Sunday, November 29, 2015

A video where mediocre delivery overrides the content

Recently I watched Ben Angel’s 14-minute YouTube video titled How to Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking and Become More Influential. The content is OK, but the delivery fails five ways.

First, the title is misleading, almost backwards. His content comes from an unreferenced  2014 blog post more accurately labeled 5 Things Influential Speakers Do That Others Don’t. Five steps with headings in the video (and their times) are:

Energetic Engagement (1:06)
Manage Your Look (6:49) 
Dealing with Attacks or Criticism (7:43)
Presentation Structure (9:03)
Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking (11:41)

About 4/5th of the way through Ben finally gets around to really talking about how to overcome your fear (using visualization).

Second, although he talks about managing your look his set is distracting. Left of the sofa is a tall cylindrical container of twigs, switches, or canes. Are they decorative, or are they kinkily functional (Fifty Shades of Grey)? At the right is an imposing unlit floor lamp that resembles a crane. The shade is just to the right of his head, so my eyes were repeatedly drawn to it. It is the Elephant in the Room. Eventually I started hoping Ben would act out the classic drunken party joke by putting the lampshade over his head. It looks like a nearly perfect fit. 

Third, the zoom keeps toggling from wide enough to show all his hand gestures to slightly too narrow, and then back again. That’s as irritating as a hearing a dripping faucet. There are 103 zoom changes, or an average of one every 7.2 seconds. I concluded whoever had the camera must have attended the Take Two Breaths and Then Zoom school of video production. Zoom is the visual equivalent of cowbell in a rock song like (Don’t Fear) The Reaper, and usually we don’t need More Cowbell.  

Fourth, some of his gestures aren’t engaged with the audience. Instead they are done from his viewpoint, and appear backwards to the audience. Watch at 2:30 when Ben says to picture a scale from zero (right) to ten (left). 

When you think about it for a minute that scale really should be vertical (higher is up, not to the left), since he needs to discuss how energy varies over time.

Also watch at 11:26 where he talks about visualization, and at 13:00 says rewind while his hands instead say fast forward. 

Ben needs a warning (shown above) to stop gesturing backwards. 

Fifth, at 1:03 he says to:

“Grab a pen and paper and jot this down. Step one: energetically engage your audience.”

That’s not engagement. It’s just smug superiority.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Thing Explainer - the joy of simplicity

Back in September 2013 I blogged about Funneling your big ideas through a small vocabulary. That post began from one of Randall Munroe’s xkcd cartoons called Up Goer 5. It explained the Saturn 5 moon rocket using a line drawing that had captions limited to a vocabulary of just a thousand words. Funneling ideas through a limited vocabulary is an excellent antidote for our usual wallowing in jargon.   

On November 24th Randall’s book Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words appeared at He again uses line drawings and a thousand-word vocabulary to describe things like the International Space Station (Shared Space House), Cells (Tiny Bags of Water You’re Made Of), the Mars Rover (Red World Space Car), and organs in the human body (Bags of Stuff Inside You).

Go to, and click to zoom the Look Inside  feature for a preview. You’ll probably enjoy reading his explanations.   

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Something free - A Thanksgiving Reader from Seth Godin

Most of the time I enjoy reading Seth Godin’s blog. On November 16th he had the thoughtful A Thanksgiving Reader that you can download. Happy Thanksgiving!

The Thanksgiving image was adapted from a 110 year old Puck magazine at the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A missing piece explaining American attitudes toward preparing for disasters

An October 13th blog post about the 2015 Chapman Survey of American Fears titled Americans Need A Disaster Reality Check began by stating:

“In our survey we asked a random sample of Americans about fears of natural and man-made disasters. We then asked whether they had taken recommended preparedness steps such as assembling an emergency kit.

More than half of all Americans [55 percent] fear they will experience a natural or manmade disaster. And some 28 percent fear such a disaster will damage their property.

A whopping 86 percent believe an emergency supply kit, such as a 72-hour kit recommended by FEMA or the Red Cross would improve their chances of surviving a disaster. Nevertheless, 72 percent have made no effort to put together such a kit. WHY?”

I looked in their Complete Survey Results and found the question about experiencing a disaster was at the top of page 86. Answers were four levels of disagreement or agreement:

1 = Strongly Disagree
2 = Disagree
3 = Agree
4 = Strongly Agree

 and the question was:

 “Please indicate your level of agreement with the following:
I will experience a significant natural or manmade disaster in my lifetime.”

8.8% Strongly Agreed, and 46.5% Agreed, for a total of  55.3%, as was quoted. (35.9% Disagreed, and 8.8% Strongly Disagreed).

But, there was another question at the bottom of page 85, which instead asked:

“Please indicate your level of agreement with the following:
I will experience a significant natural or manmade disaster in the near future.”

For that question only 4.4% Strongly Agreed, and 21.5% Agreed, for a total of just 26%. A majority, 59.1%, Disagreed and 14.9% Strongly Disagreed.  

As shown above, there is a huge difference between in my lifetime (which could cover many decades) and in the near future. People don’t bother to prepare since they think it can’t happen here or now. 

A WPA poster for The Big Blow came from the Library of Congress

Saturday, November 21, 2015

One chart to rule them all

In a Dilbert cartoon titled The Generic Graph on November 18th, the pointy haired boss explained that:

“The company is standardizing on this one chart.”

which was why he had used it yesterday for the travel budget and today for the sales estimate. (It also could work for coffee consumption and Bigfoot sightings).

What is that chart for? Does it show what was (history), what is (current data), or what will be (a prediction we hope will come true)?

Look more carefully. How much data was used to draw that line?  Perhaps the curve just is a spline interpolation that exactly fits those three gray points. Would a fitted straight line have been more honest?

You can’t really expect to use just one chart type. At Perceptual Edge there is a Graph Selection Matrix that includes lines, points, bars, and boxes. At they discuss Time Series Graphs & Eleven Stunning Ways You Can Use Them.

One chart came from Tolkien’s One Ring.

Friday, November 20, 2015

KRC Pulse Poll on American fears found the most common five were heights, public speaking, failure, spiders, and small spaces

In advance of Halloween on October 21st, KRC Research posted a press release titled America’s Biggest Fears and subtitled KRC’s Pulse Poll Reveals Which Phobias Are Most Common. Those were:

Heights 33% (Acrophobia)
Public speaking 32% (Glossophobia)
Failure 31% (Atychiphobia)
Spiders 28% (Arachnophobia)
Small spaces 16% (Claustrophobia)
Flying 13% (Aviophobia)
Germs 13% (Mysophobia)
Needles 13% (Trypanophobia)
Ghosts 9% (Phasmophobia)

They polled 507 adults in August, but didn’t mention that the margin of error was 4.35%. Based on that margin the first three aren’t significantly different. What were the top ten fears? Who knows, since they only looked at nine, although a Top Ten likely would be much more popular.

A bar chart shows those nine fears without their phobia names. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer view). Failure isn’t usually included in surveys, although it was the greatest fear for both women and men in a fear survey schedule from back in 1992.

The image of a pumpkin patch by Carol M. Highsmith came from the Library of Congress. I drew a face on one.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What to do with your hands

Yesterday the On Leadership section at the Washington Post had an interesting article on gestures by Jena McGregor and Shelly Tan titled What to do with your hands when speaking in public. It used graphics and animations to nicely illustrate that topic. Their main points were:

1]   Keep hand movements descriptive.

2]   Use open palm gestures to build the audience’s trust.

3]   Keep your hands in the strike zone when possible.

4]   Don’t point. Just don’t.

5]   Politicians love to use the Clinton thumb. Most people shouldn’t.

6]   When you don’t know what to do, drop your hands to your sides for a moment.

7]   Avoid drawing attention to the wrong places.

8]   Conducting is for orchestras, not public speaking

9]   Keep objects out of your hands.

10] If behind a lectern, show your hands.

11] Avoid “spider hands.”

If you are tall enough to play pro basketball, then your “strike zone” (#3) won’t be hidden by a typical lectern (#10). If you’re short, you could skip being hidden by instead using the top of a chair or stool to hold your notes.