June 3rd, 17 days before graduation, beautiful sunny day, an hour before the end of the school day.
Standing before a group of about 20 high school kids I have never met before.
Teaching them about sales technique and tactics.
From what I hear, many would think of that as a very difficult situation, but I held their attention without disruption for 40 minutes.
I am not a professional teacher of teenagers my any stretch of the imagination, but this was where I was this afternoon. I was in front of Ledyard High School's journalism class, which is the group that puts out their news magazine The Colonel. I will admit that this is an elective class I was in front of, making my job easier, but I found them to be completely respectful and quite interested.
Did I mention that my topic was sales? Would you sit attentively through a 40 minute talk on sales? I know I would, but apparently I'm abnormal.
The reason I was there was that I had read a few weeks ago in The Day that the powers that be in the town of Ledyard were cutting the entire school paper's budget as part of a sweeping half million dollar budget cut. The article suggested that without the funding, the paper could no longer be printed.
So, emailed the address I found for The Colonel and arranged a meeting. I met with the student editors as well as the faculty adviser, Mr. Bill Frisky. We discussed the possibility of using ad sales to replace the budget, and a plan came together.
About 20 students comprise the class that runs the publication, and a year round ad in all 8 of the issues is $300. If each of the 20 students sold one year-long slot, it would replace much of the lost funding. The only problem was that the students who had tried to sell ads met with great frustration, as any novice, untrained salesperson might. So, I agreed to come into the class and give a tutorial on the selling of ads.
Today was that day. I discussed the 7 steps of the sale, prospecting techniques, appointment setting, needs analysis and more. I also answered many questions. At the beginning of the class, many students cringed at the idea of trying to sell ads, and looked at me skeptically as most audiences, especially young ones, do with an unfamiliar speaker. At the end, I asked for a show of hands as to how many felt comfortable trying to sell ads now, and most of the hands went up.
I'm not going to suggest that I had their attention because I am such an engaging speaker or I know some secret of working with teens. The fact is that what I was teaching was relevant. I was able to show them how it applied directly to a problem they face now, how it would be valuable to them in the future, and how it could even be the basis of a backup career in the future.
Obviously, it was relatively easy for me to hold their attention because I was giving them the roadmap to save their paper. The relevance was obvious.
What about other subjects? Every subject that is taught in schools is there for a reason. It's not like there is some History Lobby that pushes for history to be taught for their own benefit. Every subject has value to the students, and if that value can be portrayed then their attention can be easily held.
English? Literature provides a window to gain understanding of how people operate, granting insight as to how to work with people to achieve one's goals. Writing is a vital skill in any field of endeavor.
History? It provides valuable insight and perspective on how people, societies and nations operate. It is amazing to read about Roman politicians, FDR's government, and the conduct of the local town government and realize that all three of them interact more or less similarly to the Come Again Player's leadership, ConnectiCon's leadership, and Pi-Con's leadership. People are people, and the lessons learned here are valuable there.
Math? I use math up through Algebra on a regular basis. Determining how to allocate ConCardia cards to print sheets uses it. I also use mathematical techniques when I program the simple applications I use in by business. Arithmetic is useful on a daily basis.
Science? Society is making decisions today regarding science that will have profound implications for generations to come. Without an understanding of these decisions, we are at the mercy of others. Furthermore, an understanding of basic scientific method will provide a basis for rational thought throughout a person's life.
Teachers spend a lot of energy thinking about classroom management, but very little time thinking about how they can sell what they are teaching to their students. It is assumed that teachers will push knowledge and students will resist. But what if teachers sell students on the value of what they teach? Students will clamor for the knowledge they offer.