Friday, June 22, 2018

Three recent Dilbert cartoons about presentations, jargon, and backhanded compliments

This month there have been three Dilbert cartoons about presentations. On June 4th there was this conversation:

Pointy-haired-boss: What did you think of my presentation?

Dilbert: The signal-to-noise ratio was impressively low.

Pointy-haired-boss (thinking): Engineers give weird compliments.

On June 5th there was:

Dilbert: I told our boss his presentation had a low signal-to-noise ratio and he thought it was a compliment.

Wally (to Dilbert): I think you just invented my new favorite game.

Wally (to Pointy-haired-boss): Working for you is like boiling an ocean.

Pointy-haired-boss: Thank you!

On June 17th there was:

Pointy-haired-boss: Your slide deck is ok-ish, but can you make it more aspirational?

Dilbert: It’s just a software upgrade.

Pointy-haired-boss: Yes, yes.

  But I want the audience to feel it.

Dilbert: They can feel the handouts.

Pointy-haired-boss: It’s like you’re not even trying to understand!

  Genius is often misunderstood.

Dilbert: Do you know what else is misunderstood?

Pointy-haired-boss: Super-genius?

Jargon can muddy up meaning, so what appears as a compliment really is harsh criticism. In communications jargon signal-to-noise ratio is the ratio of (desired) signal power to (undesired) background noise. A high ratio means a clear message, so a low ratio means your message is unclear (muddy).

Boil the ocean means to try to do something that is very difficult or impossible. An article by F. John Reh on January 24, 2018 at thebalancecareers titled The meaning in business of the phrase ‘boil the ocean’ furnishes five examples. In a recent Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal cartoon, a vengeful God planned to cook the oceans into soup.

Aspirational means: “having or showing a desire to achieve a high level of success or social status.” It doesn’t relate to a software upgrade. Both genius and stupidity are misunderstood.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

An unclear message

Visual aids in a presentation should concisely present a clear message. And road signs are supposed to be clear at a glance. What does the upside-down detour sign shown above mean? But it gets much worse.

That sign is part of a cluster at an intersection two blocks from my home, looking south on Light Horizon Way. You need to stop to make sense of them. From left to right, there are six different messages:

1]  A yellow diamond BUMP sign.
2]  A white rectangular ROAD CLOSED TO THRU TRAFFIC sign - topped with that upside down orange DETOUR sign.
3]  An orange diamond ROAD CLOSED AHEAD sign.
4]  Red signs indicating this intersection is an ALL WAY STOP.
5]  Green intersection signs indicating this is LIGHT HORIZON WAY and MORNING COURT, and a yellow arrow one that westbound Morning Court is a DEAD END street.
6]  Another orange rectangular DEAD END sign on Morning Court.

When you continue south and then head east on Skylight Street, you finally see a sign that explains what’s really going on – where the road is closed, when it will reopen, and who to call for further information.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

British attention spans reportedly range from 6 to 29 minutes

Last Thursday, June 14th, I humorously blogged about What if our attention span really is six hours (21,600 seconds) rather than the mythical 8 seconds? After that I searched at Google for some real statistics. I found a press release at SWNSdigital on December 28, 2017 titled Britain’s average attention span revealed. It came from the Skipton Building Society, but curiously wasn’t also posted at the press releases page on their web site. (It was tweeted about though). Two newspapers used it on that day: The Sun in an article titled Average Brit has an attention span of just 14 minutes, study finds and The Independent in another article similarly titled Average British attention span is 14 minutes, research finds. The press release achieved the objective of getting that organization’s name into newspapers at the end of the year.

The Skipton press release began by claiming:
“The average Brit has an average attention span of just 14 minutes, according to research.”

It listed attention spans for 20 different activities, which are shown above in a horizontal bar chart.(Click on it for a larger, clearer view). They range from a high of 29 minutes for a social situation with a friend, down to just 6 minutes for talking to someone either moaning or with a boring voice, or a story about someone you don’t know. But when I created that chart in Excel I found the SUM was 217, so the average (mean) really was 10.85 minutes rather than 14. Both the median and mode are 10, but none of these three averages hint at how wide the range is. However, the average of 10.85 minutes, or 651 seconds is  over 81 times larger than the mythical 8 second attention span.   

That press release is quite opaque - it omits details: what ages and locations were surveyed, when the survey was done, how many people were asked what questions, whether it was a random sample, and whether it was done over the phone or on the web.  

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Advice from our dads (and moms) – 78 Table Topics questions

Since it’s Father’s Day, I’m going to quote from a June 15, 2018 article at Inc. by Christina DesMarais titled 28 successful executives share the best advice they received from their dads. Those fathers said:

1]   Surround yourself with great people.

2]   Take things one step at a time and everything else will fall into place.

3]   We’re the average of the people we spend time with.

4]   Your name is all you have, so protect it.

5]   You’ll be happier professionally if you love life.

6]   Every stranger can teach you something.

7]   Character counts.

8]   Always do your best.

9]   Be grateful and humble in whatever role you play.

10] Wherever you go in life, there you are.

11] Everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time, just like you do.

12] Leave it better than you found it.

13] Kindness and generosity go a long way.

14] Think big, act with humility and give it everything you have.

15] Break up tense situations by being playful.

16] Business is a team sport and every employee is important to the success of a company.

17] Always shine your shoes.

18] Make sure every note counts.

19] Stay focused, determined and complete things.

20] Attitude is everything.

21] Be generous.

22] Always try to approach conversations with the end goal in mind.

23] Respect others.

24] Never give up.

25] Be industrious in everything you do.

26] No one will do the work for you.

27] Keep a healthy balance.

28] Learn to sell what you love.

For Table Topics, the impromptu speaking portion of a Toastmasters club meeting, you could ask someone to elaborate on one of those pieces of advice.

I also found an August 16, 2017 press release article at the Skipton Building Society by Stacey Stothard titled The UK’s top wise words of wisdom revealed. It had another 50 from both parents:

1)   Always try your best.

2)   If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

3)   Get an education – no one can take that away from you.

4)   Never spend money you don’t have.

5)   If you don’t ask, you don’t get

6)   Eat with your mouth closed.

7)   Put money aside for a rainy day.

8)   Never take sweets from strangers.

9)   Do your best – nothing else matters.

10) Keep your elbows off the table.

11) Never swim on a full stomach.

12) Treat people with respect.

13) There’s no such word as can’t.

14) You never get something for nothing.

15) Don’t put shoes on the table.


17) Practice makes perfect.

18) Look after your pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.

19) Courtesy and compassion cost nothing.

20) Treat others how you wish to be treated yourself.

21) You only get out of life what you put into it.

22) ‘I want’ never gets.

23) Mind your Ps and Qs.

24) Manners maketh the man.

25) Always wear clean underwear.

26) Don’t stare at people, it’s rude.

27) Watching too much TV will make your eyes go square.

28) Be true to yourself.

29) Always hold the door open.

30) Never leave the house with wet hair.

31) Never drink on an empty stomach.

32) Never go to bed on an argument.

33) Look up things you don’t know the answer to.

34) Never go under a ladder.

35) Never give up.

36) Receive compliments gracefully.

37) Don’t wear your coat indoors.

38) Mum knows best.

39) The grass is never greener.

40) Always eat your breakfast.

41) Life’s too short to be unhappy.

42) Always have 2 months rent/mortgage saved.

43) Don’t eat cheese before bedtime.

44) Give compliments easily.

45) Use a hand cream.

46) Don’t eat in the street.

47) Never offer a stranger a lift.

48) Don’t smoke in the street.

49) Never let your petrol tank go lower than a quarter full.

50) Men are very different creatures to women.

But some of them are not true, like #11 to Never swim on a full stomach, and #27 Watching too much TV will make your eyes go square. So you could ask people whether they agreed with the advice too. Pethaps #33 instead should say to Look up things you think you know the answer to.

The painting of a father and son (at Nottingham castle) was posted at Wikimedia Commons by Tshrinivasan.


Saturday, June 16, 2018

Humiliation via YouTube video is the online equivalent to the stocks or pillory

As shown above in an 1895 Puck cartoon, our Puritan forefathers employed public humiliation to punish wrongdoers. Currently our worst moments in public speaking can be displayed online via YouTube videos – which are the modern equivalent of the stocks or pillory.

At the Ragan’s PR Daily web site on June 14,2018 there was an article by Carlin Twedt titled Lessons from public speaking implosions. It embedded five examples from YouTube. In a blog post on March 15, 2018 titled Who was our first businessman President? I noted that:
“…no one is completely useless – they always can be a bad example.”

One of the five Mr. Twedt showed was Michael Bay at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show. He said the lesson for speakers was not to memorize your speech so rigidly that a forgotten sentence, or failed teleprompter derails you. I drew a different lesson when I discussed his incomplete speech in another  blog post on January 18, 2014 titled Riding Shotgun – the Master of Ceremonies Should Protect the Speaker.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

What if our attention span really is six hours (21,600 seconds) rather than the mythical 8 seconds?

There is an often-repeated (but completely baseless) claim that our attention span is only 8 seconds. I blogged about it on January 17, 2017 in a post titled Is the attention span of a marketer shorter than that of a fruit fly? But we know that people do pay attention for 18-minute TED talks (1080 seconds, or 135 times longer). What if they paid attention for another 20 times longer than that, a full six hours?

That topic humorously came up in the recent XKCD comic strip shown above. I thought cartoonist Randall Munroe was kidding – until I followed his hyperlink to an article at the New Yorker on September 26, 2017 by Jia Tolentino titled The repressive, authoritarian soul of ‘Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends.’ I’m not sure you really could find six-hours of discussion about the theory claiming that children’s television show is authoritarian propaganda depicting a post-apocalytptic fascist dystopia.

But, what the heck is a tank engine? That’s explained in an article at HowStuffWorks titled What is a tank engine, as in Thomas the Tank Engine. It’s a switch (or in British a shunt) short-range steam locomotive that carries a water supply in tanks and thus doesn’t need to be followed by a tender (a coal and water car).     

It turns out there have been both newspaper and magazine articles written about Thomas. At The Register on December 10, 2009 Lester Haines discussed how Thomas the Tank Engine drives ‘conservative’ political ideology. At The Spectator on December 30, 2009 there was yet another article by Rod Liddle titled Thomas the Tank Engine is merciless and bigoted – that’s why kids love it. He said:

“Children feel most comfortable in an ordered and clearly demarcated world, a world divided into hierarchies. They have a Manichean view of good and evil and they like to see the baddies get punished, preferably in a thoroughly unpleasant manner. They may also identify with gender stereotypes which conform to the roles they have already been assigned or, more controversially, have worked out for themselves from a very early age. Children, and especially little boys, are conservative, when they are not actually fascists.”

At Slate on July 26, 2011 Jessica Roake at length alarmingly described Thomas the imperialist tank engine. And at The Guardian on July 4, 2012 Sarah Ditum bemoaned The tyrannical world of Thomas the Tank Engine. In reply, at the conservative magazine the National Review, on July 24, 2014 Charles C. W. Cooke wrote In defense of Thomas the Tank Engine. And at The Telegraph on March 28, 2016 Paul Kendall asked Why do so many liberal parents hate Thomas the Tank Engine?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

How much on average does it cost per month to run a household, if you are retired and over 65?

I don’t know, and couldn’t easily find good statistics - which I showed above as two unknowns X and Y. But I easily found the answer to another question - how much does it cost to run a household if you just are 65 or older? There was an article by Dayana Yochim on May 31, 2018 at USA Today mistitled Let’s get real about planning: what an average retirement costs. (It had originally appeared at NerdWallet on May 28th). Also, it was reprinted at MarketWatch on June 5th, where Jane Genova found it and used it in a post at her Speechwriter-Ghostwriter blog titled Households heading into retirement – be prepared to spend average of $3800 monthly. That NerdWallet article actually said:

“According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data, which is based on 2016 figures, ‘older households’ - defined as those run by someone 65 and older - spend an average of $45,756 per year, or roughly $3,800 a month.”

But not everyone older than 65 is retired. On June 20, 2016 there was another article by Drew DeSilver at the Pew Research Center titled More older Americans are working, and working more, than they used to. It reported:

“In May, 18.8% of Americans ages 65 and older, or nearly 9 million people, reported being employed full – or part-time, continuing a steady increase that dates to at least 2000 (which is as far back as we took our analysis).”

In 2000 only 12.5% were employed, and the increase to 18.8% was roughly a straight line. The other 81.2% were retired. When you are researching statistics for writing a speech or a blog post it often is useful to make a simple drawing (or perhaps a Venn diagram) to illustrate which numbers really are of interest and how they are connected.

Would you expect older adults who are working to have less or more expenses than those who are retired? I don’t know. Perhaps they are continuing to work because they need to since they haven’t saved enough to retire comfortably. That might mean they have less expenses to match a lower income. Or they could be Type A personalities – outgoing, ambitious, rigidly organized, highly status-conscious, impatient, and simply unable to let go of a job that has come to define them. That might mean they have more expenses.