...what advice I would give to someone who was going to speak at a youth retreat. I thought I might post some of my ideas on the subject here.
1. I think one of the most important things about any speaking assignment is to realize that unless you are talking to people the you know fairly intimately - the first hurdle you have to cross is TRUST. Youth (anyone for that matter) has to actually trust what you are saying before they are interested in WHAT you have to say. What it takes to gain that trust is changing a lot. It used to be that you sorta automatically had people's trust by virtue of the fact that you climbed up into the podium. It was a status thing. I think especially kids these days are alot more suspicious of people upfront - so the task of gaining trust is tougher. Using stories, humor, etc can help but somehow you need to be believable - real. It's tough to do and different for each person. Transperancy is essential to gaining trust but the risk is in being to revealing and getting lost in your crap - as it were.
2. I think the other thing that is essential is that you have to deal honestly with people's pain. I was up at camp this last week and I doubt there was one single cabin where the kids were not dealing with painful stuff. Divorce, step brothers, dads, pressures to perform at school, sports, etc, jobs, addictions, dating relationships, sex, death - and this is junior high. I think if you don't deal with that stuff honestly you might as well pee into the wind. Kids need to have their realities acknowledged even if we can't identify with all that they are going through. And it's pretty important not only to reopen the wounds of the past without giving kids the tools with which they can learn to cope in a more healthy manner. I think this is critical. So if you are going to pull out one of those tear jerker talks you need to think about giving it enough space sot hat you can build in some teaching time afterward. And for the sake of everything good please don't tag some cheesy-commitment onto this talk - I mean the kids are vulnerable enough as is - give them time to respond but don not tack some quick and easy commitment prayer on the end of that just to get responses.
3. Be very careful what you ask kids to commit to and how. After you have gained their trust - you would be foolish to break it by asking them to do something embarrassing. Challenge kids to make commitments in one on one situations instead of en mass. And give clear direct instructions so that there is not confusion (i always have to keep working on this).
4. Whether you are speaking topically or textually - NEVER NEVER NEVER abuse, manipulate, twist or yank around with Scripture. Read big chunks instead of little ones. Give plenty of background but try not to over analyze the text so that it leaves the kids with the impression that the whole thing is figured out. Make them curious to go and find the meanings for themselves and give them the framework to be responsible with the texts you give them. We don't need anymore kids running around out there spouting off snippets of Scripture that 'speakers' have quoted to them to prove some point of theirs.
On the technical side:
- I try to think of boiling down my talk to one point or sentence that I want to get across. Then approach the same idea from a bunch of different angles. A former colleague of mine challenged me to do this and I have found it very helpful.
- Find your own system. If you need to read from a manuscript - fine. If you can memorize your talk - fine. Don't let anyone tell you that you have to use one method or another.
- Find a place to practice what you say so that you never surprise yourself.
- Take a few shots of brandy before you speak. (kidding) What I mean is that I find it helpful to do something mindless or distracting. Take care to prepare well but give yourself the space to breath before you get up there. This seems to give me perspective and the much needed connection to the audience.
Just a couple things I have learned. Maybe some of the rest of you have learned a few tips that you could contribute as well - that would be cool...