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.