Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Should fear of negative self-talk be on Top Ten lists of fears?

Back on July 1st the web site had an article titled Fear of Public Speaking: Our #1 Fear is Talking to Someone Else that began with the nonsensical claim that:

“Every year, the survey engines around America release the ten biggest fears list, and at the top of the list, every single year, is Fear Of Public Speaking. Death is number two or three most of the time.”

Obviously they never saw the 2001 (and 1998) Gallup Polls reported with the title Snakes Top List of Americans’ Fears.

But,'s article title got me thinking about talking to ourselves (self-talk) versus talking with other people. That isn’t on Top Ten fear lists, because the question isn’t being asked in surveys.

Negative self talk clearly is a problem. In a July 2013 blog post at Life Practice for Schools Gaynor Dawson described it as being:

“ having a poison parrot in your head, which just won’t shut up.”

The negative self-talk problem  appears in blog posts and articles about public speaking. At No Freaking Speaking Matt Abraham discussed Be Kind To Yourself: Managing Your Self-Talk and Fear Stories To Reduce Speaking Anxiety. Sandra Zimmer wrote at length about Self-Talk: What You Say to Yourself Determines Your Experience.

There also are brief discussions at medical web sites like Turn Down Negative Self-Talk at Web MD, and Positive thinking: Stop negative self-talk to reduce stress at the Mayo Clinic. Down in Australia at the Center for Clinical Interventions there is a detailed nine-module course on Improving Self-Esteem.

The image of a Blue-eyed cockatoo came from Christian Paul Stobbe on Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Storytelling and The Simpsons

Right now I’m enjoying watching the Every Simpsons Ever cable TV ultra-marathon that will include all 552 episode which have appeared over the last 25 years. NPR’s Fresh Air Weekend has an article about it. There are three things can we learn about storytelling from The Simpsons

Say something new

For the opening of each episode Bart writes something different on the blackboard in the schoolroom, and the couch gag (where the whole family gathers in the living room) is new.

In Homer Defined he averts meltdowns at two nuclear plants just by dumb luck and gets his name in the dictionary.

In Lisa the Iconoclast two brand new words appeared, embiggen and cromulent. Sprinfield’s town motto is Jebediah Springfield’s statement that:

"A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man."

Don’t be afraid to tell stories on more than one level

In A Streetcar Named Marge there is a subplot where Maggie is sent to a strict day care center whose director confiscates all the pacifiers, and puts here alone in a play pen. Maggie retrieves the pacifiers from a locker in a sequence that can be enjoyed just as an elaborate sight gag. But, her solitary confinement quotes from Steve McQueen’s role in the World War II prisoner of war film The Great Escape (including the theme music).

One couch gag has the family in cowboy hats, and then the couch drops below the floor revealing they are above the clouds. Then it falls toward the ground. That’s funny as is, but also is a movie reference to the scene in Dr. Strangelove where the pilot, Major Kong, rides a hydrogen bomb like a bucking bronco.  

What should we avoid?

Don’t try to cram in too much information. Every 22-minute episode contains way more material than is in an 18-minute TED talk.

Friday, August 22, 2014

My gut reaction to Greg Gutfeld is disgust

Yesterday evening I was watching The Simpsons cartoon ultra-marathon on cable TV. During commercials I flipped channels to see what else was on. At Fox News Greg Gutfeld was filling in for Bill O’Reilly and wearing his reading glasses sometimes, like he does as one of the hosts on The Five.

Back on October 22, 2009 on the Get in Front Communications blog Susan Young discussed 99 Ways to Improve Your Communication. Her way #69 is to:

“Avoid keeping your reading glasses on and ‘looking down your nose’ when speaking to others.”

More recently Matt Christian tweeted that:

“When Greg Gutfeld has his reading glasses on, he looks like Geppetto if he’d made a RealDoll.”

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Having to give an elevator speech is the most commonly feared networking situation

There have been two recent surveys about social fears that rank which situations about business networking people find scary. I blogged about one on U.S. adults reported in a 2008 magazine article by Ruscio et al. Also, I blogged about another on adults in both developed and developing countries  in a 2010 magazine article.

A bar chart shown above lists the fears ranked from most common to least common. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer version). For both (US adults) and [adults in 9 developed countries] they come in the same order:

Public speaking/performance (21.2%) [13.0%]
Speaking up in meeting/class (19.5%) [12.5%]
Meeting new people (16.8%) [8.8%]
Talking to people in authority (14.7%) [8.6%]
Talking with strangers (13.1%) [6.9%]
Entering an occupied room (11.9%) [6.7%]

For developing countries the order is slightly different. Both articles also list phobias.

Giving an elevator speech is one kind of speaking up in a meeting. It is the second most common fear, after public speaking/performance. Yet, it is something that is expected when you attend networking events. Thus it calls for lots of your attention. 

Starting in late April on his No Sweat Public Speaking web site Fred E. Miller discussed how to craft an elevator speech. He divided the process into seven floors:

First Floor: Describe who you are.

Second Floor: Describe what you do.

Third Floor: Describe your expertise.

Fourth Floor: Describe why they hire you.

Fifth Floor: Your WHY (the DNA of your elevator speech).

Sixth Floor: More WHY they hire you.

Seventh Floor: What you deliver (Your Ultimate Selling Proposition)

Fred also mentioned an eighth floor, which is where you ask a person you are talking to one-on-one about what they do. 

This post was inspired by a comment in a lengthy discussion on the LinkedIn Public Speaking Network group on the topic of “Is ‘The Fear of Public Speaking’  a misnomer?”  Susan RoAne had commented that our greatest fear was not public speaking, but rather was walking into a roomful of strangers. I think she got that from a three-decade old New York Times article that I have blogged about. Last November I had blogged about fears in networking situations, and even emailed her about that post. 

The image of an elevator door in Vancouver, Washington came from Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Measure twice, and then cut once

Measure twice, cut once is an old proverb that cautions us to check our work. There are several ways to put the pieces together when designing and building any project. That includes writing a speech. Making the transitions between them smooth (gap free) is an important detail.

In October 2012 Diane Windingland blogged about how Transitions in Your Speech Bridge the Gap. In August 2013 Andrew Dlugan blogged about Speech Transitions: Magical Words and Phrases such as:





Norrm Abram used Measure Twice, Cut Once: lessons from a master carpenter as the title for his 1996 book of essays. (One essay is even titled Measure Twice, Cut Once, but Don’t Measure at All if You Can Avoid It. Fitting the last piece of siding in a row on a house is a situation where you are better to just hold it in place and mark it).  

For the cat scratcher box I discussed on August 1st, I used butt joints on the sides.  I chose to make both visible on the long sides. As shown above, I also could have put them both on the short sides, or one on each side. Or, I could have gotten fancy and cut 45-degree miters on all four corners to almost hide them, like for a picture frame. 

By the way, the oldest version of the proverb I could find comes from the Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini (1500 - 1571), who said to the Pope that:

“It must, most blessed Father, be allowed that in those cases where men are risking all upon one throw, it is not wrong to do as certain poor and simple men are wont to say, who tell us we must mark seven times and cut once.”

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Robin Williams, improv, and answering questions

This week I was deeply saddened to hear that comedian and actor Robin Williams had committed suicide. Back in 2001 he appeared on Inside the Actor’s Studio. In the four-minute video clip shown above he improvises starting with a shawl, and creates (among others) the Indian director of a musical film “Whose Sari Now?”,  an Iron Chef, a bullfighter, and finally a car driving out of a car wash.

Answering questions during a speech requires developing impromptu speaking skills, and studying improv can help. Pages 20 and 21 in the June issue of Toastmaster magazine have a brief article by Thomas Piccin about Speaking Off the Cuff.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

12 most commonly feared social or performance situations for university students in Pisa

Recently at PMC I found a magazine article from Italy by Liliana Dell’Osso et al. titled Dimensional Assessment of DSM-5 Social Anxiety Symptoms Among University Students and Its Relationship with Functional Impairment. It appeared in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 2014, volume 10, on pages 1325 to 1332. They surveyed a sample of  717 students at the University of Pisa (440 women and 277 men, ages 18 to 28). Students filled out the SHY-SR, which is an exhaustive list of 168 yes-no questions that you can read here.

Table 3 of the article lists 12 most commonly feared social or performance situations, feared by more than 60% of students, which are shown above in a bar chart. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer version).

The most common fear (71.4%) was question [#36], Have you often felt more comfortable in small groups?

Six other fear questions began with Have you often felt embarrassed or uncomfortable:

2nd (70.0%) [#150] when you had to express romantic feelings to someone you liked?

5th (63.9%) [#108] that you might black out while performing or taking an oral examination?

7th (63.0%) [#105] when taking an oral examination?

9th (62.1%) [#103] when speaking, singing, or dancing in front of others?

10th (61.5%) [#146] when you had to ask someone you liked to go out on a date, a movie, to dinner, or a dance?

11th (61.2%) [104] when performing in front of an audience?

Three other fear questions began with When you were a child or adolescent, do you remember or have you been told that:

3rd (66.7%) [#9] you felt embarrassed and uncomfortable speaking with people you didn’t know very well?

4th (64.0%) [#1] you were very shy?

8th (63.0%) [#11] you didn’t want to go to school because you were afraid that the other children would not stay with you and you would feel embarrassed and uncomfortable?

The other two questions that rounded out the top twelve were:

6th (63.6%) [#26] Have you often felt that you were physically unattractive?

12th (60.4%) [#109] Do you worry a lot about having to perform in public or taking an oral examination, for any of these reasons?

These are very curious results which illustrate that the answers you get depends crucially on the questions you ask. I was surprised that blacking out while performing or taking an oral examination ranked 5th and worrying was 12th. Dell’Osso et al. explained that:

“In addition, we found a high frequency of endorsement of ‘Do you worry a lot about having to perform in public or taking an oral examination?’. This finding is probably because, in Italian universities, unlike in other countries, most examinations are orally performed in front of other students.”

In January 2013 I posted about Did you ever worry about blacking out while performing or during an oral exam? and was surprised that their previous study of high school students had ranked it first.

Perhaps there is an inside joke by clinical psychologists in having chosen the acronym SHY-SR. It can be pronounced as scheisser (a German obscenity for one who defecates).

Since this survey does not cover specific fears there is no locally relevant question:

“Have you often felt afraid of falling from the top of a leaning tower?”

Yair Haklai’s image of the leaning tower came from Wikimedia Commons.