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.      

Monday, June 11, 2018

How should you stage a panel discussion at a conference?

I read an article by Rose Eveleth on June 5, 2018 at Motherboard titled Dear conference organizers: you’re doing chairs wrong and subtitled Nearly every femme-identifying person I know, myself included, has wrestled with tall bar stools, director’s chairs, and the dreaded microphone dance. The image of a panel discussion from 2016 for the film High on Crack Street shown above illustrates her problem. Directors chairs placed near the front of a stage are fine for men, but only work for women in slacks or in dresses that are almost ankle length (Amish-friendly or FLDS-friendly). Rose described having worn a knee-length dress and then being very uncomfortable sitting on a tall stool. Later in her article she quoted Trevor Knoblich of the Online News Association who said:

“We want our presenters focused on those important aspects,” Knoblich said. “They shouldn't have to worry that their clothes match the furniture fabric, or that their presentation is becoming an inadvertent sequel to Basic Instinct.” 

You can find the exhibitionist scene from that movie he alluded to in a 35-second video clip at The Sun that is definitely NOT suitable for work. Having your clothes accidentally match the furniture or background is a another problem I blogged about in a September 12, 2016 post titled Dress for success, not like a ninja.  

An older, more modest setup seats the panel behind tables with skirting or tablecloths, as is shown above in an image from a 1982 ComicCon. Who recommends the other setup without tables, and why? An article on May 23, 2013 by Brad Phillips at Mr. Media Training titled Six ways to electrify your next panel discussion did. His third and fourth points were:

“3. Remove The Table: The majority of panel discussions are conducted from behind a long table. Get rid of it. The table is a physical barrier that separates the panelists from the audience. Worse, it diminishes the speakers’ natural body language. Just try gesturing enthusiastically while seated in a hunched-over position at your desk, your elbows attached to the surface. Pretty hard, no?

4. Use Stools or Chairs Instead: I often encourage clients to position stools or chairs at the front of the stage. That set up conveys a more casual and inviting “living room” feeling—which is the reason all of the morning news show use it. This format allows you to use wireless microphones instead of table microphones.”

Rose’s article also mentioned doing ‘the microphone dance’ – about those wireless lapel microphones, with a cable leading to a transmitter (and battery pack) meant to fit on a men’s belt or a skirt, but not on a dress.    

Kristin Arnold was president of the National Speakers Association in 2010-2011, and in 2013 wrote a 38-page book titled Powerful Panels. There is a blog associated for that book, with a post on March 26, 2014 titled Get rid of the white, draped table at panel discussions, and one on April 5, 2014 titled In search of the perfect chair for panel discussions – in which she says:

“I like a tall, well-made, and sturdy director chair. They add an element of informality and conversational tone to the room. The shape of the chair almost forces the panelists to sit forward and be engaged. And, there is a place for your feet.”

Kristin also wrote an article in the April 2015 issue of Toastmaster magazine titled How to moderate a panel discussion in which she again said:

“….You don’t have to settle for the typical long, draped table. Why not spice it up using a popular television-talk-show format?”

Both the skirt-length and microphone issues are mentioned in a better five-page article dated August 2017 from The Urban Institute and titled Best Practices for Moderators. If in doubt, women should bring back-up slacks.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Would you believe an airline pilot who said your flight time will be 1 hour and 27 minutes?

Two days ago Darren Fleming posted an article titled Flight time 1 hr and 27 min on The Official Toastmasters International Group at LinkedIn. It previously had appeared on March 1, 2016 both at his blog and at LinkedIn Pulse.  

He said:

“     I love the precision of flying. The captain makes an announcement that we will be pushing back from the terminal in 4 minutes and the flight will take 1 hour and 27 minutes to reach our destination.
      It gives the feeling of certainty. We know the captain is in control and knows exactly what is happening. They don’t say “I think the flight will be about an hour and a half’, or ‘I believe we’ll be taking off to the South.’ The captain is 100% certain.
     This is not arrogance, overconfidence or anything else. It's ownership. The Captain knows they are in charge and directs accordingly.
      As a passenger, I like knowing that the person flying me through the air is in control. They are not second-guessing or believing we will get there. They know and communicate that and we accept it.
      Do you communicate your message with the same level of authority?”

My thoughts are that the pilot is both arrogant and overconfident - someone who doesn’t know the difference between what a flight time calculator program spits out and reality. Flight time includes three different phases -  climbing to cruising altitude, level flight, and descending to land.

1 hour and 27 minutes rather than 26 or 28 is a precision of about 1.1%. That’s a message communicated with an unjustified level of authority. It assumes that during level flight headwinds won’t change, and he (or she) won’t have to change course to avoid turbulence, or go around a storm. And it assumes he won't be diverted by other traffic during descent prior to landing. An article in the Telegraph titled Are you being told the truth about flight times? by Hugh Morris and Oliver Smith on February 28, 2018 pointed out that it is normal to give high estimates for flight time – the URL says Are-airlines-exaggerating-flight-times-so-theyre-never-late.  

I’d be more likely to believe him if he just said 1 hour and 30 minutes.