Exclusive: Behind the Book with Kirt Manecke!


Smile and Succeed for Teens is not the first training program Kirt Manecke has created: He has been helping adults and teens succeed personally and professionally for years. Keep reading to learn more about his background and the resources he has created!


1.) Tell us a little about yourself and your professional background. What led you to write Smile and Succeed for Teens?

My passion for customer service and sales began years ago, when I co-founded an award-winning, start-up--a specialty retail business in Michigan. Having worked at other businesses during college, I wanted my own company to be different and better; to train employees in ways that would result in more sales and profits.

I developed an extensive and innovative six-week customer service and sales training program for new employees, where they were introduced to proven techniques and were required to pass a test before joining the sales team. The program worked. I watched as employee confidence, and customer satisfaction and sales, soared. The tenets taught in my first training program provided the basis of my first book, Smile: Sell More with Amazing Customer Service.

I wrote Smile: Sell More with Amazing Customer Service to promote and teach that good service is good business. If you treat your customers well, you will be rewarded in return. It’s a 60-minute crash course, which is quick and easy to implement. Neiman Marcus and many others use Smile for training. This book won eight awards.

After reading Smile, many moms and teachers came up to me and exclaimed, “You have to get this book into the schools! It teaches all the social skills kids aren’t learning.” That’s when I had the idea to write Smile & Succeed for Teens, which is ideal for planning lessons for the classroom.


2.) What was your motivation for creating this type of handbook for teens?

Have you noticed the way kids are constantly staring at their cell phones? They spend more time looking at that little screen than they do engaging with each other face-to-face. This decreases the number of opportunities to practice important social skills.

My idea was to write a crash course just like my first book, and make it quick and easy for teens to read. While there are many titles available on the topic of social skills and job skills for young people, Smile & Succeed for Teens has a unique advantage. It’s a quick and easy read with no wasted space. My objective was to give teens the confidence and the skills needed to make friends, volunteer effectively, and succeed on the job and in life. Most employers don’t train in social skills, so I wanted my book to be the handbook teens read before they interview and start working so they can become a superstar employee or volunteer. The skills they learn in Smile & Succeed for Teens can be life-changing.

I spent nine months meeting with teens to get their input for the book.  Teens are reading—and loving—Smile & Succeed for Teens because they helped write it! As any teacher or parent will tell you, in order to get through to a teenager, you have to capture—and maintain—their attention. Teens love that it is short, fun to read, and packed with interesting and useful visuals and information they need to know.

The “Turn Off the Electronics” section is especially important because students learn when it’s okay and when it’s not okay to have their electronics out. This is something they often have not learned at home. The teacher's guide has exercises to help students master electronic etiquette in life and on the job.


3.) How do you intend this program to be used? Is it meant to be more teacher- or student-driven?

It can be used either way, but is most effective when led by a teacher. The role-playing activities are especially helpful, as they allow students to practice techniques they learned in the book. The Teaching Guide contains many effective mock job interviews, and social, customer service, job, and volunteering skills activities that teachers can have students role-play.

It can be student-driven simply by assigning students to read one section at a time. The repetition of visual cues and summation of information makes the content easy to digest. In addition, a combination of famous quotations and real-life examples help to clarify the presented ideas and make them more memorable and relevant. If your students learn what is in the book and Teaching Guide, they will be their employer’s best worker, a super-effective volunteer, and a kind, well-behaved student and friend.


4.) What about a student who is working through the handbook individually? What advice would you have for them?

I would suggest reading at their own pace, starting with “The Top Ten People Skills,” and taking time with each chapter to digest and practice. Smile & Succeed for Teens can be read cover to cover, but it also serves as an effective quick reference guide. If the reader has a personal copy of the book, I recommend highlighting key information or making notes while reading. Teens will walk away from this book with useful information and a step-by-step process for applying it.


5.) For a teacher using this program in their classroom, what suggestions do you have for expanding the lessons?

If a teacher wants to expand the lessons, I’d suggest visiting several businesses, including nonprofit organizations, when conducting the “Be a Mystery Shopper” exercise. This will give students exposure to more types of businesses. Other than that, I’m not sure if they need expanding: I wrote the lessons to be short, quick, and effective.


6.) Your book was originally written for general education students. How would it also benefit students with disabilities?

I noticed a lot of special education teachers and directors buying the book. Many were using it to help students with autism. Teachers tell me they like the book because their students find the visuals educational. Many teachers who have purchased my books and Teaching Guide come up to me at conferences and say with a great deal of enthusiasm, “Tell other teachers that your book IS the perfect transition curriculum!” With the unemployment rate significantly higher for students with disabilities these skills often mean the difference between getting the job and not getting the job.


7.) Temple Grandin called you after reading Smile & Succeed for Teens. Can you tell us about that?

Temple Grandin called me the same day she read my book and urged me to use her testimonial to get this book out to all teens and adults. She told me that she gets thousands of books sent to her every year, but, “This is the real deal!” I was honored. Temple Grandin is a true hero to so many.

Here is her testimonial:

"Smile & Succeed for Teens is a fantastic resource to help teens be successful at work."

-Temple Grandin, Author, Thinking in Pictures, The Autistic Brain, TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World


8.) Is there anything else you think people should know about Smile and Succeed for Teens?

It works! Teens love reading it because it’s short and includes valuable information they need to know. Teachers love it because it’s quick and easy to implement, students enjoy it, and it makes teachers’ lives easier as students are better behaved.

Research from Harvard University says that social skills are the number one factor in getting a job. Purchasing my books from Attainment Company is one of the most effective and easiest ways for you to solve this enormous social skills deficit and give your students the edge.

Here’s one testimonial from a teacher that I just love!:

“My principal came up to me at graduation and said, ‘Your students all had good eye contact and firm handshakes. I expected poor eye contact and loosey-goosey handshakes.’ I told her, ‘They read Smile & Succeed for Teens!”

—Alicia Quintana, Teacher, Summit Academy, Flat Rock, MI


Thanks for the interview, Kirt! 

Kirt's book Smile and Succeed for Teens is available for purchase on the Attainment website!


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