I got the phone call back in January of 2018 to speak at the Indiana State 4-H Student Leadership Camp to be held at Purdue University. I was to be their keynote speaker and spend a second day doing breakout sessions with three different groups. I love this because for two days I got to be with teens. Not just in a keynote speaker position where I speak and they listen, but I also got to be a workshop presenter where I am off the stage and get to connect deeper and learn about the students.
What a great experience this summer camp was. It was June 25-26, 2018 at Purdue University. My first visit to Purdue University. I've heard so much about it but in all my travels I had never been, until now.
Boilermakers, your university is absolutely beautiful. Stunning. Incredible. Although, I will say their parking police are a little aggressive, huh? I gave $70 to the university because I parked (apparently) too long in my spaces. Aside from this issue, I became a huge fan of Purdue University. It was an honor to tour the campus and spend two days on the grounds of Purdue.
Back to Indiana 4-H though. This was my first time speaking at a 4-H Youth Leadership event. I was in 4-H when I was a youngster living on Long Island, but in my career spanning two decades I had never been invited to speak at a 4-H Leadership Conference.
When I got the phone call I knew I wanted to invest time and try and understand who, what, and how they operate. What are they at the state level? Who comes to the camps? Why do they come? What do they learn? What is the theme of the summer camp? I had so many questions. I like to invest in my experiences with my audiences and in order to be my best, I wanted to answer all my questions so I could really connect with the teens.
I certainly wasn't disappointed. Purdue Extension, Tony, and his team put on a first class youth leadership conference and I am honored to have been a part of their lives.
I spoke to about 500 teens from grades 7-9 grade. Some high school students were there as I am sure there were probably younger kids too along with advisors, parents, and others. Before I spoke, there were students showcasing their talents in front of their peers. I love that because I know how nervous they are, yet how powerful this moment can be for their self-esteem and self-worth. The moment could also go completely wrong to their self-worth if they bombed. Can you imagine being in 7th grade and performing on stage in front of 500 peers? How judge-mental we can be when we are so young. WOW. They were all amazing.
I'm sitting there sweating. Waiting. I don't do well when I am early and waiting because my anxiety is high. Or, maybe I'm still nervous speaking after 26 years speaking to youth. I don't know but I was like, "Let's go my friends . . . " Yet, I don't want to take this away from the kids showcasing their talents or the schedule they have because it isn't about me. It's all about them. It's their conference and I am just honored to be a part of their lives.
At this point, I manage my way backstage because that is where they wanted me to come out front. I haven't mentioned that I am not a stage speaker. I am a speaker that likes to just be on the floor with the audience, but this was a beautiful auditorium and they had all the lights, staging, and professional setup. Again, It wasn't about me. I do what I am asked and honored to be a part of their conference.
I was also nervous because I had taken the month off prior to this. So, I was a little nervous in my timing, my voice, my stories, and so much. All eyes on me. Oh my gosh, you'd think after 26 years this is old hat. Yeah, well, not exactly. I was nervous and sweating. I always sweat.
I'm introduced by two beautiful student leaders. I come out and for the next hour and a half it was amazing. They listened. Can you believe they listen to me? I think the most important thing we can do to honor our audiences is be real and authentic. Don't try and be funny. Teens can see right through you trying to hard to impress them. First thing I usually say is, "Lives are going to change today." Pretty strong statement. I know, but I also know that when you listen, lives are changed. Maybe not in the now, but it could be years later when you remember something "That Guy" said.
It was an amazing visit. I'd be honored to speak at other 4-H Student Leadership Summer Camps. I had that much fun. Great kids. Life changing camp for young people. Thank you 4-H Leadership for making this available to our teens. Thank you for letting me be a part of their lives in Indiana. I love you Indiana.
Jeff Yalden is a mental health speaker and celebrity life coach who specializes in suicide prevention and mental health awareness. Jeff is also the founder and Executive Director of The Jeff Yalden Foundation, Inc. The Foundation’s mission is to prevent suicide, improve community mental health, and shatter the stigma of mental health by initiating a positive movement to speak up and reach out.
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