More questions. More help. Introducing Mastering Table Topics Second Edition.

STC day T-2: A tour of the city

The STC Conference doesn’t officially start until Monday, but I came a couple days early so I can visit my brother who lives in town. Read more »

Opening night jitters

Nervous? Of course! And I won’t even be on stage. Tuesday is opening night for the play I wrote for my daughter’s middle school. Read more »

Just grieve

What is the appropriate response to a tragedy like Virginia Tech? I tried to write a bit of punditry about how something like this could have been prevented, but I then felt uncomfortable about it. Don’t we have enough flapping jaws on cable news and talk radio who are using this tragedy to promote their causes, their lobbies, and their latest book? And, honestly, could something like this really have been stopped? Read more »

“And so it goes”

Kurt Vonnegut was the novelist who got me excited about being a writer. Until I read Vonnegut, all of literature I studied in school were from classical writers who were long since dead: Chaucer, Shakespeare, Melville, Dickens, and Hemingway. Then, in my AP English class in high school, we read Slaughterhouse-Five. The book astounded me. Here was serious fiction written in a contemporary genre (science fiction) with contemporary language (including a now overused word that starts with “f”) by an author who was still alive!

I became a huge Vonnegut fan. The first hardcover novel I ever bought for myself was his 1979 novel Jailbird. I would make frequent visits to my college bookstore to build my Vonnegut library: Mother Night, The Sirens of Titan, Welcome to the Monkey House, Breakfast of Champions, and Wampeters, Foma, and Grandfallons.

It wasn’t only Vonnegut’s writing that appealed to me. Vonnegut was an author I could relate to. He seemed like a typical middle-class person like I am, with a family and a job. He wrote about issues I cared about. Since he was a contemporary writer, I could always look forward to him writing something new and addressing what was happening in the world at the time. Other literary greats seemed like musty statues in a marble tiled hall, but Vonnegut brought writing to life. He made a literary career something achievable and worthwhile to me. If Kurt Vonnegut could become a great writer, there was hope for people like me.

Now, Kurt Vonnegut is a part of history, just as Chaucer and Melville. Unfortunately, some of his writing seems to have faded into history too. The horrors of Dresden that he depicted in Slaughterhouse-Five seem as ancient to my children as Chaucer’s pilgrimage to Canterbury. I hope that some other contemporary author could make writing as alive to my children as Kurt Vonnegut did for me, but a great author like him can never be replaced.

God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut. Auf weidersehen?

Clothes really do make the person

Whenever I participate in a speech contest, I learn something new and valuable. This was the case with last night’s Division F Speech Contest.

When I started this speech contest season, I decided to try an experiment. I decided to speak without a suit. I have worn suits at every contest since my first one 15 years ago. I wondered if suits separated me from the audience. When a person dresses better than the audience, that person appears as an expert or authority figure. That person appears superior and elevated from the rest of the crowd. The risk of a suit is that a speaker can feel like he or she is talking to the audience instead of talking with them. So, I would try and see if I could connect more with the audience if I dressed more like them.

Not wearing “the uniform” did help me feel more connected with the audience. I also appreciated have more freedom of movement without contending with the bulkiness of a suit jacket. Looking at what other people wore, I thought I looked better in a dress shirt and slacks than an ill-fitting suit and a poorly tied tie. When I won in both categories in the area contest, it seemed like my experiment was validated. So, I wore the same outfit at the division contest.

After I came in second at the Table Topics contest, one of the judges told me that it was my outfit that probably kept me from higher awards. I had worn my clothes all day at work before the contest, and my slacks had gotten wrinkled. She said, “Even if they deducted only two points from your appearance score, that may have been enough to cost you an award.” Indeed, the winner of the Table Topics contest was impeccably dressed in a crisp, well fitting dark suit. He even had two gold earrings that fit perfectly with his outfit.

My experiment showed me that clothes really do make the person. The outfit one wears sends a clear message about the person’s professionalism and authority. Dressing well can give a person an edge over the competition. And wearing a suit doesn’t necessarily separate a speaker from the audience. In fact, wearing something attractive can help the audience focus on the speaker.

So, the next time I compete in a speech contest, I will wear a suit. I better lose some weight first, though.