Monday, November 24, 2014

Room at the Table: a song for Thanksgiving

A well-crafted song tells a memorable story with both words (poetry) and music. In April singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer released her latest CD, A Permeable Life. Six of the twelve songs are out as lyrics videos on YouTube. Her song Room at the Table fits very well with the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

The other five songs with lyrics videos are:  

A Light in the Window

Every Little Bit of It


Forever Ray


You can download all the lyrics in a pdf file here.

The other six songs are:

The Work of Our Hands

Thank You, Good Night

The Ten O’clock Line

Writing You a Letter

Please Don’t Put Me on Hold

An Empty Chair

The lyrics sheet explains that An Empty Chair was inspired by seeing the Oklahoma City National Memorial. It has a field of 168 empty chairs representing each person who died in the April 19,1995 bombing of the Murrah Building.

The image was adapted from a 120 year-old Harper's Bazaar cover.

Friday, November 21, 2014

How to fry a turkey without burning down your home

Sometimes a demonstration is the best way to present a topic. Deep frying is one way to quickly cook a juicy turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. If done wrong, it’s also possible to start a fire that could burn down your home and wreck the holiday celebration.

Last year the Boise Fire Department did this video demonstration of what could go wrong. It isn’t the only cautionary video out there, but I think people are more likely to listen to their city fire marshal than someone distant. Underwriters Laboratories has one and State Farm has another.   

At the Food Network, Alton Brown has an instructional video along with a detailed description of how to build a Turkey Derrick

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Turn back your cocks?

On Sunday, November 2nd, Daylight Savings Time ended. Brief newspaper articles advised us to turn back our clocks. Some added that we should also:

A. Change the batteries in our smoke alarms.
B. Program our thermostat for heating.
C. Change our water filter.

A comment on a blog post by Patricia Saxton from 2011 titled Why bother to proofread? mentioned that a front-page headline in the Lake County News-Herald  from Willoughby, Ohio instead advised their readers to:

 "Turn Back Your Cocks Tonight"

That headline is an example where You All Know What I Really Meant, which I’ve given the long silly acronym of a YAKWIRM. Please proofread, and keep those naughty yakwirms away.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Serving your audience by answering their questions

An after-dinner speech provides a unique opportunity for answering questions after a presentation. There is not another speaker waiting for you to finish so he or she can start. You can provide a more detailed answer that shows how it fits into a broader subject.

A decade ago I heard George Vander Voort speak about Metallography of Welds at a dinner meeting of the Oregon Chapter of ASM International in Portland. George delivered a PowerPoint presentation containing lots of images of cross-sectioned, polished, and etched weld joints in a wide variety of materials. Then he took several questions about that specific presentation. (More recently George discussed that topic in a 2011 magazine article).

Next he asked the audience if there were any questions about metallography in general. George said I’m here to serve you, so ask away. His answers to several questions each  included showing a series of images from other presentations stored on his laptop. It was a virtuoso performance. George has a very rare breadth and depth of knowledge. (I have a copy of his 750-page book, Metallography: Principles and Practice). But, you don’t need  that depth to adopt his attitude of servant leadership.

Thinking back, what George’s performance reminded me of was watching someone set up an extension table for a family Thanksgiving dinner. Small pieces are fitted together to form a larger, more inclusive whole.      

The image of puzzle pieces came from OpenClipart, and the extension table from Scientific American.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Perspectives from Epictetus on luggage, property, eloquence, and writing obscurely

In Chapter 43 of the Enchiridion (authored by his disciple Arrian) the Stoic philosopher Epictetus reportedly says:

“Everything has two handles, by one of which it ought to be carried and by the other not.”

That’s still excellent advice about luggage. He continued that:

“If your brother wrongs you, do not lay hold of the matter by the handle of the wrong that he is doing, because this is the handle by which the matter ought not be carried; but rather by the other handle - that he is your brother, that you were brought up together, and then you will be laying hold of the matter by the handle by which it ought to be carried.”

In the following Chapter 44 he points out that:

“The following statements constitute a non sequitur: ‘I am richer than you, therefore I am superior to you’; or ‘I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am superior to you’. But the following conclusions are better: ‘I am richer than you, therefore my property is superior to yours’; or ‘I am more eloquent than you, therefore my eloquence is superior to yours’. But you are neither property nor eloquence.”

Then in Chapter 49 he says:

“When a person gives himself airs because he can understand and interpret the books of Chrysippus, say to yourself, ‘If Chrysippus had not written obscurely, this man would have nothing about which to give himself airs.’

“But what is it I want? To learn nature and to follow her. I seek, therefore, someone to interpret her; and having heard Chrysippus does so, I go to him. But I do not understand what he has written; I seek therefore the person who interprets Chrysippus. And down to this point there is nothing to justify pride. But when I find the interpreter, what remains is to put his precepts into practice; this is the only thing to be proud about....” 

I’ve quoted from pages 527, 529, and 533 of W. A. Oldfeather’s 1928 translation of the Enchiridion. Reading a book by Henry Petroski, the Duke University professor of both civil engineering and history, got me to look up Epictetus. He used another translation of the first quote at the beginning of Chapter 2 in his 2006 book Success through Failure: The Paradox of Design.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Does it take 9, 90, or 900 seconds to lose your audience’s attention?

On page 87 of the 2008 edition of his book Presenting to Win Jerry Weissman said:

“Always remember the importance of the start of your presentation. If you lose your audience within that first 90 seconds, chances are that they will be lost forever.”

On November 10th Dr. Michelle Mazur blogged about Gone in 9 Seconds: Is Your Presentation Losing Your Audience? She claimed instead that:

“You only have 9 seconds to capture your audience’s attention.

Is your jaw on the floor? Are you thinking ‘Michelle’s nuts where is she getting this information?’

In Sally Hogshead’s new book How the World Sees You, I was astounded to learn that you have 9 seconds to fascinate your audience.”

Really? Is this a stunning new insight which came from careful public speaking research on audiences? Well, of course not! Sally started out as an ad copywriter. She dug up and has been peddling that 9 second claim for several years. On page 58 of her 2010 book Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation she said:

“According to BBC News, ‘The addictive nature of web browsing can leave you with an attention span of nine seconds - the same as a goldfish.’ “

That BBC News article was titled Turning into digital goldfish and it appeared back on February 22, 2002. Sally just quoted the opening sentence.

How meaningful is an average (median?) of nine seconds spent on a web page? I looked up an often-cited magazine article from February 2008 by H. Weinreich, H. Obendorf, E. Herder and M. Mayer titled Not Quite the Average: An Empirical Study of Web Use that appeared in the ACM Transaction on the Web, Vol. 2, No. 1. They looked at a sample of 25 web users. Figure 4 of that article presents a histogram of the distributions of stay times for all participants at one-second intervals. They had shown results for both first-time visits, and all visits.

The histogram shown above just displays their results for all visits. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer version). They noted:

“....participants stayed only for a short period on most pages. 25% of all documents were displayed for less than 4 seconds, and 52% of all visits were shorter than 10 seconds (median: 9.4s). However, nearly 10% of the page visits were longer than two minutes. Figure 4 shows the distribution of stay times grouped in intervals of one second. The peak value of the average stay times is located between 2 and 3 seconds; these stay times contribute 8.6% of all visits.”

You could describe this “attention span” as including 0.9, 9, and 90 seconds. 
How long ago has a nine second attention span been discussed in books? At least 45 years - describing some work done at Northwestern University. But, it hasn’t gotten much traction and mainly has been forgotten. A Handbook for the Advertising Agency Account Executive, published back in 1969 by Addison-Wesley claimed on page 69 that:

“Over the past several years, research has been conducted at the Northwestern School of Speech on the attention span of adults. They found the average attention span of an adult is approximately 9 seconds.

That makes a sudden death situation for the speaker in that he holds his audience for a time period about as long as this sentence.”

Then David A. Peoples 1992 book Presentations Plus: David Peoples’ Proven Techniques summarized it on page 75 as:

“The Northwestern School of Speech reports that the attention span of an audience is approximately nine seconds.”

Lenny Laskowski repeated exactly what Mr. Peoples had said on page 79 of his 2001 book 10 Days to More Confident Public Speaking.

How about 900 seconds (15 minutes)? TED Talks routinely run for 18 minutes, and people don’t seem to lose their attention for less than that interval.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Is trying to cure fear of public speaking hopeless?

Of course not! But you might get that impression after reading an infographic that was posted recently. On October 17th Tom Woods blogged about and posted one titled Six Ways Your Public Speaking Fear is Ruining Your Career. On November 7th Shane Purnell reposted it at Platform Giant with the title How is Fear of public speaking ruining your career?

When I visually put together two of Tom’s statements, I reached an appalling conclusion.

One of Tom’s statements was that:

 “75% of people have a fear of public speaking.”

He illustrated it with two rows of five person icons that had 7 out of 10 colored blue. I have correctly shown it above with 15 out of 20 (although elsewhere I have also used the minimum, 3 out of 4).

Another of Tom’s statements was that:

 “Only 1 in 7 people manage to cure their fear of public speaking.”

We can show that roughly by checking off 2 of the 15 people, as shown above.

Now what we would have left is still 65% of people with a fear of public speaking. That sounds rather hopeless, but really is not - because the first statement is silly. Back in February I blogged about Busting a myth - that 75% of people in the world fear public speaking.  

In his infographic Tom also spouts the same old Mehrabian Myth that how you communicate is 55% body language, 38% tone of your voice, and 7% what you actually say. He does not say where it came from, although he has elsewhere in his Quick Start Guide.

Shane ends his post by stating what he calls a practical tip to for today, but it’s just the Mehrabian Myth. Aargh!