If you want a gut check on whether you love what you do for a living, don’t look in the mirror. Look at thirty 5th graders eager to hear all about it.
That was my day a couple weeks ago. Sitting, jumping, standing, pacing, pointing, laughing, clapping in front of a couple hundred kids from grades 5th through 8th at St. Aloysius Academy – a private boys school outside of Philadelphia.
These kids swim in digital! For each class, I chose a helper to pull up my presentation, pop animation videos we’ve created and more, and each boy did it with a deft hand. Not to mention the digital boards they use in each classroom. I felt like our future is in secure hands if this is the make-up of our future workforce.
We need to appreciate what we do more often. I can’t remember the last time I reflected on what I do, what I like about it, and what I appreciate about it. I rarely step back and look at the big picture. These kids were a gift to me that day, and as I described how I “make things up for a living” and watched their smiles, it re-confirmed that I’m awfully lucky.
Kids will sharpen your presentation skills. You think holding the attention of a Board of Directors is tough? How about dozens of 8th grade boys on a Friday with bigger things on their mind, like the summer ahead or the big game. You better move around and make eye contact. Also, as I learned from a Secret Service agent who presented, firing questions at them is the best way to keep them on their toes. As an aside, the agent had the benefit of handing out handcuffs to ooohs and aaahhs, so make no mistake, I knew who the best presenter was that day and his initials are not P.M.!
Questions inform Presentations. By the third group, I saw what really got their ears perked up in the Q&A: 1) celebrities and pro athletes and whether I’ve worked with them and 2) how broke I was in the early years of the Cat. Interesting that their attention would be fully engaged equally around such different topics. Despite that, my goal was to make the mad world of advertising the star of the presentation.
Relate to their world. A lesson for any presentation – empathy. I talked with them about what they’re studying now and though it may seem tough at times, applying dedication to any task is worth it, especially in whatever career they chose. To make my point, after showing them one of our animation videos, I asked ‘how long do you think that took to create?’ You should have seen their jaws drop when I advised them of how many hundreds of hours.
Finally, I started each presentation by introducing myself as more Peter Pan than Peter Madden, and explained why. After all, being in the ad game entitles all of us to never grow up, at least during business hours, and embrace and enjoy our imagination – every day.
– P. Madden, Top Cat