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.

8000 Books on Public Speaking

There are about 8000 book titles on the subject of public speaking. I recommend that you not buy any of them without first borrowing some from your friendly local public library. (Here in Boise, Idaho we only have a couple hundred books on the subject.) No matter what level you are at, or what problem you wish to solve you probably can find a promising title (if not several). It’s similar to browsing for cookbooks.

There are books for those starting from complete ignorance of the topic like:
Laurie Rozakis, Complete Idiot’s Guide to Public Speaking or
Malcolm Kushner, Public Speaking for Dummies
Many college textbooks also are out there, but I have yet to see the truly honest title, Public Speaking for Naïve College Students

There are books that address fear, uncertainty, and doubt like:
Ivy Naistadt, Speak Without Fear or
Lilyan Wilder, 7 Steps to Fearless Speaking

There are many books of small numbers like:
Carmine Gallo, 10 Simple Secrets of the World’s Greatest Business Communicators or
Mark Wiskup, Presentation S.O.S.: From Perspiration to Persuasion in 9 Easy Steps
For marketing reasons there are never titles that admit that the small number of steps or "secrets" truly are neither simple nor easy.

There are many other books of large numbers (or smorgasbords) like:
Caryl Rae Krannich, 101 Secrets of Highly Effective Speakers or
Mandar Marathe, The Successful Speaker: 273 Tips for Powerful Presentations
Just browse through the contents to find your topic of interest.

Finally, there are advanced books like:
Timothy Koegel, The Exceptional Presenter or
Margaret Ryan, Extraordinary Oral Presentations

Bad PowerPoint 2: Too Many Tricks and not Enough Preparation

PowerPoint presentations can include neat tricks, like built-in video. What happens when the video will not run properly on the laptop and projector you bring along? The audience gets the wrong message that technology is complicated and unreliable. Before you head out the door you need to try the presentation out to find and fix any glitches.

Six weeks ago I toured the Idaho National Laboratory with a busload of seasoned citizens in a program organized by the Osher Institute in Boise. The morning began in the conference room of the Shilo Inn in Idaho Falls. One of the presentations was about a powerful computer software package called the Robot Intelligence Kernel (or RIK). RIK is an operating system for robots. It gives robots exceptional new levels of autonomy and intelligence. This revolutionizes robot capabilities and the robot/operator relationship. The robots can do cool things all by themselves, like detecting land mines both faster and better than humans can. A simple video-game style interface shows the operator what the robot is doing.

Their video about the Robot Intelligence Kernel would not run at all. Luckily they had brought along a 4-wheeled robot about the size of a lawnmower. Finally they gave up on the PowerPoint and just turned the robot loose. It took off like an inquisitive baby rhino. The robot galloped around the room all by itself, carefully avoiding the tables, the chairs, and their astonished occupants.

If you go to: you can click on the link in the upper right and see the video they did not show us that day. You can also download and read the fact sheet.

During the tour our guides mentioned that the Robot Intelligence Kernel had won an R&D 100 award for 2006. R&D 100 awards are presented by Research & Development magazine for the 100 most technologically significant new products of the year. The Chicago Tribune simply calls them the "Oscars of Inventions". Our guides never said it that clearly.

Can you understand the following description from the web page? How would you simplify it to communicate with a non-technical audience?

"RIK is a portable, reconfigurable suite of perceptual, behavioral and cognitive capabilities that can be used across many different platforms, environments and tasks. RIK integrates algorithms and hardware for perception, world-modeling, adaptive communication, dynamic tasking, and behaviors for navigation, search and detection."

"RIK is comprised of four layers. The foundation is the Generic Robot Architecture that provides an object-oriented framework and an application programming interface to feed data from a host of different platforms, sensors and actuators into a second-layer set of Generic Robot Abstractions. The third layer is comprised of many reactive and deliberative Robot Behaviors that take the generic robot abstractions as input. In turn, the top layer provides the "Cognitive Glue" that orchestrates the asynchronous firings of these behaviors towards specific application tasking. Dynamic autonomy interleaves different modes of human input into the functioning of the RIK behaviors."

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Learning Hand Gestures from YouTube Videos

Suppose you wanted to find examples of an excellent speaker using hand gestures. Where would you look? How about on YouTube. Don’t laugh! At least one member of the National Speakers Association has a series of his brief (five minute) videos posted there.

Alan Weiss is a well-known consultant. You can find twenty-one of his videos listed on his web site under "The Movies: The Writing on the Wall" at:
Ignore the showoff opening and closing with his fancy red convertible and white German Shepherd. Concentrate on the talk, and look at what he does with his hands.

Elsewhere on his web site he has a hilarious (and very shaggy) dog story about why the dog is white and can moan. See:

Monday, June 2, 2008

What to do with your arms and hands

What should you do with your arms and hands when you speak? Timothy Koegel has some good answers. On page 62 of his book The Exceptional Presenter he says you should NOT let your arms dangle uselessly in front of your body. He calls this the T-Rex posture, and shows a cartoon of that dinosaur in a business suit. Then he lists a whole series of irrelevant hand gestures that can distract and annoy your audience:
Four examples are:

The "spider on the mirror". Fingertips touching fingertips. Try some spider pushups!

The "sisters of mercy". Hands in the praying position, asking for the presentation to be over.

The "fire starter". Rubbing the hands together in an attempt to ignite the brain.

The "hand washer". Scrub up, and finish this dangerous operation.

Later in the chapter he discusses effective gestures. Now, Tim Koegel certainly knows what to do with his hands. If his name sounds vaguely familiar it is because he was the starting quarterback for the Notre Dame football team after Joe Montana.