“Hey there students. We’ve got some pretty fierce things for you to do, that is, when you’re not liking back some other cause, heh, heh. Our aesthetics are cool in our place, you know what I mean?” Kassar shook his head. “I actually said something like that to a class of high school students. Yeah, I don’t know what came over me, but suddenly, when these thirty pair of Gen Z eyes were staring at me, expecting me to connect with them, I just, well, became a cartoon character, trying to speak their language.” Kassar laughed at the memory of himself. “I saw the impression I gave this class of young people. There was the rolling of the eyes and the shifting in the seats. I lost them in the first two minutes of my talk.”
Ohhhhhhh, how that hurts. I’ve done it when speaking to groups, and maybe you have too. In our quest to connect, we sometimes become totally disingenuous by trying to manufacture rapport. We want to show prospective volunteer groups that we ‘get’ them. It usually happens when we are faced with a prospective volunteer group that has some sort of central identifying factor such as age, culture, religion, cause, work, gender, or special interest. But how exhausting is that? And more importantly, how do we accomplish this connection- by cute comments, silly jokes or personal stories?
So, let’s conjure up some possible connection statements to random prospective volunteer groups. Would you actually use one of these presentation lines?
To Retired Law Enforcement: “Hey, I’m hoping you folks can fix my glove box full of parking tickets, ha ha. I think there’s about 200 in there.”
To Girl Scouts: “I can remember being a Girl Scout. Little Heather was in my troop and she always beat me at selling cookies. I got so tired of her winning. But then, Heather always got the most merit badges. It still frosts my cookies, you know what I mean?”
To High School Band Members: “I played a little piano, you know, tickled the old ivories, so I feel your vibe here. I was going to run away and join a band. Ahhh, those were the days.”
Do I detect some groaning from the audience?
When speaking in front of prospective volunteer groups, how do we show them that we get them? Or, wait, is that actually necessary? Maybe groups who are willing to listen to our presentations are looking more to be a part of us, instead of us trying to be a part of them. And why patronize them with caricatures and poorly conceived jokes?
We can’t possibly know everything about every group. So, instead of feeling inadequate or embarrassed because we don’t know what it means to be a retired computer engineer, how about using something more genuine or what I call “sincere ignorance.” Instead of embarassing babbling, we can say, “your profession has always intimidated me a bit and I honestly would like to know more about it. Do you mind if we take a moment so that you can tell me about your group?”
Sincere ignorance means embracing our lack of knowledge and being genuinely curious about the people we are addressing. When asking questions at the beginning of a presentation, not only will the group loosen up, they will probably offer up some tidbit that we can pounce on and tie into the reasons volunteering fits for them.
Groups ultimately prefer us to be ourselves. They want to hear our passion, our experiences, and our compelling evidence as to why they should volunteer with us. We aren’t chameleons who can change color and blend into every new group. We are leaders, whose authentic message resonates with anyone. They want us to invite them to be part of something worthwhile.
So, next time you feel as though you may be inadequate in front of a group because you don’t think you can connect to them, just remember, they are listening because they are hoping to connect to you and the mission.
Groups don’t really want chameleons, they want the sincere us. That’s all the connection we need.