James Dean or Justin Bieber?

By Amy Beth Miller

The staff and residents at the assisted living home instantly recognized my daughter’s Halloween costume. Her fellow Girl Scouts had no clue. They were born years after the most recent “Addams Family” movie, and they had never seen “Cousin Itt” and “Thing.”

Watching the different reactions that night reminded me how important it is for presenters to be sure the audience will understand any references to popular culture. The more diverse the audience, the harder that is to accomplish. It’s crucial to get to know your audience so that you can customize your comments.

When you say “sex symbol,” do they think “James Dean” or “Justin Bieber”? Do they watch Dancing With the Stars or 60 Minutes?

Even idiomatic phrases can be outdated. 

As my daughter was enthusiastically singing along to the song  “Busted” from Phineas and Ferb, she understood the meaning of the phrase “I’m gonna drop a dime on you” from the context. But she had no clue that the reference came from making a call on a pay phone. We’ve had mobile phones since before she was born.

Don’t assume that outdated references occur only with the under-10 set. Since 1998 Beloit College has issued an annual “Mindset List™” of references that would be baffling for the incoming freshman class. For the Class of 2015, the most recent list notes “Amazon has never been just a river in South America.”

What outdated reference have you heard recently?

[Image Source: Amy Beth Miller]

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