Category: Communication (Page 1 of 16)

Harvest Elder Wisdom Before It’s Too Late

Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash

I teach public speaking to college students. They dread the required class, though many tell me they look back on it as a favorite. Even after many of them discover they like it, they still struggle with my final assignment.

That last assignment requires them to talk with an elderly person (preferably someone who doesn’t get many visitors). They seek wisdom they can share with their classmates via a speech.

Our culture tends to keep us siloed in many ways. We seldom talk with people of different political bents, different social levels, or different ages than ourselves. Confirmation bias is just part of human psychology. Studies show that the nature of social media only exacerbates that tendency.

Of course, just because someone is old doesn’t mean they’re wise. But it’s easy to stereotype people with whom we don’t interact. This is how we miss out on their value.

Dreading the assignment, some students try to wiggle out of it in all kinds of ways. One of my colleagues uses the task in one of her classes. One day she overheard two students in the hallway. One said to the other, “I’m dropping this class! I don’t wanna talk to no old people! They smell funny!”

Experience suggests those two have no idea what they missed by ducking the assignment. Several have called it life-changing. More than a few continue to visit their interviewee after the semester ends.

It’s a win for everyone. The students learn something helpful in managing their lives. The older folks have not only some company but also the pleasure of telling their stories.

To their surprise, students learn that people they think of as old and slow had some amazing experiences earlier in their lives. One student, for instance, learned that her interviewee had been a Vegas showgirl. Another recounted harrowing stories from his interviewee’s time as a Marine.

You have resources you take for granted in your life. Almost certainly, you have older relatives, and if you don’t, you have friends who do. The pandemic may restrict your ability to sit with someone in person, but older people still have telephones.

Sometimes the interviewee passes away before the student delivers the speech, making it very emotional. At least three times in the last five years, the interviewee died before the student could conduct the interview.

So think of someone you could have a conversation like this with. If it makes it easier, tell them it’s an assignment — no need to explain that I’m not grading you. But don’t wait too long, or you may only have regret over a missed opportunity.

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The texture of words

Chilean Fox Terrier

What is that magic air mover?

Words carry more than information. The words you choose change the texture, the flavor of the information. They change the way readers view the world.

For instance, my public speaking students frequently choose “Legalization of Marijuana” as a topic. (The fact that they have been choosing this topic for over 30 years says something about our nation, but that’s for another article.) The audience of college students has probably heard this discussed dozens of times in various settings. So I suggest instead they discuss “Relegalization of Marijuana.” That often makes audiences cock their heads, the way a dog looks at a ceiling fan. That recasting of the topic can completely change the way the speaker approaches the topic and the way the audience hears it. Continue reading

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Medium roundup for April 6

I got behind on posting updates here, but I’ve been getting a lot of writing done on Medium. (Follow me there.) As my own writing evolves, I continue to focus on effective communication, but I’m also branching out into other areas of interest. This blog is, therefore, more and more focusing on my work as a writer in general. Accordingly, I will start including here links to things other than just communication-related posts, but I will use subheads to help you find the things you are most interested in.

Continue reading

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Roundup of Medium articles

Here is the index post of Medium articles I’ve posted through February—or at least the ones connected to effective communication. I’ll catch up on March a little later. If you would like to see all of my Medium articles, you can find them here.

That catches up all of January and February. I’ll catch up March before Friday.

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What I learned when my son died

barry obit

I have learned some hard lessons recently. I wrote this last week:

It seems so wrong to be sitting here in his hospital room, him over there so quiet, because he passed away this morning — my beloved 32-year-old son. Continue reading

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Taco lessons for life

Life lesson #223

I had a similar conversation on separate occasions with two of my kids following some unwise choice both had made. It went something like this:

“There are three kinds of people in the world. There are people who learn the easy way. There are people who learn the hard way. And there are people who just don’t freaking learn. [I confess the original language was harsher—but it was a really unwise choice he or she had made more than once.] You’ve already shown that you are not the first kind. It remains to be seen which of the other two you are.”

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A social media lesson learned: slow down

Big Hairy Deal

This started out to be a “no big hairy deal” thing–and it really still is. But I have once again been presented with a “lesson,” and I’m going to out my own stumble to share with you, just in case it’s useful.

First, let me acknowledge that, once again, I have been absent from the blog for quite some time–haven’t been in here since May. Life circumstances have changed in such a way that it is inevitably affecting me professionally, and I will make another post about that. Suffice it to say that both my writing and my speaking will change drastically, and while I will still publish to help you be more effective at communicating in your daily life, my approach is going to have to change. But, as I said, that’s for another post.

Now, back to our regular post:


My lesson started out with a simple enjoyment of a Facebook post from writer Jena Schwartz. Continue reading

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How pelicans got their beaks


You can’t force creativity, but you can remove the roadblocks.

At the risk of sounding like an old fart (because, after all, I am one): I believe I have noticed a decrease in the ability of incoming students to think outside the pigeon hole. I don’t think students are any less intelligent, but I do think it is one of the unintended side effects of “No Child Left Untested” foisted on the American public in a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to improve public education.

I don’t want to trot down that side path right now. Regardless of the cause, I am sure I see students struggling to think creatively. You might struggle as well.

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Old ties, new media


I just got off the phone with an old friend I haven’t talked with for probably 40 years. I still hear my friend from then in his voice. The call came to my phone, but I really had no idea what the actual connection was (turns out it came through Facebook Messenger).

Old ties are important, and relatively rare in American culture. Continue reading

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