Dare to Be Different

“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” – Herman Melville


As the only female in my undergrad speech class, I comfortably delivered the speeches required by the professor’s syllabus. Comfortable that is until we received a new assignment, a five to seven minute demonstration speech using props, pictures, or other visual effects. After each presentation, our classmates would make comments about the subject and the presentation.

Testosterone filled the classroom as each student quickly stated what his subject would be. Topics included: how to fix a lamp cord, how to replace a garbage disposal, how to change the oil and oil filter in a car, how to give basketball officials’ signals, and how to use various repair tools.

Still living at home, I was used to my father doing all household repairs. However, he did teach my sister and me the difference between a Phillips screwdriver and a slotted screwdriver, a wrench and a ratchet, as well as vise grips and pliers. He taught us how to use a hammer without damaging a finger, how to clean walls bottom up to avoid streaks, and my favorite: how to jiggle the handle of the toilet to stop it from leaking. I knew a few repair tricks, but I knew I couldn’t compete with the men in demonstrating how to fix anything.

I didn’t pick a topic immediately and chose to be the last speaker in the rotation. What could I possibly demonstrate to a group of men who would give informative speeches showing their expertise in fixing a myriad of things? After much thought, I selected my topic, practiced what I would say, and carefully prepared my props.

On the day of my presentation, I opened my bag of visual effects in front of the class and said, “Today, I’m going to teach you how to make a dress.”

The look of surprise on the male professor’s face was priceless. I held up a large piece of fabric and a simple dress pattern and said, “This is what you start with.”

Putting those items aside, I held up a piece of fabric with pattern pieces pinned in place. I held up a pair of pinking shears and explained that they were preferable to plain scissors because they prevented the cut fabric from raveling. I described how darts are made to provide a smooth fit over the curvy parts of a woman’s body. I showed how I sewed a zipper into the dress.

All eyes were on me as I ended my demonstration speech with, “This is what the finished product looks like,” as I modeled the simple black form fitting dress. The applause that followed was heartwarming, but the positive comments told me that I succeeded.

I dared to be different. When have you dared to try something different?

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