An Exclusive Interview with Mark Zeigler: Professor and Communication Connoisseur

This week, I had the opportunity to sit down with Mark Zeigler, one of Florida State’s most loved professors, to discuss his time at Florida State, the importance of self-disclosure in building relationships and the keys to succeeding in the communication industry.

Name: Mark Zeigler

Department: College of Communication and Information

Hometown: Daytona Beach/Venice, FL

Courtesy: Mark Zeigler


Her Campus (HC): What do you teach and how long have you been at Florida State?

Mark Zeigler (MZ): Full time at Florida State, December will be 23 years, and I teach Fundamentals of Speech, Contemporary Human Communication and Rhetoric of Didactic Literature.

HC: What brought you to teaching and what did you do prior to teaching?

MZ: I don’t even know how to explain… I fell into it. I don’t know how to describe it, except that I was in another department and they needed a teacher for one semester for a Public Speaking class and so I did it on a whim and then I never left, so there was no real moment where I thought “I’m going to do this” - it just happened and I was really lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

HC: So you enjoy it?

MZ: Oh I love it. I mean there’s nothing else I can do.

HC: I know from being in your class that you’re well-known on campus and heavily involved in different organizations, so what are some of the things that you’re involved in?

MZ: I try to help with Relay for Life whenever I can, I was the honorary chair one year and I just try to help in anything they might need. I’m on the athletic board for the university and a couple of search committees. I was on the Provost search committee and I am now on the committee for the new teaching and learning center. [I’m] involved with the alumni association, I help with academic affairs for the college, I help Jimbo recruit in January for football. Just whatever anyone asks me to do I try to help the best I can. I work closely with the Center for Leadership and Social Change, so that’s another one.

HC: Are you involved in any research at FSU?

MZ: Not specifically, more creative activity. I have done some stuff with some researchers at George Washington University about public speaking apprehension and we’ve had that published, but mainly my work has been creative activity with the school of theater. I’ve been in about eight of their productions. Of course I’ve worked on some honors theses and a research project here and there but my main assignment is teaching.

HC: One thing that always interested me as a student was your willingness to be very open with your students and to talk about your personal life and your beliefs. Is that something that is a conscious decision on your part, or is that more of just your personality?

MZ: I wouldn’t say I think to myself “today I’m going to share myself.” It just happens. I think when I’m talking about or lecturing about communication theories and interpersonal communication and even public speaking that all of my instincts and all of the objective research tells us that if you’re going to make a human connection and if you’re going to be persuasive and if you’re going to be engaging when you’re teaching that you need to be real and genuine and I have a hard time being authentic if I’m not honest and if I’m not willing to self-disclose when all of the theories are telling us that self-disclosure leads to better health, better mental health, better relationships, deeper understanding, I mean all of those things, so I have a hard time just doing it theoretically. Because we can read those theories until we’re green, and if no one uses them then what really is the point?

HC: Right, I think that that’s definitely something that helps us as students understand the theories. Last semester I know that you interviewed James Franco - how was that?

MZ: Terrifying. There he was, right there and I felt like I was having a bad day and that I have to go. No, that was a great day but that was probably one of the scariest things I’ve done in the last 10 or 15 years.

HC: I can imagine!

MZ: It was great! It was a lot of work. I spent probably four weeks, hours each day, getting ready. Not writing questions or anything like that, but watching everything I could that he did, reading all the interviews, trying to be prepared and to keep in mind the things that were off limits, even though I broke the rules anyway. It was great though. I liked him a great deal, but it was hard to get him to trust me. I think when you’re in that world where everyone wants something from you then you’re hesitant to meet a stranger and enter into a trusting conversation. But about 30 minutes after we were started he looked at me, finally had eye contact with me and winked. I thought “okay, he’s in now.” And then he hugged me afterwards, three times, and said “thank you, I enjoyed this, it was fun, you put me at ease,” so that made me feel good. I mean it was hard. I was so stressed…so I was really glad when it was over, but I felt very good about it.

HC: What is one of your fondest memories at Florida State?

MZ: In pretty much any class I teach there is some great memory about being there. Apart from that, it would be the theater productions. That’s when I’ve gotten closest with folks, that’s the stuff that’s really pushed me and challenged me into where I’m not comfortable. But beyond that, I don’t know, every day. I never go home thinking, “well this was uneventful,” so there’s not really one thing. It would be all the teaching experiences and then the opportunity to be in the school of theater productions, because that place is world class. They’re unbelievable.

Courtesy: Mark Zeigler


HC: Do you have a favorite production that you’ve been a part of?

MZ: Well, it was always Crazy for You, which was in 2003 but now it’s Ragtime. I was in Ragtime the year before last and it was a really big time show, and it was a changing experience. It was fantastic.

HC: Do you have any words of wisdom for students who are pursuing a communications degree or a career in the communications industry?

MZ: Learn to write. Learn to write, and learn to speak, and learn to think. And read. Read everything you can get your hands on. And then get involved. Get involved on campus, get involved in the community. Have numerous news sources that you visit daily so that you’re well-informed and that you’re ready for anything that might come your way. For instance, when Gary Johnson last week was asked about what he thought about Aleppo and he didn’t even know what Aleppo was. A communication professional cannot be that way. A communication professional will hear the word Aleppo and look it up and find out what it is. That’s very troubling, because I think people look to [communication professionals] as a knowledge center. They know how to access information and put messages forward and they’re really good at interpreting different messages from a wide variety of perspectives and I think that reading, reading is what allows communication folks to be able to do that.

HC: Do you have any general life advice you would give to the Florida State community as a whole?

MZ: Yes. This is a really great place, and don’t realize it once it’s over. When you’re a sophomore, wake up on a muggy September morning and tell yourself, and believe it, that “I’m in a really great place right now, and there’s stuff to learn, and I’m excited to be here” and just to really have a fulfilling, full life while you’re here.