Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Commencement speeches and big questions

We just finished the season for commencement speeches. They are inspirational and come with captive audiences of graduates who cannot leave until the end when they receive their degrees.

Back on May 17, 1982 I attended the Carnegie-Mellon University commencement and received my Ph.D. degree on a warm, sunny day in Pittsburgh. Carnegie-Mellon had followed their founder, that frugal Scot Andrew Carnegie, by not wasting any paper. Their diplomas measure just 7” by 9”. I couldn’t remember anything from the commencement speech, so I looked around the house and found I’d saved the program. It turned out they also had been too frugal to pay for a speaker.  

Recently there were several excellent blog posts about commencement speeches. On June 18th, at Moving People to Action, Conor Neil picked The Top 5 Commencement Speeches. One June 20th at Duarte Greta Stahl discussed The Secret Sauce of Successful Commencement Speakers. Also on June 20th, at Presentation Zen Garr Reynolds discussed one by James Ryan containing Five Essential Questions to ask Yourself. Those big questions were: 

1]   Wait, what?
2]   I wonder why/if?
3]   Couldn’t we at least?
4]   How can I help?
5]   What really matters?

A bonus question was:
6]   And, did you get what you wanted out of life, even so?

The list of Five Essential Questions (and a bonus one) reminded me of my favorite set of six big questions shown above in clouds. Those came from the science fiction television space opera Babylon 5 and are:

1]  Who are you?
2]  What do you want?
3]  Why are you here?
4]  Do you have anything worth living for?
5]  Where are you going?
6]  Who do you serve, and who do you trust?

The first one was asked by the Vorlons, and the second by their rival the Shadows. Mr. Morden, the Shadow operative on the Babylon 5 space station, asked Vir the second question. He got an answer he didn’t like, but that eventually came to pass. I mentioned those questions in a blog post on March 16, 2011 titled The joy of listening to Ice Breaker speeches.  

The other big question I had was what else does a university provost do - other than hand out the doctoral diplomas at the commencement ceremony?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

It also wasn’t Jerry Springer who compared the fears of public speaking and death

People sometimes have faulty memories, and attribute a famous Jerry Seinfeld quote to the wrong comedian. On May 28th I blogged about Did Woody Allen ever compare the fears of public speaking and death? and on June 6th I blogged about Did Jay Leno ever compare the fears of public speaking and death?

Yesterday my Google Alert on public speaking led me to a different variant of attributing that quote to another person named Jerry - syndicated tabloid talk show host Jerry Springer. A June 24th blog post at Speechstorming from Barcelona, Spain titled Glossophobia: You can overcome the fear of public speaking claimed that:

“JERRY SPRINGER ONCE JOKED ’At A Funeral, Most People Would Rather Be Lying In The Casket Than Giving The Eulogy!’ ”

They didn’t say who they got that nonsense from, but two possible sources from 2013 are a May 1st post by Ryan McLean titled Introduction to the Public Speaking Power podcast - helping you (and me) become a more effective communicator and a September 21st post at Pancakes and Parachutes titled Public speaking = a necessary evil for managers? 

It also wasn’t comedian Jerry Lewis. And it wasn’t California governor Jerry Brown, or televangelist Jerry Falwell,  or Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, or ice cream guru Jerry Greenfield (of Ben and Jerry’s), or singer Jerry Lee Lewis.

The image of Jerry Springer came from Brett Weinstein at Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

How could you spin the results of a fear survey where public speaking wasn’t even in the top 5, 10 or 20?

It also was not in the top fifth or fourth. But, there are at least three ways. (Those in the PR business could come up with more).

First, you could obscure things by not mentioning the total number of fears (89) and where public speaking ranked (26th), as shown above in a bar chart of the top (most common) forty. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer view). Then you make the reader follow a link to a blog post listing all the results. That’s what Derek Slawson did in a LinkedIn Pulse article on May 12, 2016 titled When Imagining Everyone in their Underwear Doesn’t Work:

“If you are asked to give a presentation for your organization, does it make you quake with fear, turn bright red, or get the worst case of dry mouth? If so, you’re definitely not alone. Chapman University does an annual survey of America’s top fears, and public speaking made the top third of the fears of those surveyed. (In case you’re wondering, terrorism and other modern day threats have moved ahead of the age old fear of public speaking).”

Second, you could just shine a spotlight on a small fraction of the results and ignore the rest. That’s what Caryn Berardi did an a UT Dallas article on January 25, 2016 titled Three Lessons I’ve Learned from Toastmasters:

“According to the 2015 Chapman University Survey of American Fears, public speaking ranks as the second-highest reported ‘personal anxiety’ fear, behind reptiles and just ahead of heights.”

Third, you could just plain ignore the 2015 survey and instead quote from their first 2014 one. That’s what Matt Abrahams did in a Huffington Post article on February 16, 2016 titled Speaking Up without Freaking Out: 5 Techniques to help manage the fear of public speaking:

“The Book of Lists has repeatedly reported that the fear of speaking in public is the most frequent answer to the question ‘What scares you most?’ These results were recently echoed in Chapman University’s survey on American fears, which rated speaking in public among the top 5 fears Americans report. In fact, people rate speaking anxiety 10 to 20 percent higher than the fear of death, the fear of heights, the fear of spiders, and the fear of fire.” 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The biggest math error I’ve ever seen in an article

It was hard for me to stop laughing after reading an article on the web site for Mother Earth Living magazine by Sheila Kingsbury titled Defining Types of Natural Medicine. It is part of a longer article on The Case for Alternative Therapies that appears on pages 50 to 56 of their July/August 2016 issue. Her discussion of homeopathy says:

“Homeopathy can be difficult to make sense of: First, it can be hard to understand how its remedies could be effective as they are so incredibly diluted (for example, a “30X” homeopathic solution contains 1 part mineral or botanical substance to 1,000,000 parts water and/or alcohol); second, homeopathy’s incredibly individualized nature makes it almost impossible to study.”

Her description of that dilution as by a factor of a million is way off. If you look up Homeopathic dilutions at Wikipedia, you will find that X means by a factor of ten, and 30X means to repeat the dilution 30 times so it really is ten to the 30th power. At Quackwatch an article by Stephen Barrett, M.D. titled Homeopathy: The Ultimate Fake explains that:

“A 30X dilution means that the original substance has been diluted 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times. Assuming that a cubic centimeter of water contains 15 drops, this number is greater than the number of drops of water that would fill a container more than 50 times the size of the Earth.”

So, Sheila was off by a factor of ten to the 24th power or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 which is a septillion. I had to look up what that even was called in the article on Power of 10 at Wikipedia

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Real and Imaginary Quotations

On June 3rd there was an article at LinkedInPulse by Patricia Fripp about How to Use Quotes in Public Speaking. She suggested that you get them from people in your life, or the audience you are addressing.

One of my personal favorites is my older brother’s first complete sentence:

“It has to be a certain way.” - Harry K. Garber

Harry wrote an article in the Encyclopedia of Chemistry titled What a Crime Lab Does, It Does with Chemistry. If you Google his name, you’ll find references to court cases like People vs Carreira where he’s the guy at the New York State Police lab who signed a certificate for the simulator solution (used to calibrate a Breathalyser for seeing if people were intoxicated while driving).  

You also could quote the famous, if you check that they really said what they were claimed to have said. In October 2015 comedian John Oliver created a web site called Definitely Real Quotes that generates plausible quotes displayed along with a picture of either himself or one of the following dozen famous people:

Winston Churchill
Marie Curie
Amelia Earhart
Albert Einstein
Ben Franklin
Thomas Jefferson
Karl Marx
Theodore Roosevelt

When I tried it, I got an image of Churchill holding up the famous World War II V-for Victory two-fingers and the quote shown above. Another one that came up was:

“I am objectively great at f**king. The best. 
 - Benjamin Franklin”

But that sounds more like one of Donald Trump’s recent tweets.

Earlier this month there was a Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal cartoon that began by claiming:

“You can get people to believe anything just by lying about who said it.”

The image of Winston Churchill came from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Does public speaking training always work?

Of course not! But, if you start from almost zero like the barefoot boy in a one-room schoolhouse shown above, almost anything will help.

When you already have some experience (whether at the apprentice, journeyman, or master level) before you begin training you need to ask both 1) Does the trainer know more than you do? and 2) Does he know how to communicate it? If not, then you will be wasting your time and money.

On April 15, 2016 Gavin Meikle blogged about Does public speaking training work? He discussed but did not link to an article at Forbes in 2012 by Kristi Hedges titled Confessions of a Former Public Speaking Trainer: Don’t Waste Your Money. I had blogged about it on April 23, 2012 in a post titled Does the cost for public speaking training outweigh the benefits? In that post I mentioned one can view training as going on a journey. Depending on where you begin and how far you need to go any one of four ways might make the most sense. Ranked by decreasing time and increasing cost they are:

1. Joining a Toastmasters club is being given a map and then like driving your own 4x4 vehicle on a dirt road.

2. Taking an introductory public speaking class at a college or university is like going on a bus tour.

3. Attending a commercial workshop is like hiring a guide with a luxury car.

4. Using a speaking coach is like waving down and hiring a taxi.

Gavin’s post suggested you ask the following very pertinent questions before taking a course:

A]  Will you have the chance to practice your speaking at least twice during the course?

B]  Will your speech be recorded and will you receive copies of the videos?

C]  What’s the group size?  Remember, the more participants there are, the less time there will be to practice. If the group size is larger than seven, do they have a second trainer?

D]  Will you receive individual feedback from the trainer

E]  Will they focus more time on your mistakes or your strengths? (Believe me, concentrating on strengths creates much faster behavioral change.)

F]  Will you receive feedback from your fellow trainees?

G]  Will you be asked to give feedback to your fellow trainees? (Having to give feedback makes you pay close attention and helps you notice the little differences that make a big difference.)

H]  Is the trainer an accomplished public speaker themselves and do they have relevant business experience?

I]  Do they teach a “one right way” approach or do they help you find your own unique speaking style?

Toastmasters works for lots of people, if you take the time to research and find the right club. It did for me because on my first visit I luckily found one (Capitol Club) with an eclectic variety of experienced speakers I could learn from by watching. They included my mentor Bill Kearley, a veterinarian with an MBA. Another was Jim Poston, an opera singer and former TV news anchorman who currently teaches both theater and communication. A third was Michael Kroth, a University of Idaho education professor with both an MBA and a PhD who had written four books. Others included Duncan Richardson, who owns and runs The Academy of World Taekwando and appeared on American Ninja Warrior.

The 1874 image of a young orator came from the Library of Congress.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Running away from Toastmasters

On June 17th Jane Genova blogged about Toastmasters - Style over substance, and said she agreed with Jame’s Feudo’s 2012 blog post analysis (The Problem with Toastmasters) of Toastmasters International.

Jane’s post is as interesting for what it leaves out as for what it says. She said:

“I experienced what Feudo complains about during the three weeks I recently attended Toastmasters' meetings. At the end of this month I have to deliver a one-hour presentation. So, I decided, it was time I fine-tuned my speaking skills. Ever since I had started writing speeches for corporate executives, my colleagues have been pushing me to join Toastmasters.”

Just three weeks? Why not three, or six, or twelve months? How far did Jane actually get in their basic Competent Communication manual? She didn’t mention having given ANY of the ten rather brief speech projects in it. The first project is a 4 to 6 minute speech, the last is 8 to 10 minutes, and the other eight are 5 to 7 minutes. I was in Toastmasters for four years, as I discussed in my August 8, 2011 post about Moving on beyond Toastmasters.

One of Jame’s earlier blog posts, Tips for Toastmasters: How to get the most out of your Toastmasters experience, suggested that you should:
1]  Commit to speak at every meeting.
2]  Commit to earning your CC (Competent Communicator) or equivalent in your first year.
3]  Become an officer.
4]  Show up at meetings.
5]  If you’re new, get a mentor. If you’ve been around for a while, be a mentor.
6]  Get to know the other members of your club.
7]  Visit other clubs.
8]  Attend conferences.

The Competent Communication manual begins with The Icebreaker (4 to 6 minutes):

“For your first speech project, you will introduce yourself to your fellow club members and give them some information about your background, interests, and ambitions.”

Most people wouldn’t have a problem with telling their story, but in a September 18, 2015 post titled Narratives - No, you don’t have to tell the one about the wasted investment in law school Jane had said:

“I learned how liberating it was to stop telling ‘my story’ when I relocated from the buttoned-down Northeast Corridor to the whatever Southwest. No one encouraged me to disclose why I had come, what I hoped to accomplish, or how long I planned to stay. The ambiance mirrored the ethos of the Beatles meme Let It Be.”

Jane seems to have confused the Toastmasters International program with the quick-and-easy but much more expensive ‘product’ shown above.

The image of a running girl came from the Library of Congress.

UPDATE: June 21, 2016

Jane put two comments on this post on June 19th. One at 2:38 PM was:

“Before exploring Toastmasters, I have been enrolled in several other public speaking training programs. From them I had learned a lot. That included what I found helpful for me and what was not helpful. I did not perceive Toastmasters as providing me what I needed at the time, in the format I needed it.

Toastmasters may be effective for some. It did not seem that it was going to be for me. In the future if I sense I would benefit from public speaking training, I will not try Toastmasters again. ”

The other at 2:41 PM was:

“Since I had benefited from other formal public speaking training programs in the past I knew what would be effective for me and what wouldn't. After three weeks I decided that Toastmasters was not for me.

There is no one way to enhance one's public speaking skills.” 

I never said there was just one way. If she just had looked under the Toastmasters label, she would have found my July 15, 2010 post titled Public speaking training is a journey; You get to choose how to go. I believe that Toastmasters is effective for many or most, not just some.

Then she whined about me in the second part of another June 19th post titled Hilary Clinton Isn’t Such a Hot Public speaker - So? There she mentioned her background with Dale Carnegie public speaking training and said:

“One of my new strengths has been the ability to size up a situation and make the decision whether to stick with it or move on, nicely. That has become a necessity in this volatile economy. Essentially, it's project-based. No longer is it dominated by client accounts which stick with us for years.

Every day I have to decide: Should I accept this account? If it's souring, should I give it more time or provide a sweet cover story and exit? My living depends on the quality of those decisions.

I applied that ability to attending Toastmasters. Toastmasters is the well-respected brand for training Everyman in public speaking. At a low cost.

After three weeks, I determined nonono.  Not for me. Here is my post on that.

Previously I had been enrolled in myriad Dale Carnegie speaking seminars, including one for sales presentations. Twice I had been selected as a graduate assistant in the Dale Carnegie Systems. Also, as a speechwriter, clients often enroll me in the same public speaking training as their subordinates undergo.

So, I was no newbie as to what is effective for me in public speaking training. So, it's puzzling: A Richard Garber censures me on his blog for bailing out after three weeks. He had been in Toastmasters four years. I am happy for him that the training was a useful tool in professional development. But I was also equally surprised he imposed an "ought" on me. Here is the rant he delivers. My my. I have been a naughty girl.

Yes, it has occurred to me: Maybe that seeming absolutism voiced by Garber is the ethos of Toastmasters or, at least some of their members. Maybe that's what sent me toward the exit. The reality is: There is no one path to success. There are many. Most, like Clinton's, are unique.

A heartfelt plea: Please please please, the Garbers of the universe. Let us discover our own ways to enhance our strengths. Our living depends on that. Directly.”

There is a crucial difference between Dale Carnegie and Toastmasters that pops up instantly when you glance at their web sites. Toastmasters is a dot org - a volunteer-run membership organization based on clubs with (usually) weekly meetings. Dale Carnegie is a dot com - a commercial franchise operation that sells seminars like McDonalds sells hamburgers.

Thinking that she could fine-tune her speaking skills by very briefly attending Toastmasters was a sad delusion that showed her misunderstanding, clearly based on minimal research and planning. 

Could Jane have gotten something useful from being a member of Toastmasters International? Yes, but it would have taken her six-months or more to get there. Tucson is a big enough city to have more than one Advanced Toastmasters club. There she would have found other experienced speakers. But completing the Competent Communication manual is a requirement before joining an Advanced club.