1/29/2013 10:22:00 AM Motivational speaker Jeff Yalden gets real with Williams Middle School and High School students during Jan. 24 assembly
Top: Motivational speaker Jeff Yalden talks about life, choices and consequences with Williams High School and Middle School students Jan. 24 at Williams High School. Below, Yalden gives the bleachers a try. Ryan Williams/WGCN
How do you get a gym full of middle school and high school students to pay attention?
All it takes is some authenticity and humor, according to motivational speaker Jeff Yalden.
Yalden has both of these qualities. When he spoke to Williams sixth through 12th graders Jan. 24, he held their full attention.
"Teenagers appreciate you telling them what their parents tell you but that you just do it at their level," he said. "Teenagers want you to be real, and when you are real and they know you care about them, they're going to be like, 'oh tell me more.'"
Before he became a motivational speaker, Yalden was a teacher and a coach. He found that the curriculum wasn't for him.
"I think curriculum's good, I think it's important," he said. "But my greatest education came from real life."
So Yalden said he developed his own curriculum.
"I wanted to teach kids my class-real life, choices, attitude," he said. "I wanted to be an encouragement in their life."
Yalden said he grew up with a learning disability, stutter and twitch and graduated 128th out of 133 in his high school class.
"I stand here 42 years old, and I'll tell you, there's two things that have made a difference in my life, and none of them have anything to do with a gift and none of them have anything to do with intelligence."
The first is choices. Yalden wears a bracelet with the four Ts written on it: Take Time To Think. The bracelet reminds him to make good choices, because choices can lead to opportunities or consequences.
The second is attitude. Yalden said although he suffers from depression and anxiety, he maintains a positive attitude.
"I smile every day because I'm grateful," he said.
Through sometimes humorous and other times serious anecdotes, Yalden spoke about the importance of not judging other people, respecting others, not taking relationships for granted and spending time with loved ones.
Because of this range of topics, Yalden said his presentation could affect students in different ways.
"I hope that they heard the message that their heart needed to hear," he said.
Lisa Rodriguez, a senior at Williams High School, said she enjoyed Yalden's speech.
"I think it was pretty inspirational," she said, adding that Yalden "touched us with his life stories." Rodriguez said after hearing the speech she'll have a more positive attitude.
Yalden, who has been a motivational speaker for 20 years, said he feels fortunate and honored to get to speak to students for a living.
"I love the impact that you can have when you think about how vulnerable kids are. The fact that I have that ability to be able to say something that so many years down the road they'll always remember," he said. "It doesn't get much better than this."