Saturday, January 31, 2009

Vital Speeches of the Day

The back cover of the February issue of Toastmaster magazine has an ad for this monthly newsletter which has been around for 75 years. It is very interesting reading for anyone involved with public speaking. If you are brave, you even can submit a speech to it.

Each issue of Vital Speeches of the Day features a speech of the month. Beverly K. Eakman wrote the speech of the month for the December 2008 issue, on the topic of Education’s Role. The August 2007 issue had a speech on the difference between managing and leading by Tami Longaberger called A Precise Talent. The March 2005 issue had a speech by Jeff Davidson about going From Golden Cage to Golden Age for Your Career. It also had a speech by Larry Tracy about Taming Hostile Audiences.

At their special Toastmasters rate it costs $50 a year for an electronic subscription and $60 a year for the print version (which has a regular price of $75). If I was doing speaking as a full time career then I might consider subscribing. However, that would also depend on whether I could already access the publication via a database in my public library.

Some states have a library system that does the bulk purchasing of databases for their city and county libraries. Here in Idaho that system is called Libraries Linking Idaho, and down the road in Utah it is called Public Pioneer. Libraries Linking Idaho (LiLI) has purchased the ProQuest Central database, which has full text for most of Vital Speeches of the Day from June 1995 to June 2007. ProQuest Central also indexes up to the current issue of that newsletter. Clicking on the Publications tab and typing in the title lets you search the contents of individual issues, and also click on an article to read an abstract.

In Utah, Public Pioneer has the Academic Search Premier database which has full text (Acrobat .pdf files) for all 75 years of Vital Speeches of the Day. Thus Utah residents can easily access it from their home or office.

Here in Boise the library over at Boise State University (BSU) also has the Academic Search Premier database. For a visitor like me to access databases at BSU he has to stop at the checkout desk of the Albertson Library, show them identification (driver’s license), and then get a guest logon good for just 30 minutes. Then I can use one of four public access PC terminals on the ground floor to view the databases and save results to my little USB thumb drive. This rationing of terminal use resulted from gamers monopolizing the public terminals.

However, any citizen of Idaho also qualifies as a “Special Borrower” at the BSU library. I have a free citizen card that entitles me to check out up to ten books at a time (but not periodicals or reserve books).
The BSU library is a just pleasant walk down the Boise River Greenbelt trail from my Toastmasters club meeting. It’s a monthly treat for me to visit that library.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What do you do that can help me?

A short, snappy answer to the question, “What do you do (that can help me)?” is the universal icebreaker for networking. It’s your most important brief business speech whether you are looking for business or looking for a job.

Common business jargon for this is the “elevator speech” or “elevator pitch” – something short enough to introduce you or your business during a ride on an elevator. A brief version might take only 15 to 30 seconds. A more detailed one might take a minute (or even two) and it might instead better be described as an escalator speech. Your elevator speech should discuss the benefits that you or your product can provide, not just features. The speech should be free of jargon, so lose those TLAs (three letter acronyms).

Where can you find examples of elevator speeches? Craig Harrison presents six brief examples in an article on Elevating Your Consulting Practice with Your Elevator Speech. Jay Roy displays an excellent longer job search speech in his article on The gift of the Gab: Becoming a Better Networker. Catherine Hansen shows five examples in her article on how The Elevator Speech is the Swiss Army Knife of Job-Search Tools.

Is it easy to write an elevator speech? No, it is both hard and time consuming. After all, it’s almost like writing a radio commercial about yourself or your business. Chris King ends his article on How to Craft an Effective Elevator Speech by giving his own speech as an example. Terry Dean’s article on how to Create Your Elevator Speech also includes his own speech as an example.

May 10, 2009 update

More recently Daisy Wademan Dowling discussed How to Perfect an Elevator Pitch. She said that you should:

1. Practice, practice, practice - 100 times or till you know it cold.

2. Focus on impact – describe results not years of experience.

3. Ditch the cultural baggage - get comfortable with bragging about your contributions.

4. Be slow and steady - speak at a pace that shows your calm and confidence.

5. See the whole world as an elevator – not just job fairs and interviews.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Get out of a rut and add some pep

One public speaking trap for folks in marketing, sales, or training is that constant repetition eventually can lead to a bored, emotionally disconnected delivery. An article by David Stoppard in Presentations magazine back in 2005 discusses how to Put Some Pep Back Into Your Speaking Style.
One of David’s suggestions is to change your persona. I saw this done yesterday morning at the Toastmasters Leadership Institute here in Boise. George Jolley of Boise Club (aka Club 61) was Toastmaster for the meeting, but appeared as “Ralph Smedley” (the founder of Toastmasters International who died in 1965).
Recently I experienced getting in a rut. I was trying to finish the Technical Presentations manual at Toastmasters. The fourth project was presenting a technical paper (in 10 to 12 minutes). I had been avoiding doing it, although I previously had given that paper (as much longer presentations) four different times.
The topic of the paper was corrosion failure analysis of fire sprinkler systems. I gave it at the annual NACE Corrosion conference in New Orleans back in 2004, and also at the SIEO/NACE Winter Symposium in Sun Valley, Idaho in January 2008. Between those two presentations to corrosion professionals I also gave it at two different chapter meetings of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers.
I had to completely reorganize the presentation for the nontechnical audience at Toastmasters. My focus had to switch from specific details to general concepts.
There are other possibilities for completely changing the style of a presentation.
You could try giving part (or even all) of your presentation in verse. In a recent blog post Nick Thomas discusses Speechwriting in verse? Well, you could do worse! If you can’t write poetry, you can even buy it from places like the Poem Store.
The next step up from poetry is to add music and turn your presentation into a song. If that is not difficult enough, then you also could try singing a capella, like in this segment with Stan Rogers performing part of his song, Northwest Passage. It sounds like an ancient sea shanty, but Northwest Passage was the title song of his last album (released in 1981).
Or, you even could package a song as a rap music video (complete with karaoke lyrics), like the very geeky Large Hadron Rap. This video is about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) recently built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). It is pretty amazing to see an abstruse topic like particle physics explained in less than five minutes.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Free Download of an eBook, T J Walker’s Secret to Foolproof Presentations

T J Walker is offering a free download of the Acrobat .pdf file e-book version of his forthcoming 176-page book T J Walker’s Secret to Foolproof Presentations. I downloaded it, glanced at it and saw some useful information on rehearsing. I have no connection with Mr. Walker other than that I sometimes read his Insights blog. Downloading the eBook puts you on his email list, which I later unsubscribed. So far I have not gotten any other unsolicited email to indicate my information went anywhere else.

There is a chapter titled “Should I rehearse, and for how long?” which begins on page 23 of the Acrobat file (page 9 of the text). He says that you should always video record your presentation. If you do not already have a camcorder, then he suggests other possibilities such as a cell phone or web cam. He also suggests that you might go buy an inexpensive Flip digital video camcorder.

My cell phone does not have video, and I don’t have a webcam. I had a tripod, but not a camcorder. So, I took a trip over to my local thrift store and for ~$10 got a huge, old, VHS camcorder kit (complete with a hard case for storage). There was no battery (but I got an AC adapter for another $2), and the recorder mechanism was dead. What I wanted was just the video camera, since I already have a DVD recorder hooked to my television. I stopped at Radio Shack and got longer cables (another ~$10) to connect the camcorder to the phono jack inputs on the front of my DVD recorder. Presto - my living room has become a video studio for practicing presentations!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Pearls Before Swine comic strip on rehearsing

On Wednesday, January 14, 2008 Stephan Pastis’s comic strip Pearls Before Swine was about rehearsing for public speaking. Pig tried standing in front of a mirror, only to have his reflection ask him why he was wasting his time.

The third frame got covered up by my blog archive list. It just reads: “It’s not helping.” You can view the original comic at the Pearls Before Swine web site. I just grabbed their html code by clicking on “Embed”.

Mr. Pastis agrees with the advice from Nick Morgan on rehearsing that I referred to in a post on October 12, 2008.

Pearls Before Swine

Should presentations come with disclaimers?

A disclaimer just is a lawyer’s version of Bart Simpson shouting his old catchphrase: “I didn’t do it!” Should every presentation have a disclaimer? Should every blog? This one does.

If you scroll to the VERY bottom of the page of this blog you will find that I have included the following (in very light type):


We don’t necessarily believe what we write, and neither should you. Information furnished to you is for topical (external) use only. This information actually may not be worth any more than what you paid for it (nothing). The author may not even have been either sane (or sober) when he wrote it down and posted it. Don’t worry, be happy.

My disclaimer is mostly a plain English translation from a 60-word disclaimer devised by the legal department at U. S. Steel. I first noticed this gem at the end of a magazine article from their research laboratory which appeared in the August 1980 issue of Corrosion magazine.Theirs was:


Note: It is understood that the material in this paper is intended for general information only and should not be used in relation to any specific application without independent examination and verification of its applicability and suitability by professionally qualified personnel. Those making use thereof or relying thereon assume all risk and liability arising from such use or reliance.

Now, I thought that already was slightly silly. However, recently things are getting much sillier. I just ran a Google search with the phrase “disclaimer for presentation”. One of the first pages on the results list was an Acrobat file of a presentation by the Swiss mining firm Xstrata from December 2008. Slide #2 of 16 contained the following 257-word disclaimer in very fine print. (I have broken their long first paragraph in two to make it slightly more readable, but still find their international legal gobbledygook to be quite appalling):


This presentation contains statements which are, or may be deemed to be “forward-looking statements” which are prospective in nature. Forward-looking statements are not based on historical facts, but rather on current expectations and projections about future events, and are therefore subject to risks and uncertainties which could cause actual results to differ materially from the future results expressed or implied by the forward looking statements.

Often, but not always, forward looking statements can be identified by the use of forward looking words such as “plans”, “expects”, or “does not expect”, “is subject to”’, “budget”, “scheduled”, “estimates”, “forecasts”, “intends”, “anticipates”, or “does not anticipate”, or “believes”, or variations of such words and phrases or statements that certain actions, events, or results “may”, “could”, “should”, “would”, “might”, or “will” be taken, occur or be achieved. Such statements are qualified in their entirety by the inherent risks and uncertainties surrounding future expectations.

Neither Xstrata, nor any of its associates or directors, officers, or advisers, provides any representation, assurance, or guarantee that the occurrence of the events expressed or implied in any forward-looking statements in this presentation will actually occur. You are cautioned not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements.

Other than in accordance with its legal or regulatory obligations (including under the UK Listing Rules and the Disclosure and Transparency Rules of the Financial Services Authority), Xstrata is not under any obligation and Xstrata expressly disclaims any intention or obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.

Those 257 words are beginning to approach the infamous 969-word STANDARD DISCLAIMER cobbled together by Don Descy and his students for their infamous, phony City of Mankato , Minnesota web page. (It is one of the longest running jokes on the Worldwide Web).

Sunday, January 11, 2009

How to be effective as chairman of a meeting with multiple presentations

A session chairman has to keep things moving. If he lets earlier speakers run over their times, then he cheats later speakers from being able to finish as planned. Years ago at a technical conference I saw Professor Paul Shewmon do it effectively without saying a single word.

In the front of the room, right next to the podium, was a small table with a pitcher of water and glasses. As the speaker neared his allotted time Paul stood up and walked toward the table. Usually this nonverbal signal was sufficient to alert a speaker. Most realized time was running out. They began to summarize and conclude. One speaker kept on going, so Paul walked in front of the table and poured a glass of water.

Another speaker did not even take that hint. Paul then moved almost in front of the podium. He stood there silently, and slowly and calmly drank the entire glass of water. The speaker was appropriately mortified. Without saying a word Paul had eloquently communicated his point. After that demonstration the remaining speakers all managed to finish within their allotted times.

You could use whatever other props are available. If there is a flip chart handy, then you might silently write an invitation to a happy hour or vendor get together after the sessions. You also just could flip open your cell phone, check messages, and then begin to return those calls.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Joy of having mentors

Back in September one of my mentors, Frank Borik died at age 85. I met Frank in 1977 when I started working at the Ann Arbor research laboratory of the Climax Molybdenum Company. Frank was a little guy with a bow tie, a mustache, and a grin that was a walking definition for the phrase “joie de vivre.” He worked on a wide variety of steels for various applications including ship plate, pipelines, springs, and bearings. Frank was a versatile guy with strong, well-researched opinions on many topics.

Some people metaphorically soar like eagles - Frank literally did so. He was a sailplane (glider) pilot. In 1974 he earned a Silver badge from the Soaring Society of America. Achieving that badge meant that after being towed aloft he had: stayed airborne for five hours, gained 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) of altitude, and covered a horizontal distance of 50 km (31 miles). He helped found the Sandhill Soaring Club, and was both their president and an instructor pilot.

Frank was born in Czechoslovakia in 1923. He came to the US after the Communist takeover, and went through MIT on a scholarship. After completing his BS degree in 1953, he moved to the Detroit area and worked for ten years in the auto industry at Chrysler and Ford. Then he moved to the Climax Molybdenum Company lab, where he stayed for 22 years. He earned both his MS (Wayne State University, 1965) and PhD (University of Michigan, 1975) degrees while working full time.