Though I spend a good portion of my days with a second grader, I don't find myself in a room full of them very often. Over the last two weeks, I have had two opportunities to do just that. Earlier today, I was one of a handful of chaperones for a field trip to see the play "Beauty and the Beast," while last week I got to play the role of "Slide Guy" for my son's first ever presentation. Each opportunity was both rewarding and exciting. I find that any time spent with tomorrow's leaders, regardless of the venue, fills me with the very same feelings. Rewarding because I lead myself to believe I am in some way contributing to their development and exciting because their enthusiasm is contagious.
My son enjoys public speaking as much as I did in my younger days (which is not much). In fact, a good friend of mine would say that as a child I "wouldn't say %^&* if I had a mouthful." Though I no longer avoid opportunities to publicly speak, I don't go out of my way to create too many of them. On this day, the topic was US Presidents (It was President's Week, after all) and my son's presentation was "Garfield: The President Not The Cat." It was short (by design) and just like I did at that age, he read the entire thing with little eye contact. Unlike the dark ages in which I grew up, he had Power Point Slides with pictures to complement his words, giving his peers more reason to be genuinely interested in the information he was sharing. The grand finale was a trivia contest he and my wife created and it was a big hit! When he opened the floor to questions, nearly every hand went into the air. Not only did these children listen intently, but they wanted to know even more. How old was he when he died? Why did you choose this particular President? Where did you say he was shot? Why did someone want to shoot him? What does a cat have to do with any of this? Granted, had the presenter been a little louder the audience would have had their questions pre-empted with the answers, but that is not the point. As I responded to the request "Next slide, please", I couldn't help but see my many presentations to a very different audience from a slightly different angle...
- Second graders want their peers to succeed on the stage; I've known seniors who saw public demoralization of briefers as a way of elevating themselves
- Second graders are genuinely interested, listen intently and ask questions; My recent briefings resulted in zero questions which is less a measure of briefing thoroughness, and more a reflection of audience interest
- Second graders see a presentation as the beginning of a conversation and an opportunity to share of themselves; Too many of us turn the forum into a receive only broadcast where we feign interest, or as an opportunity to demonstrate to the briefer how little they truly know through our critical commentary
Though there are many things our second graders have yet to learn, these are some things I hope they don't forget. So, the next time we are on the podium or listening intently to someone else who is sharing their ideas/knowledge, let's see if we can't bring back some of our inherent or unlearned behavior. May we choose to truly listen and ask questions. In doing so, we can help the presenter to realize we are there because we want to learn from them and that their ideas/knowledge are in fact important to us. Lets not blindly agree, but engage in constructive debate. Let's have a conversation and leave all attendees more aware as a result of our deliberate participation.