August 24, 2009

10 Ways to Lose a Teen’s Attention

Written By Cary Schmidt

Quick post—the top ten ways to completely bore and disconnect with those you teach:

1. Say something not worth hearing—This is basic, but if you want people to listen, start by saying something worth hearing. The number one reason we lose the attention of those we teach is that we’re not convincing them that what we have to say is important. Since there is nothing more important than teaching young people God’s Word, we’d better make it worth hearing.

2. Say something with no passion—Have you ever heard someone teach with no voice inflection, no dynamic—nothing but monotone droning. It’s miserably hypnotic. If you’re not passionate about what you teach, don’t expect anyone else to care about it either.

3. Talk down to them—Make your listeners think that you believe they are completely stupid. Come across like you are gracing them with your brilliance and you can’t believe they don’t already know this stuff. Insult them with sharp sarcasm, personal jabs, and harshness. This will shut them down for sure.

4. Yell or scream at them—There’s a difference between preaching with passion and just raising your voice out of sheer frustration, and teens can tell the difference immediately. Preaching will stir them, but plain old yelling will just irritate them.

5. Teach outside of their context—Have you ever heard someone teach truth in a way that had no practical connection to your life whatsoever? The connection between truth and real life is not always as obvious as we would like it to be. Keeping attention requires that we constantly ask of truth: “Why do you matter to real life?!”

6. Shoot from the hip—When we don’t prayerfully prepare substantive, biblical material, we shoot from the hip—speak off the cuff—frankly, RAMBLE. If you really want to shut teens down, just start rambling and come across like you have nothing to say that was worth premeditating.

7. Use no illustrations or personal insights—Jesus was a great story-teller. He connected truth to tangible application and real life situations. Listeners need to connect with the teacher or preacher in tangible ways, and nothing can kill a great truth better than failing to give it a personal, real-life connection.

8. Talk about nothing but yourself—Have you ever heard someone tell you how great they were for 45 minutes and call it a Sunday School lesson or a sermon? Sometimes we could title our lessons, “If You Would Do What I Do, You Would Be Great Too!” Personal illustrations are helpful, but teens shut down when we cross over into bragging and self-exaltation.

9. Speak with lots of distracting idiosyncrasies—You can completely derail your listeners every time you speak if you will just develop some nervous twitches, odd phrasings, annoying postures, or awkward gestures—like frantic pacing or ill-timed arm waving. Everybody in your youth group will be able to impersonate you, but they will never remember a single thing you teach. If you want a good litmus test on this—just ask someone to impersonate you. If they have a tough time, then you’ve probably done a good job at minimizing your idiosyncrasies.

10. Have no relationship with them beyond your platform—Never personally interact or develop a relationship with those you teach. Just be a distant, platform figure with no presence or concern for real people. Remember, the health and quality of your personal relationship with your listeners is what gives you the right to be heard in the first place.

BONUS—Make it NO FUN whatsoever! Have you ever known someone that was gifted at draining every ounce of fun right out of a room as soon as they stepped in? Guaranteed—if your listeners aren’t enjoying listening, they will quickly find something else more enjoyable to think about—it’s just human nature.

It’s pretty painful to try to listen to a lesson from a speaker that didn’t work to gain and maintain your attention! It’s even more painful to be that speaker! (Yes, I know this from far too much personal experience.) Let’s work to make God’s Word come alive to those we teach!

All right, now it’s your turn! How has someone else lost your attention over the years?