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Talk to the Hand …


“Our next speaker, Laura McHarrie has been a volunteer supporter for the Young Enterprise Programme for 11 years and prior to that, a business mentor with Princes Trust.  For her sins, she is about to deliver a series of Employability Skills workshops for the Young Enterprise programme to several cohorts of 13 year olds.  As part of her preparation she has been researching how best to engage with Gen Z (pronounced Zee), that is those born between 1995 and 2015.  With her speech entitled Talk to the Hand please welcome Laura McHarrie …”

“Talk to the hand – cos this face ain’t listening“ is sarcastic slang meaning ‘one really doesn’t wish to hear what one is trying to tell one.’

Fellow Toastmasters …  Is there anyone in the room who hasn’t conjured up the image of Kevin Patterson, his long suffering parents and Perry his best friend?

Oh It’s so unfair!


Whilst I have been a youth volunteer for sometime, it’s been a while since I’ve been ‘in charge’ of a class room. Let alone, delivering Employability Skills! Thought I’d better brush up on how I should listen to Gen Z, the so called “Snowflake Generation”.

As always, my research took me down some interesting and diverging avenues.  I’ve narrowed the narrative to: exploring generational differences, puberty and brain development and some key notes to self.

This is a family photo – it spans 7 generations.  As we explore them you might want to consider which description best fits you?

Talk to the Hand.003The youngest – Otis and Roman will be dissed the Alpha generation – yet to be determined …

Alec is a Gen Z, considered to have an inflated sense of uniqueness, an unwarranted sense of entitlement. They are overly-emotional, easily offended, and unable to deal with opposing opinions.

Tariq and his wife Alexandria are Millennials, they were categorised as lazy, entitled, coddled, materialistic and moreover narcissistic. These adolescents had completely unrealistic expectations of working life.

My Brother in Law, Andy belongs to Generation X; dubbed the “latchkey” or the “MTV Generation” due to increasing divorce rates and more mothers going to work full time. They were characterised as slackers, cynical and disaffected.

My Aunt, Boyfriend, Sister and Moi span The Baby Boomer generation. Born after WW2, we were considered bloody-minded and selfish. Instead of being grateful for the welfare state and not having to die in any major war, we protested, we grew our hair long, embraced rock’n’roll, took drugs and practiced free love. XXX

Mum, is one of The Silent Generation, so named, as they kept quiet not wishing to disturb the social order post WW2.  They benefited from better schooling and better health due to the introduction of the NHS.  Their elders believed them to be lazy slobs, worshipers of the cinema and comics, intellectually thoughtless, voiceless and irresponsible.  Morally ‘they’ were going to the dogs.

And Dad at 99 belongs to The Greatest Generation.  They also experienced rapid technological innovation (air, road, radio and phone). They grew up through the great depression and then went to war.  We don’t know what their elders thought of them because they are all dead by now!  But you can bet your bottom dollar they had their naysayers too.

What I am trying to illustrate here is that regardless of what generation we belong to, almost every adolescent has been dissed by its elders and has never ever been listened to.  But does this really  mean that teenagers are really not ready for work?

Research has shown that the concentration of hormones such as testosterone, oestrogen, and progesterone change drastically as kids enter their teenage years. In girls, the hormones fluctuate with the monthly cycle.  In boys, there can be 30 times more testosterone in the body than before puberty.  Sex hormones are particularly active in the limbic system, which is the emotional centre of the brain.

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Hormones are also thought to contribute to impulsive and risky behaviour in teenagers. Teenagers need to take risks to grow and develop, to find their independence and of course … to test everyone else’s patience in the process.

Dr Robert Sapolsky cites that “this love affair with risk and novelty seems to be why the young of all primates are the most likely to die in an accident. Teenagers want to drive too fast, or try out some new sport guaranteed to break their necks, or march off in an excited frenzy to whatever stupid war our governments have invented”. Indeed, a 2017 US survey illustrates the top causes of death in teenagers as:

Talk to the Hand.014By the way … This is step-son Charlie; a Millennial, who sprinkled paraffin on a set of golf balls and set them alight in the school playground – just to see what would happen.  His mum and dad managed to avoid the disgrace of his being expelled – but – only just!

The thing is their extraordinary need to explore, test and experiment is also the reason why the young are most likely to discover something really new or remarkable, be it physical or intellectual.

Look at these young Genii.

Talk to the Hand.016

  • When he was 14 Ed Sheeran packed his bags for London to find his fortune in music.
  • Jack Andraka invented a super-fast diagnostic test for testicular cancer when he was 15.
  • At 14, Blaise Pascal invented the 1st calculator – the very start of AI, some 450 years ago.
  • Ann Makosinsinki was 15 when she invented a torch that is powered by the heat of your hand.
  • Philo Farnsworth first came through with the challenge of transferring film to TV when he was 14.
  • Judit Polgar was 15 when she became the grand master of chess.  A title she held for 30 years.
  • They all make Mark Zuckerberg look positively old when he announced the launch of The Facebook on CNN at the tender age of 19!

Moreover, it would appear, there is more to the turmoil of teenage angst than just hormones.

Dr Jay Giedd has proved that brains continue to mature and develop throughout childhood and adolescence and well into the mid twenties.

Talk to the Hand.018

The prefrontal cortex, the self-monitoring, problem-solving and decision-making part of the brain develops last.  Young people are still learning to think things through and to consider the consequences of their actions, well beyond the date most of them will have started work.

It doesn’t mean that young people can’t make good decisions or tell the difference between right and wrong, or that they shouldn’t be held responsible for their actions.  They can and they should.

But, because the prefrontal cortex is still developing, adolescents tend to rely on the limbic part of the brain to make decisions and solve problems. The limbic part of the brain is hormonally awash with emotions, impulses, aggression and instinctive behaviour.  Therefore it’s no wonder that the youth are not quite ready to interact productively in the workforce.

They never have been and, biologically, they never will be.

We adults today, may assume this pandemonium of Snapchat parrots, addicted to their smartphones, are too imbued in ‘Virtual Reality’ to be serious about their future careers.  Tis not so!

According to a survey done by Monster and Kanter, Gen Z could actually be the most workforce-ready generation yet.

After all. This is a generation that has always had the Internet at their fingertips. If they identify a problem or encounter something that they don’t know the answer to, they can go online. They are adaptive and responsive to new apps and tools and now have … remarkably active thumbs.  They average 40 words per minute!!!

I digress!  Back to the Monster survey. It found that GenZ were remarkably practical and money-minded.

Talk to the Hand.020

Tis my view, that this is not specific to Gen Z, my view is that we all thought like this when we were that age … we did, didn’t we?

However, their survey further revealed 4 core Gen Z behaviours, all anchored in one element: the search for the truth.

Talk to the Hand.022

Determining truth is an obvious dichotomy.  Remember that the frontal cortex is still in development so we are not sure that teens can determine what is the truth and what is fake.   Whilst adolescents may get taught the difference between fact and opinion in school, the proliferation of conflicting information that’s so easily accessible online makes murky any clarity.

Indeed, researchers from Stanford University set out to measure young people’s ability to judge the credibility of the information they find online. To do this, they designed 56 different assessments for students across 12 US states.

The researchers were worried that students would find it obvious whether or not information was reliable and rejected ideas for tasks because they thought they would be too easy.  Turns out they could not have been more wrong.

Professor, Sam Wineburg, the lead author of the report said “Many people assume that because young people are fluent in social media, they are equally perceptive about what they find there. Our work shows the opposite to be true.”

Through recent developments in Neuroscience, we have discovered that there are many reasons why adolescents are simply not work ready.  It begs the next question; how might we adjust our adult behaviour, to make the most of their energy, innocence and ingenuity, whilst minimising the risks of exuberance and anxiety?

Talk to the Hand.024

My view is that we should go with their flow, then listen to the debate.  Here are my notes to self.

  1. Check out how they are

Hormonal influences and lack of sleep can have a significant impact.  Let’s not  underestimate the power of relational connection.  I just need to listen.  Paying some attention to people’s wellbeing is important not just teenagers.

2.  Put them in the centre

Framing a conversation  around a subject that impacts them personally is the best way to get them engaged.  I just need to listen. We have seen just recently how passionate Gen Z has got about Global Warming – haven’t we?

3.  Flaunt your lack of knowledge

The only thing teenagers like more than being able to show off what they know, is being able to show off they know something that adults don’t. I just need to listen. Giving teens permission to be the expert on subject matter is an excellent way to get them participating. I asked my Budmouth mentee to teach me how to film a Vlog..

4. Debate Opinions

Pop culture is a pervasive force in the lives of most teenagers. For me it was guess who?  David Bowie. All sort of cultural icons help adolescents explore and express their identity.  For example we might discuss the pros and cons of TikTok versus  If you’ve never heard of them … you may want to flaunt your lack of knowledge!  And then just listen.

5. Activity and Action Reflection

Get teens moving, involving all the senses and use technology in order to get higher levels engagement. Then ask them what they have learnt.  And then just listen.  The workshop will involve plenty of movement, games and discussion opportunities.  No one likes to sit around doing tedious boring work.

6.  Act it out

Asking teenagers to perform a story will engage them with the content much more than just reading or listening. So is watching their peers perform – particularly if it involves laughter. I am planning some online streaming activities to explore interviewing skills. I’ll be watching and listening.

7.  Let them choose

Teens want to be able to make their own decisions. They are learning to be independent.  Maybe I’ll give my teens the choice of creating online profiles or writing a traditionally CV or completing an application form.  That way they are deciding for themselves. I just need to listen.

8.  Challenge, contests and competitions

Any challenge needs to be realistic, and teens need to believe they have a chance of succeeding in order for them to be motivated.  The rewards need to be valuable otherwise they can have the reverse effect resulting in mocking the task and disrespecting your efforts to get them involved. I have never been keen on reward learning but recognise that it can work for some people.

Final note to self! BE me.  Don’t try to be hip – if that is such a word nowadays! Just be genuine and sincere, and don’t take self too seriously – a little listening, laughter and honesty will go a long way towards creating meaningful rapport.

Gen  Z – It is their job to test the status quo. Listen to them. We may learn something!  After all, we were all slightly dodgy teenagers challenging the thinking of prior generations to some degree.  Yet, despite that, most of us have managed to overcome the challenges of our times.

Lastly, fellow Toastmasters, haven’t we all cringed when we’ve started a sentence with … when I was your age?  And uttered Doh!  I’ve turned into my parents!


It’s so unfair!



Overview: Write and present an 18- to 22-minute keynote-style speech. Exemplify the point of view or message you would convey as a professional-level speaker. You may choose to use visual aids if they fit your speech and your style. Your speech may be humorous, informational, or any style that appeals to you and supports your speech content. If you receive advance approval from the vice president education, you may present your speech to a non-Toastmasters group.
Speech timings: 18:00, 20:00, 22:00


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