Sunday, December 21, 2008

Rehearsing what you can’t say in words

In a previous post (October 12, 2008) on “How should you rehearse before giving a speech?” I discussed Nick Morgan’s advice on how to rehearse.

He briefly described his latest approach in a 5-page article titled “How to become an authentic speaker” that was published in the November 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review. That article likely is excerpted from his just-published book Trust Me: Four Steps to Authenticity and Charisma.

Your body language has to precede your words, or it will seem inauthentic. The basic idea of his article is that in your rehearsals you have to imagine meeting the following four aims (rather than just trying to rehearse your nonverbal conversation):
1. Being open to your audience
2. Connecting with your audience
3. Being passionate about your topic
4. Listening to your audience

You can read a brief summary of the magazine article here. Compared to his book, it probably will seem like watching a 30-second teaser for an epic movie. Early this week he began discussing the book on his blog.

In a 2004 article he presented some similar ideas about “Preparing to be real”.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Finding books to read - the joy of interlibrary loan

If we really want to find out a lot about a topic (like public speaking) then we can find and read a book. What should we do if our local public library does not have what we need? That depends on if we are more limited by time or by money. If time is limited, then we might choose to buy a book at a local bookstore. First we might look online at Amazon to see what books exist on that topic. (We also could look on Google Book Search).

If we have time but are limited by money, then we can find information about the book and ask our public library to obtain it via an interlibrary loan.

The simplest version of interlibrary loan occurs when our library is part of a regional union with a shared system catalog. For example, although I live in the city of Boise I have browsed the shared catalog and requested books from the nearby towns of Nampa, Eagle and Meridian. Those books were sent to the main Boise library, who emailed me to come and pick them up.

More complicated versions of interlibrary loan are possible. Typically to request a book we will need to supply the title, author, publisher, edition, publication date, and perhaps other details like the ISBN. Each library has specific procedures. For example, Boise Public Library will NOT request titles copyrighted in the current year. It can take about two weeks to obtain a book, which can come from thousands of miles away.

If we search for books at just with the phrase “public speaking” we will find over 36,000 results. The Look Inside feature lets us preview things like the Table of Contents to decide if a book looks interesting.

Google Book Search will only find about 12,800 books using the phrase “public speaking”. The Preview feature will let us look inside some of them. We still need to add other terms to narrow our search down to a reasonable number of results.

There is another less well known search tool, the “planetary library catalog” called WorldCat. If we put the phrase “public speaking” into its search box, then we will find about 12,800 books in the 1.2 billion items from its 10,000 libraries. Add another word like “secrets” and we will find only 55 books. WorldCat has other much more powerful search features than Google or Amazon. It was built by librarians, so it incorporates detailed subject indexing.

If we looked up Peter Desburg’s book, Speaking scared, sounding good: public speaking for the private person, at the Boise Public Library we would have found it was listed both under the very broad subject of “public speaking” and also the much narrower subject of “public speaking – psychological aspects”. Looking on Worldcat with the latter subject gives only 114 results. Similarly, combining the subjects of public speaking and humor with the Boolean search phrase “su:public speaking AND su:humor” will give just 247 results.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I saw it on the web, so it must be true

On December 3rd I was scheduled to be Toastmaster at Capitol Club. I usually look up the meeting date on the web in order to find a theme or historical background material. A couple of the sites I looked at were here and here.

I was flabbergasted to see that Galileo was supposed to have invented the telescope on precisely December 3, 1621. Back in my early teens I had taken a class on telescope making at the local planetarium. I had been taught that a spectacle maker, Hans Lippershey, invented the telescope rather than Galileo.

Lippershey asked for a patent back in October of 1608. Galileo heard of the telescope in July of 1609. First he made a 3X one like Lippershey had, and then he went beyond that magnification and showed an 8X one to the Venetian Senate in August.

What Galileo actually did to become famous was to point his latest 20X telescope at the night sky in October or November of 1609. He discovered the moons of Jupiter, and reported his results in March 1610 a book called Sidereus Nuncius (the Starry Messenger).

So, what really happened in history on December 3, 1621? According to the Wikipedia it was the birthday of the Jesuit writer Bohuslav Balbín, known as the “Bohemian Pliny”.

When you Google and find a historical "fact" you should ask questions like:
1) Who says so?

2) Who are they?
3) Why would you think they really know this?
and you should check more than one site to verify your material.

There is an excellent guide to evaluating web pages at the University of California Berkeley web site.

Monday, December 8, 2008

I read it in the newspaper, so it must be true

One common way of winning points in an argument is to research your topic, and then to quote from an authoritative source. Last year Peter Rickards, a podiatrist in Twin Falls, Idaho tried this. He wrote a Reader’s View (a long letter, basically a guest editorial) that was published in the September 25, 2007 issue of the Idaho Statesman. That Boise newspaper has the largest circulation in the state of Idaho. His Reader's View was titled “Gillespie's blowing smoke about nuke plant”.

He disagreed with the proponent of a nuclear plant who had been saying that it would not emit anything harmful. Dr. Rickards quoted the physician and anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott as saying that: "Tritium, another biologically significant gas, is also routinely emitted from nuclear reactors. Tritium is composed of three atoms of hydrogen, which combine with oxygen, forming radioactive water, which is absorbed through the skin, lungs and digestive system.”

Dr. Rickards got that quotation from an article that Caldicott had written in another newspaper, The Australian, back on April 13, 2005. Her statement about tritium is chemical nonsense. Actually it is a single atom, not a cluster of three. About a week after The Australian published it she was corrected by some of their readers. In her reply she agreed that actually: "Tritium is an isotope of hydrogen composed of two neutrons and one proton". You can find the UPI version of the revised article here.

That original Caldicott article confused the notations used by physicists with those used by chemists. A molecule of hydrogen gas is composed of two atoms, not three. The chemical formula for that molecule is written as a capital H followed by a subscript of 2.

The physicists notation for the isotope of hydrogen called tritium has the capital H preceded by a superscript of 3. There also is deuterium, another isotope of hydrogen composed of one neutron and one proton and denoted by a capital H preceded by a superscipt of 2. A regular hydrogen atom has one proton and is denoted by a capital H preceded by a superscript of 1. Perhaps Dr. Caldicott slept through that day of her physics or chemistry classes.

Less than an hour after Rickards’ letter was published several caustic comments were posted on one of the Statesman’s blogs pointing out the error. They came from over in eastern Idaho, which most people think of primarily as where potatoes come from. However, eastern Idaho also is home of the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). INL is one of the world centers of nuclear technology and originally was called the National Reactor Test Station. Some folks out there not only know about isotopes, they also produce them in the Advanced Test Reactor.

Rickards backpedaled and replied on the blog that:
“To Bubblehead- Gillespie claims nuke plants are ‘emission free,’ and that is simply not true, as born out by the EPA fact sheet. On your point that tritium is not 3 Hydrogen atoms, as Dr Caldicott phrases it, I believe you are semantically correct, it is better to say ‘Tritium, or H-3, is actually one hydrogen atom -- one that contains one proton and two neutrons’."

As far as I know the Statesman has never printed a correction. Also, quotes of the original, uncorrected article by Caldicott still are out on the web here and there.

So, a newspaper article may be a source of ignorance rather than a source of knowledge.

Caldicott's 2006 book Nuclear Power is Not the Answer correctly refers to tritium as being an isotope of hydrogen, but then (on page 56) denotes it by a capital H followed by a subscript of 3. She also describes tritiated water by H3O, where a chemist would of course correctly call it H2O.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Audience size determines working distance and thus presentation style

As I discussed yesterday, presentation style should match the audience size. The working distance between the presenter (you) and the back of the audience will determine how big your gestures should be, whether you need a microphone and sound system to be heard, and what type of visual aids you need to be seen.

If your gestures are too small, they will not be seen and your nonverbal communication will be ineffective. If your gestures are too large, you will be accused of theatrics, histrionics, or being a “drama queen”.

When planning an event, you can use an online calculator to determine the room size. First you must pick the type of seating. Working distance can be estimated based on the audience size and the type of seating. The densest type of seating is theater seating, which requires about nine square feet per person. For example, an audience of 64 people would require a room size (area) of 64 x 9 = 576 square feet. The estimated working distance is the square root of the room size, or 24 feet. The actual distance also depends on the room shape.

For audience sizes ranging from one to about a million, the following table shows a spectrum with twenty distinctly different audience and room sizes (as described by a series of powers of two). The first column shows the exponent, E, the second the resulting audience size, the third the estimated working distance (for theater seating in a square room) and the fourth a typical presentation venue.

E, audience size, estimated working distance, and a typical venue
0 – 1
1 – 2
2 – 4 – 6 ft.
3 – 8 – 8.5 ft. = a conversation in part of a room
4 – 16 – 12 ft.
5 – 32 – 17 ft. = a school classroom
6 – 64 – 24 ft.
7 – 128 – 34 ft. = a university lecture hall
8 – 256 – 48 ft.
9 – 512 – 68 ft. = an auditorium, or theater
10 – 1,024 – 96 ft.
11 – 2,048 – 136 ft. = an opera house
12 – 4,096 – 192 ft.
13 – 8,192 – 272 ft.
14 – 16,384 – 384 ft.
15 – 32,768 – 543 ft. = a basketball arena
16 – 65,536 – 768 ft.
17 – 131,072 – 1,086 ft. = a football stadium
18 – 262,144 – 1,536 ft. = the Indianapolis 500
19 – 524,288 – 2,172 ft.
20 – 1,048,576 – 3,072 ft. = over a half-mile, a visit from the Pope

You should rehearse your presentation in a venue with the same working distance as where it will finally be given. Finding a place to rehearse may require considerable ingenuity. Some possibilities are community centers, churches, or public libraries.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Your presentation style should match both your intent and the size of your audience

This January, on his Extreme Presentation Method blog, Professor Andrew V. Abela discussed the difference between TWO presentation idioms. One he calls a ballroom style presentation, and the other a conference room style presentation.

He said that a ballroom style presentation is used when the objective is to inform, impress, or entertain the audience. The information flow is primarily one way (from presenter to audience). The audience is typically in a dark hotel ballroom. More generally the audience size could range from a few dozen people to several thousand. PowerPoint slides typically are the medium used.

In contrast, a conference room style presentation is used when the objective is to engage and persuade your audience to change their behavior. The information flow is a two-way interchange between presenter and audience. The audience is typically in a well-lit, small conference room. The audience size could range from 2 to 25 people. Written handouts typically are the medium used.

Two years ago he described this distinction in a magazine article on how to Achieve Impact Through Persuasive Presentation Design. He shows a nice table comparing the two idioms.

In September he detailed both idioms in a 17-page Change This manifesto entitled Presenting to Small Audiences(switch off the projector).

On November 5, in his Slides that Stick blog, Jan Schultink instead described THREE distinct presentation scenarios (and desired levels of detail): the Keynote (large), the Pitch (medium) and the Meeting (small). (Jan showed a matrix which also distinguished three styles for where the media are used without the presence of a presenter).

An article by Cliff Suttle on how to Size Up Your Audience appeared in the December 2007 issue of Toastmaster magazine. Mr. Suttle distinguished FOUR different delivery styles for different audience sizes:

Talking to 10 people or fewer is a conversation.
Getting up in front of 20 people is a speech.
If there are 40 people in the audience, it’s a performance.
100 people or more is a show.

Are there TWO, or THREE, or FOUR different styles? I suspect there actually are many MORE. Most of us do not frequently encounter a large range of venues with vastly different audience sizes.

For audience sizes ranging from one to about a million, the following table shows we might distinguish a spectrum with twenty distinctly different optimum styles (as described by a series of powers of two). The first column shows the exponent, E, the second the resulting audience size, and the third a typical presentation venue.

E, audience size, and a typical venue
0 - 1
1 - 2
2 - 4
3 - 8 = a conversation in part of a room
4 - 16
5 - 32 = a school classroom
6 - 64
7 - 128 = a university lecture hall
8 - 256
9 – 512 = an auditorium, or theater
10 - 1,024
11 - 2,048 = an opera house
12 - 4,096
13 - 8,192
14 - 16,384
15 - 32,768 = a basketball arena
16 - 65,536
17 - 131,072 = a football stadium
18 - 262,144 = the Indianapolis 500, or a NASCAR race
19 - 524,288
20 - 1,048,576

Friday, November 28, 2008

A buffet of blogs about public speaking

In a post back on June 6 I mentioned that Andrew Dlugan had discussed 106 blogs about public speaking.

There is an interesting tool for keeping up with a large number of blogs about speaking and other topics. It is called Alltop and was announced back in March by Guy Kawasaki. He called it a news aggregation site that collects “all the top” stories for popular topics on the web. There is a separate page you can go to for each topic.

For each topic Alltop collects postings from about forty to eighty different sites. For each site below the name it shows the headline and title of the five most recent posts. When you point your mouse at a headline you will see the first paragraph of each post. If it looks interesting, then you can click on a headline to read the entire post.

The Alltop page on speaking is a bountiful buffet which collects material from 79 different sites, including 5 with PowerPoint in their titles, and 3 with Toastmasters in their titles.

The page on writing has material from 24 sites, and the page on sales has material from 74 sites. However, their marketing page has over 200 sites. I think there were 213, but I may have lost track.

The alphabetical list of topics has some surprises. Under C there is California, Chicano, Christianity, Country Music, and even Cricket. The L’s include both Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Under N there is both NBA Basketball and NFL Football, but not NASCAR. Y’all aren’t from down South, are y’all?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Joy of teaching adult education

On the evening of October 6, 2008 I taught a two-hour adult education course at Timberline High School for the Community Education Program held by the Boise Schools. The course was titled Surf No More – Internet Research Refined. This was by far the longest presentation that I have ever given. I used 60 PowerPoint slides.

As is usual for adult education one challenge is that the backgrounds of the dozen or so students varied widely. Some were new computer users. Others were very experienced. One was a Toastmaster from my club (Jose Telleria, ACG) who has long run his own software company. Another formerly had worked in R & D at Micron Technology, Inc. and she had quite a few patents on computer memory. Everyone took away some useful information.

I broke the presentation into four chunks:
Introduction (the basics)

Where to look
How to look (tactics)
How to look (strategies).

Before beginning each chunk I gave the class a written handout with those PowerPoint slides so they could concentrate on the talk rather than on writing.

The main point on where to look was that you should never just have one tool for search. You need a whole box of tools, like the Boise Public Library web search page. For more advanced users I recommended the Toddington search page called Essential Tools for Internet Geologists.

This course began as a presentation on Internet Research which I gave in April 2004 to a dinner meeting of the Portland chapter of the American Society of Women Accountants. In 2005 it also was given to an IEEE chapter, but that’s another story.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The joy of talking to kids

One of the Toastmasters in Capitol Club, Marilee Fuller, ACG, is teaching a youth program on public speaking for a group of ten 4th to 6th grade students at a local charter school (ANSER). She asked for volunteers to speak to the kids, and of course I said yes. The school is located within walking distance of my home and club.

I gave a ten-minute speech to them complete with PowerPoint slides. It was a technical mystery story called “The Case of the Corroded Computer”. They enjoyed hearing it, and I certainly enjoyed telling it to them. The moral was that, just like kids, we adults don’t always think things through before we act.

The story began with a luxury car dealer getting ready to move into a remodeled vintage building in a state capital. Everyone was in a big hurry to get the move completed before New Year’s Day.

The last step before moving the cars and the shop equipment in turned out to be having a contractor come to clean the discolored grout on the white tile floor for the showroom. The contractor was told it was OK for him to use hydrochloric acid and he did.

The very next day the dealer called and accused him of destroying a brand new minicomputer located in the bookkeeper’s office. The contractor said that was impossible, since his crew had not even been in the carpeted bookkeeper’s office, and the door had always been locked.

A company I worked for got called by a claims adjuster from the insurance company for the contractor. She wanted an independent technical evaluation of the damage. A chemist and I went to look at the computer. All the screws on the case were rusty brown instead of shiny silver color. Chemical tests on the motherboard revealed exposure to hydrochloric acid.

How did the acid get there? The building had a forced air heating system. A furnace was located in the back of the showroom, just outside of the bookkeeper’s office. The cold air inlet was located just a few inches above the tile floor. The very first hot air outlet from the furnace led right into the bookkeeper’s office. By Murphy’s Law that outlet was located on the wall directly above the computer. So, the computer got an acid vapor bath. Oops!

After our report the insurer for the contractor bought the dealer a new computer. They got the “old” one to salvage. By hindsight the computer should not have been there yet.

I forgot to mention to the kids that the preceding story somewhat resembles a Sherlock Holmes story about murder in a locked room, called the Adventure of the Speckled Band.

After the talk I gave the kids a handout to read. It was a two-page Claims magazine article I had written for their September 1995 issue, on “How to investigate corrosion damage to goods stored, shipped”. I am not sure if they were impressed or appalled that the article was older than they were.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stepping into someone else’s shoes

One of the more challenging forms of public speaking is substituting for someone else at a technical conference. I have done it well just once in my career, back in the early 1980’s. There was a technical conference in Toronto. I was chairing a session on hydrogen embrittlement of steel. A French scientist had volunteered to give a presentation. However, he warned me that there was a possibility that he might not be allowed to travel.

A week before the conference an airmail envelope arrived with his text and slides. There was a brief note saying he could not come, and I should just go give his presentation. It turned out to be straightforward, because he and I had worked for the same PhD thesis adviser in graduate school. For about three years our desks were in the same lab and faced each other. We had built equipment together, and discussed that topic over and over. Later he had sent me many of his publications. A week was ample time to understand his presentation, because I already understood his approach to the topic.

A half decade earlier our thesis advisor gave a much more difficult substitute performance on the same topic. He was co-chairman of an entire conference. One of the keynote speakers could not make it because he had to testify in court as an expert witness. The manuscript and slides arrived about 2 hours before the presentation. Our advisor warned the audience that he was filling in at the last moment. Then he did an excellent job of communicating someone else’s material. How could he do that so comfortably? He and his co-chair had written a series of review articles on that topic. They already had read and discussed hundreds of technical papers. So, they understood what everyone thought, and could step into anyone’s shoes.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Biggest fears about speaking to groups

This data is about 18 years old, but still interesting to contemplate.

Dr. Roger Flax of Motivational Systems did a study of 12,000 people who participated in his firm’s communication training programs. They were asked: What are your biggest fears about speaking to groups? Results were reported on page 13 of the September 1990 issue of American Salesman magazine in an article titled The Unspeakable Fear.

The fears reported were:
81% - Making embarrassing mistakes
77 % - Damaging your career or reputation
63% - Forgetting or freezing
58% - Being dull or boring
52% - Looking nervous or petrified
45% - Being stared at
37% - Being unable to answer questions
31% - Being unprepared
24% - Being ignored
19% - Being laughed at
7% - That someone will fall asleep

The list of fears is rather comprehensive. It is only missing some more obscure ones like being struck by lightning, turning into a pillar of salt, alien abduction, or spontaneous human combustion.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Public speaking is still the #1 specific social fear, according to the latest results from the NCS-R survey

Is public speaking the #1 social fear? A couple of professionals involved with public speaking don’t think so, but I respectfully disagree with them. In a blog post dated April 21, 2008 Lisa Braithwaite quoted from an earlier article by Melissa Lewis titled “Five tired, worn out public speaking clichés, and why it’s time to throw them out” that began with:

“ 1. ‘Public speaking is the #1 fear’
You can count on hearing this one any time you take a presentation skills class. The problem is, there’s nothing to substantiate it. The quoted source for this "fact" is The Book of Lists, which, even in current editions, shows a tiny blurb in the Sunday Times of London from October 7, 1973, as its source. In this article, no mention is made of who did this research, how it was conducted, who the subjects were, whether the subjects were a representative sample of the U.S. population—nothing! Not to mention the fact that this "research" is 30 years old. Haven’t people changed in 30 years? And don’t we face new fears that weren’t even in our consciousness in 1973? Of course. If this research were to be conducted with rigor today, we would likely have a different outcome. This tidy, shocking factoid is easily trotted out when we want to make a point, but it’s just not valid. Time to let it go”.

Melissa further said in an e-mail quoted by Lisa that “I have a standing offer to all my participants: Bring me a current, scientifically credible study showing that public speaking is the #1 fear and I'll give you $100. It's been 20 years and I'm still waiting!"

Well, Melissa if I was taking your course then I would ask you to open up your purse, get out your $100 bill and hand it over! (In fact, I could have had your $100 ten years ago.)

Earlier this year the results of from a large survey of the general population were published which state that public speaking is still the #1 specific social fear. That survey is the NCS-R, which is an abbreviation for the National Comorbidity Study – Replication. The paper with the results is “Social Fears and Social Phobia in the United States: Results from the National Comorbidity Study Replication” by A. M. Ruscio et al. You can find the abstract at Pubmed, as well as the full manuscript. The relevant results are the first column in Table 1.

If you list the prevalence of each specific fear in the total sample (9282 people) in decreasing order the fears are: Public speaking/performance 21.2%, Speaking up in meeting/class 19.5%, Meeting new people 16.8%, Talking to people in authority 14.7%, Important exam/interview 14.0%, Going to parties 13.4%, Talking with strangers 13.1%, Expressing disagreement 12.4%, Entering an occupied room 11.9%, Working while being watched 11.8%, Dating situation 11.5%, Writing/eating/drinking while being watched 8.1%, Using public bathroom 5.7%. There also were two more categories: Other performance or interaction fear 15.7%, and Any of the above fears 24.1%.

Just what is the National Comorbidity Survey? It’s a big, important American health survey program going back to the early 1990s, with its own web site. If you count the scientific papers produced from it you will find about 220!

Back in 1998 another paper by R. C. Kessler et al,“Social Phobia Subtypes in the National Comorbidity Survey” was published using the original survey data from 1990-1992. If you list the prevalence of each specific fear in the total sample (8098 people) in decreasing order the fears are: Public speaking 30.2%, Talking in front of a small group 15.2%, Talking with others 13.7%, Using a toilet away from home 6.6%, Writing while someone watches 6.4%, and Eating or drinking in public 2.7%. There also was a category of Any social fear 38.6%.

I am pretty good at finding information on the web and in libraries. However, it still took me about a half day of online search to dredge up these two articles. The moral, if any, is not to trust the “experts” on a topic. If you want to find out the truth you will have to dig it up on your own.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

October 2008 Australian survey confirms Seinfeld: 23% of people fear public speaking more than death

In one of his comedy routines Jerry Seinfeld said that people fear public speaking more than death, so if they went to a funeral then they would rather be lying in the coffin than giving the eulogy. An Australian survey confirmed this.

The survey was taken by Newspoll for and reported in the October 22, 2008 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald. They surveyed 1206 adults and reportedly 23% fear public speaking more than death, compared with 27% who rank death as their number one fear. Also, they reported that 28% of those who finished high school had public speaking as their worst fear, versus only 15% of those with university degrees. There also was an age difference. 25% of the 35-to-64 age group feared public speaking more than death, versus 18% of the 18-to-34 age group. They did not find a gender difference.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Speech evaluation leads to improvement

The only way to really improve at public speaking is to go through many cycles of speaking, receiving feedback from evaluation, and then speaking some more. Just staring at yourself in the mirror, listening to an audio recording, or looking at a videotape of yourself won’t get you very far.
What is needed is honest, prompt feedback given by peers in a supportive manner. That is one reason I am in Toastmasters.

One of the pillars of the Toastmasters program is prompt feedback on each speech. Each speaker at a meeting is assigned an evaluator. The evaluator provides both a 2 to 3 minute verbal evaluation and additional written comments in the manual. Meanwhile the other club members are also providing brief written comments on 1-1/4 by 4-inch slips of paper.

Evaluation is tricky. The cover of the November 2007 issue of Toastmaster magazine said what it should be with the succinct phrase “Giving courage through encouragement”. One way to do that was stated years ago by Mary K. Ash: “Sandwich every bit of criticism between two heavy layers of praise”. Some Toastmasters refer to this process as: Commend –Recommend – Commend. This year Tom Fishburne said it more humorously in a Brand Camp cartoon.

The topic is covered briefly in a little 2-page tri-fold brochure titled “Speech Evaluation: How to Give Effectively” from Toastmasters District 22 in Western Missouri & Kansas. It is just one of a series of items which you can download from their website.

Giving and receiving evaluation is a perennial topic among advanced Toastmasters. Last year it was the featured topic in the February and November issues of Toastmaster Magazine. You can also find nine articles from Toastmaster posted at the website of Westside Toastmasters in Los Angeles:
“The 3Rs of Evaluating: Review, Reward, and Respond” (Nov 2007)
“What? A Standing Ovation for an Evaluation?” (Nov 2007)
“Three Points to Keep Your Evaluation on Target” (Feb 2007)
“If Only I’d Said…(mastering the art of self evaluation)” (Feb 2007)
“Learning to (Almost) Like Criticism” (Feb 2007)
“Want to Win an Evaluation Contest?” (Jan 2005)
“Build Your Skill in Evaluating Speeches” (Nov 2002)
“The Collaborative Speech Evaluation” (Nov 2002)
“Dealing with a Bad Speech Evaluation” (Nov 2002)

If you prefer videos to reading, there are a couple excellent presentations which you can watch on YouTube. Warwick John Fahy spoke for 10 minutes on “The Heart of Evaluation” at Shanghai Peoples’s Square Club Toastmasters in Shanghai, China. There also is a 40-minute Speech Evaluation Seminar given by someone from EmergingSpeakers up in Canada. Due to time limits for posting it is broken into four chunks: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fear of public speaking versus fear of snakes

Back in February 2001 Gallup polled Americans about their fears. They sampled 1016 people and reported what percentage expressed fear of various topics. Their poll reportedly had a margin of error of plus or minus 3%. The article about their results was titled Snakes top list of Americans’ fears. That actually is a somewhat misleading generalization which overlooks real gender differences, but in an October 23 blog post Lisa Braithwaite quoted it again anyway.

For women the fear of public speaking (44%) ranks significantly below the much worse top fear, of snakes (62%). For men fear of public speaking (37%) and fear of snakes (38%) were approximately equal. When you pool the data and put men and women together you get that 51% of the people fear snakes, but only 40% fear public speaking.

The detailed list of fears is shown in the following table. I have listed them in decreasing order for women (first column of numbers). The second column of numbers, for men shows significant gender differences. Column 3 lists the pooled results for the 2001 survey, and column 4 lists the pooled results for a 1998 survey.

Fears in order of decreasing percent (for women),
___________________________________2001 1998
_________________________Women Men Both Both
Snakes ______________________62__ 38__ 51__ 56
Public speaking _______________44 __37__ 40__ 45
Being closed in a small space____42__ 25__ 34__ 36
Heights_______________________41__ 31__ 36__ 41
Spiders and insects____________38___15__27__ 34
Mice_______________________33___ 6__20___26
Flying on an airplane__________22___14__18___20
Needles and getting shots______21___20___21__21
Thunder & lightning___________16___6____11__17
The dark___________________8____2___5___8
Going to the doctor___________8____11__9___12

Public speaking is scary for both men and women. Women find public speaking to be scarier than men do, but they find snakes to be much scarier. Fortunately for most people practice gradually reduces the fear and makes speaking tolerable (or even pleasant).

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

How many slides should you use in a PowerPoint presentation?

You should use just enough slides to tell your story, and no more. The preceding question and its answer are pretty close an old joke. When Abraham Lincoln was asked: “How long should a man’s legs be?” he replied “Long enough to reach the ground.”

How many slides should you present per minute? You can just follow Spiegel’s Law, which states that the answer to any question will turn out to be “about three” when the question is asked in the correct units. A guideline of “1 to 2 slides per minute” is often stated, but this is for the mythical “typical” slide. Obviously it matters whether you have zero, five, or fifty words on a slide. The Global Health Education Consortium makes the sensible suggestion that you should: “consider 1 – 2 slides per minute for those that have text or graphic content, and perhaps up to 3 – 4 per minute for photos”.

The Director of Media Services at the Oshkosh campus of the University of Wisconsin, Nick Dvoracek, gave a 12 minute Macromedia Breeze talk on Effective Presentations which has 41 slides, or 3.4 per minute. His web site also contains much more information about using PowerPoint.

Is it possible to pack even more slides per minute into an effective presentation? How about over TWICE as many as Nick Dvoracek? Earlier this year Alvin Trusty gave a 45 minute presentation with 327 slides (7.2 per minute). At TeacherTube you can view a video of his amazing “Beg, Borrow, but Don’t Steal (How to give a great PowerPoint without breaking the law).” While Alvin seems a bit rushed, he still is perfectly understandable.

How many still images per minute can be presented for the very special case of a music video, where the song tells the story? The video for the Carrie Newcomer song Angels Unaware has over 115 images in just 4-1/2 minutes. That is over 25 “slides” per minute, although these images are enhanced by “pan and zoom” camera movements (in the same style Ken Burns employed for his documentary on the Civil War).

Sunday, October 12, 2008

How should you rehearse before giving a speech?

Nick Morgan has some excellent advice. He wrote a paperback book called Give Your Speech, Change the World: How to Move Your Audience to Action. (An earlier, hard cover version was titled Working the Room: How to Move People to Action through Audience-Centered Speaking).

Don’t try to do just one rehearsal. You never will catch everything you would like to change in one pass through your material. Instead focus on one aspect or facet at a time. He says that you should do at least three rehearsals, and, if possible, seven. Nick says you should follow this sequence:

1. Rehearse the Content. See how long it takes to just get all the words out, and if your transitions work.

2. Rehearse the Logical Structure. Go through an outline of the main points (the essence or “spine” of your speech) and see how they connect with each other.

3. Rehearse the Nonverbal Conversation. You can’t do this inside your head. Try out your body language, gestures, and facial expressions. You should plan on doing at least these three rehearsals, and do more if possible.

4. Rehearse the Emotions. Map out your emotional journey, going from sad to happy as appropriate.

5. Rehearse the Technical Aspects. Do a walk-through using the notes, visuals, mike, camera, lights, etc.

6. Rehearse the Opening. Figure out how you are going to get a running start, so when you begin to speak you already are in the mood to shine.

7. The full Dress Rehearsal. Put it all together and, if possible, rehearse at the venue a day or two before show time.

According to Col. Larry Tracy the U.S. Army slang for a dress rehearsal is The Murder Board. That’s pretty grim terminology for a videotaped rehearsal! The Murder Board audience also has the job of coming up with tough questions for the speaker to answer.

In the second edition of her book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Public Speaking Laurie Rozakis suggests the following sequence for rehearsing:

1. Practice the speech in front of a mirror.
2. Tape-record the speech, and then listen to it.
3. Videotape the speech, and then watch it.
4. Deliver the speech to a single person.
5. Rehearse the speech for a small group.
6. Eliminate distracting mannerisms.
7. Practice at the site.

8. Practice the speech using all the visual aids.
9. Practice with background noise.
10. Practice dressed as you will be for your actual presentation.

Laurie’s advice explicitly involves both getting delayed feedback on your own (audio tape & then videotape) and from audiences (of one & then more).

What should you NOT do to rehearse? Nick Morgan says to skip trying to rehearse in front of a mirror. Looking at your reflection in a mirror just makes most people self-conscious and awkward, unless they have already done this type of practice a lot. He also suggests that you get a live audience such as a child, or failing that a dog or cat. My advice is not to use a cat. Both of ours quickly get insulted and leave the room whenever I try to lecture to them.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Tales of the Table Topics Bunny and the Jackalope

Folk tales often come from attempting to craft explanations to questions posed by children. (The Table Topics Bunny first appeared in a June 30 post on this blog).

1) Daddy, where do Table Topics questions come from?
The simple answer is that the Table Topics Bunny (TTB) brings them.

2) When does the TTB arrive?
Every year he hops by on February 22nd and leaves a stack of questions. He visits many Toastmasters on that day in memory of the birthday of their founder, Dr. Ralph C. Smedley.

3) Is he related to any other famous bunnies?
The TTB recently was interviewed by a supermarket tabloid late one night in the Geisel Library at UCSD. Harvey revealed that his daughter, who actually is the famous Energizer Bunny (EB), possibly has “stimulant abuse issues” and currently is in rehab at an undisclosed location “near St. Louis”.

She learned to play the drum for junior high band. The “sandals, shades, and attitude” came later in high school when she started to “hang with the bad beach bunnies”, began taking diet pills, and then headed to LA to become a singer or actress.

Her name really is Miley, and her 3 pink sisters are Britney, Lindsey, and Amy. She also has 4 blue brothers: Clem, Leroy, Brad, and Ethan. Clem (Clement) originally was going to be the battery company mascot. Then an ice cream manufacturer objected that they already had long used a Blue Bunny as a trademark on their packaging. So, Clem suggested that they use his sister instead. She got the job, but due to an oversight the ad copy never was corrected to “she just keeps on going”. Harvey and Barbie are proud of all eight of their their children.

Right now the TTB is much more obscure than the mighty Jackalope (a cross between a jackrabbit and an antelope), which is a mythic horned creature from Wyoming. The jackalope’s legend reportedly began with Douglas Herrick, a taxidermist from Douglas.

An entire tourist industry soon developed selling stuffed jackalopes, etc. Videos of jackalopes are rare, but you can glimpse one on Youtube in the song Creepy Jackalope Eye by the Supersuckers. If you can’t understand the lyrics, you can just read them at Steve Earle’s web site.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Advice on effectively communicating numbers

In 2004 Professor Stephen Few, who teaches in the MBA program at the University of California, Berkeley wrote a 280 page hardcover book called Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten. Books are wonderful, but reading them takes lots of time.

In 2005 he produced a more manageable 24 page whitepaper on Effectively Communicating Numbers. It discusses how to decide if you should use a table or a graph. Then it discusses choosing and using different types of graphs in considerable detail. The paper concludes with a single page appendix showing the steps involved in designing a graph. (This paper also contains a 10 page appendix by Proclarity Corporation in Boise which illustrates the use of their software. In Spring 2006 Proclarity was purchased by Microsoft and their software became the foundation for PerformancePoint Server.)

You can find most of Professor Few’s other articles in a library on his website. An exception is a recent 80 page presentation on Graph Design for Effective Communication from June 2008.

Both documents do an excellent job of covering the topic of displaying numerical data so that it produces “interocular traumatic impact”, which is his playful academic jargon for “hits you right between the eyes”.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pie charts do not speak clearly; they just mumble

Gene Zelazny’s textbook Say It with Charts notes that: “In general, pie charts are the least practical of the five chart forms. They also are the most misused and, worse, the most abused.“

In an eloquent 14-page newsletter article titled Save the Pies for Dessert Stephen Few also argues that pie charts are not a very useful tool for presenting information. Quantitative comparison of percentages on a pie chart requires comparing angles that are spatially in disarray. That is more difficult for people than looking at a simple horizontal bar chart and comparing distances.

Pie charts only work for large differences, which geeks call semi-quantitative comparisons. If you want a quantitative comparison with a pie chart, then you have to mark the percentages on it, so you might as well use a table (or a bar chart). A whole row of pie charts is even worse than one pie chart.

Adding a third dimension and shading just makes a pie chart prettier but harder to interpret. Making it transparent (like you can in MS Excel) reduces it to “dancing bearware” – a gee-whiz effect that add nothing but hoopla.

Practical Rules for Using Color in Charts

In 2004 Stephen Few wrote a book called Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten. In a 13 page paper on Practical rules for using color in charts he discusses and illustrates nine rules of graphics, which are:

Rule 1: If you want different objects of the same color in a table or graph to look the same, make sure that the background (the color that surrounds them) is consistent. (A gradient background just adds confusion).

Rule 2: If you want objects in a table or graph to be easily seen, use a background color that contrasts sufficiently with the object.

Rule 3: Use color only when needed to serve a particular communication goal.

Rule 4: Use different colors only when they correspond to differences of meaning in the data. (Adding a different color for each country to a bar chart adds nothing when you already have identified their names).

Rule 5: Use soft, natural colors to display most information, and bright colors and/or dark colors to highlight information that requires greater attention. (He gives an example of palette with eight soft natural and bright highlight colors).

Rule 6: When using color to encode a sequential range of quantitative values, stick with a single hue (or a small set of closely related hues) and vary intensity from pale colors for low values to increasingly darker and brighter colors for high values.

Rule 7: Non-data components of tables and graphs should be displayed just visibly enough to perform their role, but not more so, for excessive salience could cause them to distract attention from the data. (The scales and borders should not visually overwhelm your data).

Rule 8: To guarantee that most people who are colorblind can distinguish groups of data that are color coded, avoid using a combination of red and green in the same display. (About 10% of men cannot tell red from green, and identify traffic lights by position only!)

Rule 9: Avoid using visual effects in graphs. (A plain bar chart is preferable to one with three-dimensional rods).

Monday, September 8, 2008

Recent formats for brief presentations: Lightning Talks, Pecha Kucha, and Ignite

Lightning Talks are brief presentations (typically just 5 minutes) given at a single session of a conference or other forum. They may have started back in 2000 at Yet Another Perl Conference (YAPC). Mark Jason Dominus organized a session with a series of 5 minute talks and then showed up with a gong to enforce the time limit. According to the Wikipedia the tradition of short talks at programming conferences actually goes back further, at least to 1997. Lightning Talks are an excellent format for fitting a variety of viewpoints into a meeting.

Generally there are no limits on the visual aids that can be used for Lightning Talks. There may be none, just still images, or even images plus video. Some brave souls even have (gasp) tried live demonstrations of software. There is a YouTube video of an excellent Lightning Talk on “Ubiquitous Offline Shopping” by Wesley Chun from the 2008 Python conference. There also is a longer YouTube video on “Race Driving 101” by Joe Nuxoll which consists of a 4 minute presentation with still images followed by an amazing driver’s eye-view video of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb.

However, there also are two more recent formats which add two further and sillier constraints:

(1) exactly 20 still images
(2) each still image shown for exactly either 20 or 15 seconds.

Pecha Kucha (Japanese for “chit chat”, or the sound of conversation) began in 2003. It was devised by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham in Tokyo as a night for young designers to show their work in public. They came up with a “patented” formula of 20 images for 20 seconds each, so each presentation was exactly 6 minutes and 40 seconds long. Daniel H. Pink wrote approvingly about Pecha Kucha in Wired magazine back in 2007, and then Garr Reynolds also blogged about it.

Ignite is a heresy of Pecha Kucha devised in Seattle in 2006 by Brady Forrest and Bre Pettis. They decided that each image instead should run for only 15 seconds, so each presentation would be exactly 5 minutes long. Both formats unfortunately have been spreading like kudzu or meth labs.

Fixing both the number of images and the time for each image is silly. It is just a kludge: a clumsy or inelegant solution to a problem. Usually a kludge just solves one problem by introducing another. In this case it fixes the global problem of getting through an evening program by screwing up the individual presentations. A fixed timing of 15 or 20 seconds per image is a reasonable way of setting up a photo album to run by itself in a digital picture frame. It is a lousy way to force a human being to do a presentation. Personally I don’t see any advantage to being drafted into the PowerPoint Marines Military Marching Band.

Now, there is actually nothing new about the advantage of a brief presentation format. In 1996 Ron Hoff wrote a book called Say It in Six (subtitled How to say exactly what you mean in six minutes or less). Hoff in turn borrowed the brief format from Toastmasters International. Their Competent Communication basic manual teaches how to do public speaking via a series of 10 speeches. Eight of those speeches have time limits of 5 to 7 minutes. Counting an over-run allowance of 30 seconds, their upper limit is 7 minutes and 30 seconds. Now, I’m not sure if that speech limit goes all the way back to the founding of Toastmasters in 1924. I do know that they have not changed it for the past 25 years!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Storytelling: The Endless Tale

The Endless Tale is the title of a column on storytelling in the wonderful quarterly folk music magazine, Sing Out. It is written by Dan Keding, and also has the breathtakingly long subtitle of Storytelling: its events, tellers, stories, organizations, resources & points of discussion. Some of Dan’s columns open by telling specific short tales. Two examples are:

Spring 2008 - The old woman who outwitted death ( web link here).
Summer 2002 – A full cup (
web link here)

The first column also contains a discussion of endings. The second column also contains a discussion of short (or small) tales, and lists four books that contain collections of them.

If you want to see more stories, then try this list of some storytelling web sites.

Folk songs are poetic tales set to music, like Richard Thompson’s Beeswing.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Props for the courtroom are called demonstrative evidence

In legal terminology props for the courtroom are somewhat grandly called demonstrative evidence. An old Chinese proverb says: “tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand”. The proverb is quoted is from an article by a forensic engineering company that also contains an excellent cartoon about the futility of detailed verbiage alone.

Both lawyers and expert witnesses know that most jurors think visually. They use props for showing in addition to verbally telling their story. Props were repeatedly used by the Los Angeles trial lawyer Earl Rogers, who was the basis for the TV character Perry Mason. More recently a demonstration involving gloves was an important part of the defense in the infamous OJ Simpson trial.

The abstract concepts of conservation of momentum and energy are the basis for vehicle accident reconstruction, as described in a recent Slate article on The Ferrari that split in half. Most professors of mechanical engineering could put a jury to sleep in less than five minutes by discussing the concepts starting with words, and then continuing with unfamiliar equations written on a flip chart.

About twenty years ago I saw a video of an expert testifying brilliantly on this topic. The lawyer called the professor up to the stand. He walked up with a box containing two brightly colored basketballs in one hand. The other hand was dribbling a third basketball. All the jurors woke up. Then he got down on his knees on the floor. He rolled one ball at another to illustrate a collision. Also, he told the jurors that some actually were familiar with momentum transfer from playing billiards or pool. He only started to tell them after he’d already both shown them and involved them.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Give 'em props

Sometimes props can improve a speech. Both Tom Antion and Lenn Millbower have discussed the use of props as visual aids. A simple, inexpensive prop can be effective. Ellen Hermens describes a speaker who just placed a paper circle on the floor and stood on it to show that “this is my point of view”. Then he stepped away and took a critical look at that point of view from another angle.

To be effective a prop needs to be large enough to be seen by the entire audience. You can buy very realistic (and expensive) props from GreatBigStuff. Or, you can buy less expensive foam props from clown shops like PeachyKeene or Clown Antics.

There also are novelty suppliers like Archie Mcphee. Somewhere out there is a Toastmaster who would enjoy their giant inflatable mattress shaped like a slice of toast. They also have large pencils, pens, ears, scissors and hearts.

A great comedian can take a very simple prop and use it to tell many stories. The TV show “Whose Line is This Anyway?” had a segment just on props.

The most famous use of a prop in public speaking was by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev at the United Nations on October 12, 1960. Khrushchev simply pounded a shoe on the desk to emphasize his disgust at the remarks made by another speaker. His granddaughter Nina claimed this was an impromptu gesture. It had been a hot day. He had taken off his wristwatch and put it on the desk. Nikita’s new shoes were uncomfortably tight, so he’d taken them off and switched to his slippers. When he banged a fist on the desk he accidentally knocked the watch on the floor. Then he saw the shoes, picked one up, and even more loudly banged his way into history.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

How to structure a business story in 9 steps

Doug Stevenson recently outlined 9 steps of business story structure in a magazine article on Storytelling – The Art of Customer Engagement which appeared in the July 28 issue of the Life and Health edition of National Underwriter magazine. The steps are:

1. Set the scene
2. Begin the journey
3. Introduce the characters
4. Encounter the obstacle
5. Overcome the obstacle
6. Resolve the story
7. Make the point
8. Ask the question
9. Restate the point

An article on his web site discusses these nine steps in more detail. There also is a handout from one of his ASTD workshops posted elsewhere that ends with the wonderful phrase that “emotion is the fast lane to the brain”.

Stevenson has an interesting history. He wrote a book on storytelling called Never Be Boring Again which he later renamed Doug Stevenson’s Story Theater Method.

In my August 2nd post “Get a running start” I referred to a post from Doug’s blog.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Dressing truth in story

Speaking is closely related to storytelling. The word storytelling brings to mind a gray haired grandfather telling tales to his grandchildren. You might not expect to find storytelling discussed repeatedly in a NASA magazine (ASK), or in magazine articles and books on management.

ASK magazine has a brief, wonderful article by Annette Simmons called Dressing up the naked truth. It contains the following story:

“Truth, naked and cold, had been turned away from every door in the village. Her nakedness frightened the people. When Parable found her she was huddled in a corner, shivering and hungry. Taking pity on her, Parable gathered her up and took her home. There, she dressed Truth in story, warmed her, and sent her out again. Clothed in story, Truth knocked again at the villagers’ doors and was readily welcomed into the peoples’ houses. They invited her to eat at their table and warm herself by their fire.”

In another issue of ASK magazine Dougal Maclise presents a much longer story. What's a ceiling? tells how “zero failure equals zero progress”.

Storytelling is also discussed by Stephen Denning in a nine page article in the Harvard Business Review on,Telling Tales

Another article by Bill Birchard, Once Upon A Time, reviews storytelling in business and references ten books on the subject.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Free e-book on presentations, with a great story

Why bad presentations happen to good causes is a 100 page e-book written by Andy Goodman that can be downloaded free from Hershey/Cause.

Contents include:
Chapter 1: The sorry state of the art
Chapter 2: Building better presentations
Chapter 3: Improving your delivery
Chapter 4: PowerPoint is your friend
Chapter 5: The small stuff (it’s worth sweating)

Chapter 1 identifies a “fatal five” problem factors which are:
1. Reading the slides
2. Too long, too much information
3. Lack of interaction
4. Lifeless presenters
5. Room/technical problems

Chapter 2 (on building better presentations) includes a great “ultimate elevator story” told in just 500 words on pages 30 and 31 of the text (page 36 and 37 of the Acrobat file). An even briefer summary follows.

Two brothers managed a vintage 11-story apartment building. Tenants had complained that the only elevator was glacially slow. One brother took the obvious technical approach. He got bids, selected a contractor, and had the drive mechanism updated to run faster at a cost of $150,000. Then he surveyed the tenants, who were quite unimpressed.

The second brother made other, much less expensive changes ($5000, or 1/30th the cost). Then he surveyed the tenants again, and they said that they now were quite pleased. What had he done? He’d just added full length mirrors at every floor on either side of the elevator doors.

The first brother thought the question to answer was “how do we make the elevator go faster?” The second brother realized that the question actually was “how do we make time pass faster for the waiting customers?”

There are two morals for this story. First, sometimes the problem isn’t what you first think. Second, the solution may not be expensive technology or “smoke and mirrors”, but just mirrors.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Digital visual presenter - the grandson of an overhead projector

If you haven’t been to a classroom or lecture hall recently, then you are in for an audiovisual treat. The overhead projector has evolved into a cool, quiet, modern product called a digital visual presenter.

The overhead projector first was followed by a gizmo called a document camera. It could take a still image or a video of a sheet of paper or an object and feed that to an LCD projector, such as is commonly used for PowerPoint presentations or video. The document camera had a cold light source or sources for illuminating the subject matter. It also had both autofocus and zoom so the instructor could highlight a detail. This is a much better than an overhead projector. There is no more glare, hot air, blower noise, marker ink on hands, or transparencies to clean. You can see a two minute YouTube video on a digital document camera here.

Then the document camera was in turn followed by an even fancier gizmo with memory and input switching. The latest generation is variously called a digital visual (or video) presenter, a digital presenter, visual presenter, or a visualizer. A speaker now can easily switch between live video or still images, stored images, and a PowerPoint presentation. Click here for a two minute TeacherTube video of a visual presenter.

Some visual presenters fold for portability, as seen in this brief Youtube video of a Samsung model. There is a bewildering variety of designs. For example, ELMO makes units ranging from a four pound portable for accompanying a notebook computer to a unit for permanent mounting on a ceiling.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Don't forget the overhead projector

In a previous post on June 24th titled “Don’t be a flipchart Charlie” I discussed that simple visual aid. For larger audiences another possibility is to use an overhead projector. Like flipcharts they are relatively simple to use. Visuals can be produced “on the fly” with just a few pieces of transparency film and markers. Transparencies also can be made using a copier or a computer printer.

Lenny Laskowski has some good suggestions on using overhead transparencies. There also is a more printer friendly version elsewhere. More tips for overhead projector use are in a newsletter from the NIH Evening Speakers Toastmasters club.

If you are using lots of overhead transparencies, then you will need to make sure there is enough table space next to the projector to shuffle your “deck” into two stacks of unused and used transparencies. Before you start you will need to check if there is a spare bulb ready to use. (Some projectors carry a spare and a flip of a knob will instantly change lamps).

OSHA has a 1996 vintage page on Presenting Effective Presentations with Visual Aids which discusses overhead projectors and other aids.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Get a running start

The Toastmasters article on 10 Biggest Public Speaking Mistakes lists “Starting with a whimper” as the very first one. They suggest that you: “give the audience a startling statistic, an interesting quote, a news headline – something powerful that will get their attention immediately.”

There is a large element of theater to picking an opening. Both storytellers and trial lawyers know the importance of a great opening. In his autobiography The Story of My Life the great lawyer Clarence Darrow stated that: ”… unless a speaker can interest his audience at once, his effort will be a failure.”

In his Story Theater blog Doug Stevenson discusses How to Open Your Speech with:
1. A provocative statement or question
2. A quote
3. A story
4. A rapport builder

In his Trial Theater blog lawyer Elliot Wilcox discusses How to Develop Powerful Case Themes. He points out that movies have taglines that make them memorable, like “With great power comes great responsibility” from Spiderman. Stating a tagline in the opening gives you a “hook” to grab the audience for the speech.

Wilcox also points out that an opening statement should be given in the present tense, so that It’s happening right now.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Have a grand finale!

One forgettable way to end (or finish, close, or conclude) a speech is just with “That’s all, folks”. It’s not hard to do better than that old Warner Brothers Looney Tunes cartoon ending though.

A brief article by Peter F. Jeff lists 12 ways to close your speech, which are:

1. title
2. circular
4. invitation
5. quotation
6. repetitive
7. sing-song
8. suggestive
9. benediction
10. congratulatory
11. proverbial
12. demonstration.

Another article by Jim A. Peterson lists 22 ways. More detailed advice can be found in a Toastmasters text on Concluding Your Speech.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Two Magazine Articles About Answering Questions

A magazine article by Stephen D. Boyd has some good advice about handling the question and answer session, which he calls the Presentation after the Presentation. Dr. Boyd is a university professor of speech communications. He also was the 1970 winner of the Toastmasters International Speech Contest.

Jerry Weissman wrote an entire book called In the Line of Fire: how to handle tough questions…when it counts. He also wrote a magazine article on
The 7 toughest questions and how to handle them. The seven types are:
1. hostile
2. negative
3. irrelevant
4. multiple
5. statements that are not questions
6. presented material
7. guilty as charged

Hubert Horatio Humphrey, one of our vice presidents, was a grandmaster at sidestepping questions. One of his typical answers could be summarized as: “That is a very interesting question. I am extremely that glad that you asked me that question. May we please have the next question?”

Monday, June 30, 2008

Daddy, where do "Table Topics" questions come from?

Every year the Table Topics Bunny hops by and leaves a stack in my “IN” basket. Did he visit you this year? (He comes on February 22nd in memory of Dr. Ralph C. Smedley’s birthday).

Actually we either make them up ourselves, or look at some excellent compilations of ideas that are out on the Internet.

Mark LaVergne presents 101 Ideas for Great Table Topics

Kathleen Wong describes
52 Table Topic Ideas for the Whole Year

Sherrin Ross Ingram discusses 50 ideas for
Variety in Table Topics

At the end of a detailed educational presentation on Fabulous questions and fearless answers Janice Dirkschneider lists 20 Table Topics Ideas

Answering questions: "off the cuff", extemporaneous, or impromptu speaking that also is known as "Table Topics"

Answering questions is a form of impromptu, extemporaneous, or “off the cuff” speaking that is an important skill. Every meeting of Toastmasters International has a portion devoted to Table Topics. I find Table Topics much more difficult than doing a prepared speech. The one to two minute period for answering the question feels like forever to me! Here are some articles about tactics and strategies.

An impromptu speech is like a jazz solo it takes thought and lots of practice to do it well.

George Torok discusses Triumphant Table Topics.

Dave Wheeler describes some Table Topics Strategies – Use your head to speak on your feet

The most provocative nontraditional appreoachs clearly are: to LIE, CHEAT, or STEAL.

This post was updated on July 21, 2017 to replace several broken links.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Don’t be a “Flip Chart Charlie”

Flip charts are so simple to prepare and use that no thought is required. It’s quick and easy! Just pick up a marker and start writing. Nothing could possibly go wrong!

But wait a minute. How can you give your audience a truly memorable flip chart presentation?

1 Use flip charts only when you will have more than twenty people seated more than fifteen feet away from the easel. Some of the audience should see a chart that looks no larger than a postage stamp.

2. Start preparing your charts in the last hour before your presentation.

3. Make sure that your lettering is too small to read easily. Less than two inches tall is good, and less than one inch tall is even better.

4. Cram your entire message on your flip charts. Don’t just list the main points.

5. Make sure to use more than seven lines (with more than seven words) on each and every chart. People just love details.

6. Put the most important information on the bottom third of the page so people in the back of the room cannot possibly see it.

7. Keep reducing the size of your letters to indicate the headings, sub headings, sub-sub headings, sub-sub sub headings etc. With enough levels you can give your audience a free eye exam.

8. Be sure to use whatever markers are lying around. Light orange is good, but yellow or pink highlighters are even better.

9. Use every page on the pad. Bleed through from magic markers adds attractive little clouds of color that will accent your words.


11. Print illegibly and let your words flow gently downhill towards the nearest river or ocean.

12. Flip to the next chart before your audience can read to the bottom of the current one.

13. As you point to your chart, be sure to turn away from the audience. Mumble so softly that even the front row can’t hear you.

Of course, the thirteen points listed above are purely tongue-in-cheek. Flip charts are excellent visual aids for presentations. There is no projector bulb to burn out. There is no fancy software to worry about. There is also no complicated hardware to connect. Where can you find out about using flip charts effectively?

Lenny Laskowski has an excellent web page on
11 tips for using flip charts more effectively
If you’d prefer a prettier version of the same information, it can also be found as an Acrobat .pdf file

Barry Weissman wrote an excellent article in Industrial Safety and Hygiene News
about flipcharts

Marie Wallace also discusses flipcharts in her Guide on the Side series

Robert Lucas wrote the Big Book of Flip Charts. He has several interesting articles posted on his web site:
Successful flip chart usage

Five super tips for enhancing flip charts with color

Using flip charts to make your message visual

Spicing up your flip charts with graphic images

Transporting flip charts effortlessly

This post was inspired by two articles Glen Kerfoot wrote in Training & Development magazine way back in 1966, “The search for flip chart charlie” and “The cure for flip chart Charlie”

Saturday, June 21, 2008

He ought to be good, he’s using my act

In a previous post on June 4, 2008 I discussed “Learning Hand Gestures from YouTube Videos”. I did not remember then where that idea came from. It probably actually came from an article by Carmine Gallo titled “YouTube your way to better speaking”.

The article originally in appeared in the August 8, 2007 issue of Business Week

It was later reprinted in Toastmaster for October 2007, which is where I read it last fall.

Mr. Gallo points out several great speakers, and even some specific speeches. He mentions two business executives he particularly admires: Steve Jobs of Apple and John Chambers of Cisco.

The title for this post is something one comedian said long ago about another “borrowing” his material. It may have been Fred Allen complaining about Milton Berle. Although you can learn a lot from others, you still need to find your own unique style of speaking.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

DIA - Drowning in Acronyms

DIA is an acronym that now means “Drowning in Acronyms”. DIA originally stood for the Defense Intelligence Agency, but now it just describes their mode of speech. DIA and the rest of our government (and much of industry) talk glibly about UAVs and IEDs, and so on. They know what this alphabet soup of abbreviations means. To them it all is quite obvious.

They forget that we do not understand most of what they are saying. If you absolutely must use an acronym in a speech, then please take a few seconds to define it. As a general rule please AAIP (Avoid Acronyms If Possible). Your audience will thank you.

Some of the most obscure acronyms are drifted names for technical societies. An acronym originally stood for the name. Then the name changed, but the acronym did not. Presumably this is due to the complexities of American trademark law. However, it is just wonderful for confusing outsiders. For example, I am a member of TMS which originally was The Metallurgical Society. Now TMS actually is The Minerals, Metals, and Materials Society.

It gets worse. Over in Great Britain there used to be the Institute of Metals, IOM. Now it is IOM3, meaning the Institute of Materials, Minerals, and Mining. The newer alphanumerical soup is worse, and should be avoided even in Business to Business (B2B) communication.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Life after “Death by PowerPoint”

Don McMillan has a hilarious, four minute comedy video on “Life After Death by PowerPoint”. It shows what you should not do. Most of us unfortunately have been victims of similar PowerPoint presentations. You can watch Don either on MySpaceTV
or on YouTube with added subtitles

What should you do with PowerPoint? Mike Futty recently has briefly discussed how to avoid “Death by PowerPoint”
On the same site is a longer presentation, a 34-page e-book, by Craig Douglas Strachan on Putting the POWER into Powerpoint

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Jargon versus clarity: The only thing we have to fear is significant anomalies

In his inaugural speech Franklin Roosevelt famously said that: “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance”. He did NOT say that the only thing we have to fear is significant anomalies.

An anomaly is something abnormal or irregular. “Significant anomalies” is internal NASA technical jargon for major discrepancies that might lead to problems. Would we want to hear about insignificant anomalies? We probably would not. Somewhere inside NASA though somebody is looking to try and catch them before they grow to become significant.

Technical jargon has escaped from inside industry and government and now is being inflicted on the outside world. They know what it means, but the rest of us are scratching our heads. Jargon usually is the enemy of clarity in speaking. Steve Adubato discussed this problem in an article titled Lose the jargon, clarity is the way to go

When people ask me what I do, I tell them that for the last twenty years I have been figuring out why things busted or rusted. In technical jargon I could say that I conducted root cause failure analysis (or RCFA). My part of the puzzle starts from looking at the materials and processes used to make a component, product, or system. When I talk with a client, I often say that: “It was made right. We better look at how it was used to see why it broke (or rusted).” I have learned to resist saying that “Chemical and metallurgical analysis of the component revealed no significant anomalies.”

Saturday, June 14, 2008

QUOTATIONS: “I use not only all the brains I have, but all I can borrow.”

Woodrow Wilson said that many years ago. You can find it and some other thought provoking quotes listed online at:
Originally I ran across it in the "Complete Guide to Informational Interviewing and Networking" by the University of Houston:

Quotations can provide ideas for talks or just punch lines. Remember that you usually don't have to reinvent the wheel, just to borrow a hubcap or two. is a great online source for quotations:

Some quotations are deeply embedded in our language. For example, "For fools rush in where angels fear to tread" comes from the English poet Alexander Pope. Johnny Mercer has used just three words "fools rush in" for the title of a song in 1940. Those words also are the title of a romantic comedy movie from 1997 starring Salma Hayek and Matthew Perry.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Podcast on How to Create a Great Speech

Alan Weiss just recently presented a wonderful 7-minute podcast on "Creating a great speech". You can find it and others in his series at:

What is a podcast? It’s just an audio file you can play on your computer. You also can download it, save it, and listen to it later on. Then you can move it over to a portable MP3 player (iPod, etc.) and listen while you jog or drive.

UCLA has an introduction called "What is Podcasting?" that you can either read one chunk at a time or download as a big .pdf file to read later. See

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Stand & Deliver!: The Importance of Context for Idioms

In my previous post I referred to Steve Adubato’s web site titled "Stand & Deliver" He started his company with that name in 1999. Variations of that phrase have been used as the title for several books about speaking and presentations.

In 2006 there was Jocelin Kagin’s, "Stand & Deliver: your guide to dynamic presentations".
In 2002 there was Philip Khan-Panni’s "Stand and Deliver: leave them stirred, not shaken" (a sly reference to the fictional secret agent James Bond and his martinis).

Of course, "Stand and Deliver" also was the title of a 1988 movie about Jaime Escalante teaching calculus to students in East LA.

However, if you mention the phrase "stand and deliver" to an audience of Englishmen as being related to public speaking you may expect to be greeted by peals of derisive laughter. That phrase also has a VERY different older meaning related to highway robbery (or "income redistribution"). Stand means to come to a stop, and deliver means to hand over your wallet or purse. The phrase uttered by a highwayman typically was "stand and deliver - your money or your life".

Can you find the meaning for an entire phrase? Sure! Go to a library and look in a dictionary of idioms. The McGraw Hill Dictionary of American Idioms says that "stand and deliver" means "to give up something to someone who demands it (originally used by highway robbers asking for passengers valuables)"

Great Newspaper Columns on Public Speaking: Steve Adubato

There have been tons of newspaper articles about public speaking. Most are not worth reading. A shining exception is the columns written by Steve Adubato. He has a collection of them back to 2001 posted on his web site:
On the top line of the home is a box labeled "Columns" If you mouse over it you can see four entries labeled NJ Biz, The (Newark, New Jersey) Star Ledger, Syndicated Columns, and Columns.

Columns in the Star Ledger have a subject index that includes the topic of Presentation Skills & Public Speaking. A link to "So, what do I do with my hands" is:

If you click on NJ Biz you will find an archive of his columns in that New Jersey business journal saved as Acrobat files. They are not subject indexed, although several also are of interest. For example, the March 3, 2008 column is titled "Stop memorizing and start communicating"
Some other recent ones include:
"No scripts, Index Cards with Great Presentations"
"The Power of the Purposeful Pause"

Friday, June 6, 2008

A Hundred Blogs About Public Speaking

How many blogs are there about public speaking? In January Andrew Dlugan looked around and found over a hundred! He categorized them in a long post in his Six Minutes blog that you can find at: Andrew also is doing a weekly review of articles from those blogs. What a wonderful service!

Last week I was looking on the web for information about humor in public speaking. I found that Andrew’s post listed four blogs on the topic of Speech Humor. He also listed a dozen Toastmaster blogs. More recently Andrew has been discussing the ten speech topics in the basic Toastmasters manual on Competent Communication. So far he has done the first three. Stay tuned to Andrew for the rest of them!

Thursday, June 5, 2008


Where can you get all that good stuff in one place? Not out on the open web! If you put the phrase "public speaking" into Google you will get an ocean of 9 million hits. If you also add filetype:pdf, then you will still get a vast sea of 170,000 Acrobat file hits.

You can find the 700 articles on the web site for your friendly local public library, in their magazine databases. They are neatly subject-indexed and even divided into two categories: magazines (560) and academic journals (140).
Your lifetime is the limited time for this special offer.

Your library card is the key that unlocks them. Most of them at the Boise Public Library are in a database called Gale General OneFile. It was bulk purchased with state tax dollars under a program called Libraries Linking Idaho (acronym LiLI).

For example, Carmine Gallo wrote an article in the March 4, 2008 issue of Business Week Online titled "How to inspire people like Obama does". Does that sound interesting? (Gallo also wrote the book 10 Simple Secrets of the World’s Greatest Business Communicators that I mentioned in my last post).

Also, Michael Anthony Holliday wrote an article in the September 2007 issue of the Training Journal titled "Friends, Romans, Countrymen…" The article is a 4-page color Acrobat file and includes a complicated concept map to illustrate the topic of using concept maps to organize presentations.

Under Academic Journals Tory DeFoe wrote a very blunt article in the December 21, 2007 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education titled "The truth is, you gave a lousy talk".

Now, if you are lucky you might find a few dozen articles posted on a single web site. Your library has a treasure trove with hundreds of them. They actually index even more: about 1350 articles, but they only have full text for 700. I usually begin by limiting the search to full text. However, I could always go back and see what else I missed. Perhaps the local university library (Boise State University) has some of the others.