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How to Know If Your Material Sucks or Slaps

I just wrapped up a 90 minute facilitation on First Impressions and Professionalism with the high school students at Venture Academy of Leadership & Entrepreneurship (VALE) and the question forefront in my mind was “so did I suck or did I slap”.  Quick aside here, slap is a term typically used by teenagers that means to be excellent or amazing.  


You see, if you want to know if your content is excellent, present it to a group of teens.   Professional entertainer and speaker Clint Pulver, who cut his teeth working with students, shared with me (well with a bunch of us at National Speakers Association but I felt like he was speaking directly to me because he slaps) that ‘students are the ultimate litmus test for content’.  

Truer words have never been spoken and I got to experience first hand.  Here’s how it went.  


I showed up at VALE and Katy Kollasch (Chief Intrapreneur and Change Agent at the school) and I decided to start with a fun First Impressions experiment where I quickly changed in to sweats, t-shirt, Teva's and a baseball cap do the room setup prior to my presentation. For the following hour, as we set up the room, I engaged with students as they showed up. I made it a point to learn their names, I invited them to help with set up, I spent time connecting with students on a personal level (we talked about our common interests, like cats - and yes cat pictures were shared). 


As the program started, before bringing me “on stage” Katy asked students to share their first impression of me. She asked “What did you think of his appearance?” to which the student responded with words like casual, nice, approachable, relaxed.

As I stepped on stage to begin the program I had changed into slacks and a button down, a complete 180 from what they had seen during setup.  There was an audible reaction.  Which was the perfect segue into first impressions and their impact and a way to show, not tell.


For the next 90 minutes we worked on identifying the impact of first impressions and characteristics of professionalism.   We dove into the concept of - if all the world’s a stage then how you show up on those different stages (e.g. social, professional) is a direct reflection of your personal and professional brand. We then worked through what are some “simple” things you can do to create not only a good first impression, but an ongoing good impression.  Here are some of the things we came up with - punctuality, listening, being present in the moment.


To show, not tell the students the importance of listening and being present in the moment we played an interactive game called “Personally I”. In the exercise each student wrote on a post it note an experience they had over the summer.  I collected the post it notes and set them off to share their experience with 3 different classmates. I then randomly selected a post it note from the stack I had in my hand and said “raise your hand if you heard about this experience…”


For the first summer experience I called out, 3 people raised their hands. Woo hoo, they were listening and present in the moment.  I asked if they felt like they knew/liked the person a little more?  Did they perhaps trust them a bit more?   Through this simple exercise they had found commonalities and shared interests.  


For the second summer experience I called out, only 1 person raised their hand.  “Where are the other 2 people who heard this story?” I asked, to which no one raised their hands.  This can only mean 1 thing - the other parties were not listening, they were not present, they were in their own mind likely thinking of their own narrative. I parlayed this into a lesson on professionalism (and on being a human).   Being professional/human means being able to focus on another person, being present in the other person's moment. The easiest way to do this is by being interested in what the other person is talking about and asking follow up questions.  Dale Carnegie says  “To be interesting, be interested.” It really sums up what it means to be a true professional and is sure to leave a good first impression.


During the hour long session I was peppered with questions (are you always like this?), I was ignored (by the two teens locked into an unbreakable gaze of affection), I was challenged to stay focused (by the kids making coffee and chatting in the kitchen) and I was thankful and thrilled to have a group of kids with curious minds making me feel like I slap.  


Thank you VALE for the work you do and for the opportunity to work with your students.


At Articulated Intelligence we help you create engaging presentations which you can then test out with students to see if it slaps!

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