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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This site has been inactive for quite some time. My life’s direction has been changing. I don’t want to lose what we’ve build up over years, but we really need to update things before moving ahead. So if you stumble across the site in the meantime, I just want to let you know that we haven’t forgotten about the site, and we will soon be offering you new, practical tools for effective communication. Please bookmark us and come back. Thanks!

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You’ll get the posts first

If you have followed me for any length of time, you know that challenges at home have often interfered with regular posting. I appreciate your sticking with me. I wanted to let you know that, once again, things are changing around what has variously been called King’s Corner and Speaking Impact.

Some of you have probably forgotten that you even subscribed! Others have come on board in recent weeks, usually via a post on Medium, where I have been doing most of my short-form writing in the last year or so. You may decide to unsubscribe with the recent updates, and if so, no hard feelings, and I wish good things for you. But you might want to browse through this post before deciding to do so. Continue reading

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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 continued

Last week I posted all the Medium articles I have posted touching on communication from January and February. If you missed my reasons for doing so, you might like to know.

Today I’m getting everything caught up—all the articles so far in March. I will then start sharing a roundup post each Friday, so the email list remains the best way to keep up with such posts.

I write on life management topics as well, so if you would like to see everything I write, follow me on Medium or look on Patreon for access to everything, including material that otherwise would only be available to Medium members (although you could just join Medium).

That catches up through Friday, March 16, 2018. I have others in the queue right now, though, so be sure to watch your email and this blog for updates, or follow on Medium or Patreon.

As always, I hope to help you increase your impact and influence!

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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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Speaking Impact: Changing because life changed


Long-time readers (and there are several of you out there—thank you!) know that I have gone through periods of not posting much. You might think that I’ve just gone through one of those and that it’s related to the loss of my son, which is the last thing I wrote about here.

You would be partly right.

On the other hand, you would be very wrong, and I need to update you, therefore. Continue reading

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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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