Tuesday, September 19, 2017

How much of Scott Mautz’s discussion of a survey on fears should you take seriously – some or none?

On September 12, 2017 there was an article by Scott Mautz at the Inc. web site titled 11 Famous failures that will inspire you to success. (It also appeared the next day as a post on his blog. And it is on page 28 in the Google Books preview of his Find the Fire: Ignite Your Inspiration – and Make Work Exciting Again). He began with a startling statistic about fear of failure: 

“Nothing debilitates us as much or is as scary as a fear of failure.

In fact, research indicates that our fear of failure tops the list of our phobias with nearly one in three people having a fear of failure (31 percent), ahead of our fear of public speaking or fear of spiders (30 percent each) or even our fear of the paranormal (15 percent).

A close fifth was our fear of another Transformers movie being made.”

The last one is obviously meant to be humorous, but the others seemed serious. I didn’t recall seeing those numbers before, so I clicked on his link for that research, which led me to a press release from October 14, 2015 titled Research reveals fear of failure has us all shaking in our boots this Halloween. It said that Linkagoal had a survey of 1,083 American adults done by the commercial polling firm YouGov. The press release talked about fears, not phobias. Back on October 11, 2011 I blogged about What’s the difference between a fear and a phobia? That press release listed the percentages shown in the following bar chart:

Compare them with Scott’s Top Five list:

His begins with fear of failure (31%) rather than fear of horror films (32%). He also adds fear of public speaking (30%).  

I try to get detailed results from a survey, so I searched on Google but couldn’t find them for Linkagoal. Instead I found a blog post titled What scares us most: spiders or failing? Linkagoal’s Fear Factor Index clears the cobwebs that showed an infographic with another top five fears list with horror movies first (but that added fear of flying at 20%):

I emailed Scott Mautz as follows:


How did you decide that fear of failure tops the list? The press release about research you linked to in your second paragraph instead says it was fear of horror films. And, it says nothing about fear of public speaking, so where did you find that 30% statistic?

An infographic in a blog post from Linkagoal lists the Top 5 Most Scariest Things, which were: Horror movies - 32%, Failure - 31%, Spiders - 30%, Flying - 20%, and Ghosts -  15%. Public speaking isn’t on that list either.

Richard Garber

He replied:

Hi Richard-

thx for taking the time to engage with your question. I should have made it clearer in the article that the top fears we humans have comes from a cross section of a number of sources, not just the one I linked to. Also, important to note that what humans find scary and what they have a fear of are two different things.  For example, for certain watching scary movies is very scary to adults.  But it does not rank at the top for what humans are afraid of- they are not afraid of watching scary movies- they're afraid of failing.  Hope this helps. 


Based on that evasive and condescending reply, I don’t think ANY of Scott’s discussion of the Linkagoal survey should be taken seriously. How fears rank can be stated either as what more people fear (like Scott did, in units of percent) or in terms of what people fear more (on a scale from say one to ten, via something psychologists call a fear survey scale). Back on October 23, 2012 I blogged about how Either way you look at it, public speaking really is not our greatest fear. That post linked to another one from October 13, 2012 titled In a 1992 study of U.S. university students, fear of public speaking ranked sixth for men and eighth for women. In that study fear of failure really was ranked first. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Please spare a few moments to take Dave Paradi’s survey on Annoying PowerPoint

Every two years Dave Paradi does a survey about what things in PowerPoint presentations annoys people. Please take a few minutes to fill out his current one, which is here until September 24.

On September 11, 2017 at Indezine Geetesh Bajaj blogged about The Annoying PowerPoint Survey: Conversation with Dave Paradi.  

I discussed results from his last survey in a November 3, 2015 blog post titled Dave Paradi’s 2015 Annoying PowerPoint Survey again found the most common annoyance was speakers reading their slides, and earlier ones in a June 10, 2015 blog post titled Don’t annoy us by reading your PowerPoint slides.

The image was modified from one titled 3 minutes intermission while changing pictures found at the Library of Congress.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Please avoid clichés, like What gets me out of bed in the morning…

Chapter 26 of the May 2017 book Al Franken, Giant of the Senate is titled What Gets Me out of Bed in the Morning. He laments that a lot of people in the government keep telling us things like:

“What gets me out of bed in the morning is making sure our veterans have good jobs.”

“What gets me out of bed in the morning is seeing to it that every child in America has a world-class education.”

“What gets me out of bed in the morning is doing everything I can to see that our electric grid is secure.”

Al Franken says instead that what gets him out of bed just is having to pee. Me too!

He also laments clichés like:

“…robust letters calling for robust funding to ensure (another cliché) a robust response to a pressing (ugh) problem.”

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The De-jargonizer – a tool for communicating science clearly

Recently I saw a brief article about a computer program called the De-jargonizer for identifying jargon. Details are described in a magazine article by Tzipora Rakedzon, Elad Segev, Noam Chapnik, Roy Yosef and Ayelet Baram-Tsaba titled Automatic jargon identifier for scientists engaging with the public and science communication educators which appeared in PLOS ONE in February 2017.  

I tried it out on the ending of a speech by President Donald Trump on tax reform from August 30, 2017 with the results shown above. Program instructions say:

“Results are displayed both by color and by percentage. Words in black are common words, words in orange are mid-frequency words, and words in red are jargon. The table on the right presents the number of words in the text and the results: the number of words and the percentage of words for each frequency (high, mid and jargon).”

This isn’t the only tool. Back on September 21, 2013 I blogged about Funneling your big ideas through a small vocabulary and discussed the Up-Goer Five Text Editor.

The illustration really shows a wool picker from an old Scientific American magazine.

Monday, September 11, 2017

If you value your lives, be somewhere else

That was governor Rick Scott’s properly serious crisis communication message last week, as discussed on September 8th in an ABC news article titled Florida governor urges residents ahead of Hurricane Irma: ‘You’ve got to get out; you can’t wait.

Contrast his message with one from talk radio personality Rush Limbaugh, who on September 5th instead ranted about My Analysis of the Hurricane Irma Panic. By September 8th instead the Washington Post reported Rush Limbaugh indicates he’s evacuating Palm Beach days after suggesting Hurricane Irma is fake news. Yesterday Politifact discussed his statements and their implications in an article titled In context: what Rush Limbaugh said about Hurricane Irma before evacuation.

He’s gotten negative publicity from halfway around the world. Today Callum Borchers had an article in the Sydney Morning Herald titled Rush Limbaugh evacuates Palm Beach days after suggesting that Hurricane Irma is fake news. Meanwhile from Los Angeles Mr. Limbaugh whined about how it was One of the greatest smears of my career.

My title came from the punch line of a speech from the science fiction television series Babylon 5.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Not everything a world champion says is a pearl of wisdom

On August 25, 2017, in Vancouver, Manoj Vasudevan won the 2017 World Championship of Public Speaking with his speech Pull Less, Bend More. Toastmasters International put out a news release and a 3-minute highlights YouTube video clip. Later they put out a video of the whole speech.

There is an unfortunate tendency to treat everything the champ says as an unquestionable pearl of wisdom. But back on February 17, 2017 I took him to task with a blog post on Bursting a hilariously overblown claim that 99% of the world fears public speaking.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Three main dimensions and four questionable quadrants for vocal variety

If you don’t put some variety into your speaking voice, then your audience will get bored and fall asleep. Two YouTube video examples from movies illustrate how much difference vocal variety can make.

In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Ben Stein plays a high school economics teacher who calls the roll with a boring monotone drone. His student’s replies of “here” convey way more emotion than anything he does.

Contrast that with Meg Ryan who plays Sally in When Harry Met Sally. In the famous delicatessen scene she puts a load of emotion into the word “yes.”

Rate, volume, and pitch are three main dimensions of vocal variety.

But rate, volume and pitch may appear under other names, typically all beginning with the letter p, as a silly organizational device.  

Rate (or pace) can range from slow as molasses to faster than an auctioneer. The December 2016 issue of Toastmaster magazine had a brief unindexed Advice from the Pros article by Bill Brown titled Don’t Race the Pace. On July 31, 2017 Gavin Meikle had a longer article titled Vocal Variety Tip Part 2 – Perfect Your Pace. On September 1, 2017 September 1, 2017 Christian O. Lundberg had an article at at Pinnacle Persuasion titled Speech myths busted: Speed kills? Or, what is the best rate for a compelling presentation.

Volume (intensity, loudness, power, projection) can range from a whisper to a shout. The March 2017 issue of Toastmaster had another article by Bill Brown titled The Most Common Technique – Volume. On July 18, 2017 Gavin Meikle had another article titled
Six Elements of Vocal Variety and How to Master Them Part 1 – Volume.

Pitch (frequency) can range from low to high. In the February 2017 issue of Toastmaster Bill Brown had an article on Reading a Prepared Text that suggested adding pitch up or down markings. On September 5, 2017 Gavin Meikle had an article titled Vocal variety tips, part 3 – pitch and resonance.

The May 2014, issue of Toastmaster has a two-page article by Craig Harrison on Hearing Voices (use characters, personas, puppets and animal sounds to boost your vocal variety.

The Toastmasters International basic manual on Competent Communication covers vocal variety in the sixth speech project. Andrew Dlugan discussed it on November 1, 2009 in a post at his Six Minutes blog on Toastmasters Speech 6: Vocal Variety. Toastmasters International covers vocal variety in their very detailed manual on Your Speaking Voice (Item 199, 22 page pdf).

The National Communication Association has a 49 page pdf document called
The Competent Speaker Speech Evaluation Form  2nd Edition 2007. Vocal variety is one of eight competencies considered in their evaluation:

“Competency Six: Uses vocal variety in rate, pitch, & intensity (volume) to heighten & maintain interest appropriate to the audience & occasion.”
Songs provide great examples of vocal variety, like the soaring electropop of Something Just Like This. Using vocal variety also can spice up a potentially boring subject like a weather forecast. The National Weather Service has an eight-minute YouTube video by Brooke Bingaman on Creating Vocal Variety.  

Four questionable quadrants for vocal variety

In Chapter 11 of his 2014 book, How to Deliver a TED Talk, Jeremy Donovan showed a chart with four quadrants for rate and volume. But he didn’t provide a reference for its source. Back on November 11, 2010 Rory Vaden had a blog post at Southwestern Consulting on 4 Voice Quadrants.with some different titles. A November 21, 2011 article by Cal Habig on Vocal variety in preaching: an important part of influence discussed Vaden’s blog post with a four-slice pie chart.