After more than two decades speaking to youth audiences, I think I have addressed every student event there is. What a great career I have had being able to impact and inspire young people from all over the world!
When I first started out, I spoke at a lot of student council conferences – including state, regional, district and camp leadership events. I was always speaking to teen leaders. I loved it. Student leaders are always such a great group, and they always want to make an impact.
As the years went by, I found myself doing less student council events and more school assemblies and teen mental health presentations - but when this opportunity came up to keynote at the Missouri State Student Council Conference, I was excited and jumped at the offer. The Missouri Student Council hosts one of the best state conferences in the nation. It is absolutely mind-blowing to experience the excitement and the energy - and the buy in from student council advisors all over the state. Ms. Terri Johnson, the Executive Director has done a tremendously awesome job in making Missouri Student Council one of the models of state conferences and student leadership in the U.S.
I receive a lot of phone calls from Missouri on teen mental health. You might think, “What does teen mental health and student leadership have in common?” Actually, the two have a lot in common. Student leaders have great expectations, stress, anxiety – and all of this leads to poor self-esteem, isolation, feelings of being a disappointment – which is exactly the opposite of who these young student leaders are. I thought I could talk about the value of being present and leadership being about your influence on others. I had about 50 minutes to speak and wanted to keep it simple, but I wanted to be effective.
These conferences are about making memories, and many of these student leaders had never been to a conference this big. It can be overwhelming for many of them. All we can do as youth speakers is plant seeds. We might be fortunate enough to say something that makes sense to them, giving them an “Ah-hah!” moment. I wanted to be a part of their lives and encourage them to slow down and be patient in the process of their leadership.
I was honored to have been a part of this conference. Thank you Missouri student leaders and Lindbergh High School for hosting the conference. You all should be so proud.
I have one last thing, and this is important. Remember that this conference was all about excitement and energy. Now that the conference is over, I encourage you to stop and reflect on what you learned. Think about what happened and what messages and ideas you heard. How can this be a new normal for you now?
If the point of this conference was to make memories, don’t allow it to become a distant memory. That is what we don’t want to happen. We want you to now take the lessons you learned, the new ideas you heard, the new tips of knowledge you gleaned and bring it all home. Spread it around. Make your community a better place.
Be influential. Change the world.
Jeff Yalden is a youth motivational speaker on teen leadership, teen mental health, suicide, and suicide prevention having worked with teens and school communities for more than two decades. Visit www.TheJYF.org for more information on Jeff Yalden.