper into what their saying.  They can see it on people’s faces and in their posture.  It is in those moments that speakers can build momentum for a dramatic point.  Zuckerberg did the “unveiling” with a dramatic pause without actually building people up and it flopped.  Youth workers should be cautious of the same faux pas.  Don’t slam away at the high points when you haven’t lifted teens out of their slumber.

Think more about the listener rather than yourself.  People are not coming to an event to engage a person as much as they are coming to engage the content of the person.  Great speakers know how to deliver content that people want and the way they want it.  Zuckerberg talks about the things that interest him and he thinks that the half a billion people in the world will listen to his whole keynote (which I didn’t) without falling asleep (which I did).  Youth workers should know that the speaking/teaching moment is more about what the youth want/need to hear then about what they want to say.

In the end, I have to thank Mark Zuckerberg.  He gave me a lot to think about and I got to see a picture of his dog.

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Paul Sheneman
Paul Sheneman is an author, speaker and youth pastor. He serves with the Macedonia Methodist Church in Ohio. He drinks way too much coffee for his own good. His main interest is exploring Christian formation. You can follow most of his ramblings on his blog at www.discipleshipremix.com or on Twitter @PaulSheneman.

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