Sunday, February 22, 2009

Wireless Multimedia Presenters (and Presenter Mice)

When I started doing presentations with PowerPoint I quickly found a hurdle to get over. Being “chained to the laptop” just to advance slides was limiting my style. Having a remote controller that let me walk around would be a major improvement.

I wound up buying this little Targus wireless multimedia presenter (or presentation remote). A very small receiver plugs into a USB port (and thus needs no other power). The pocket-size remote transmitter runs on a single AAA battery and has a range of 30 feet. Two <> buttons let me go back or forward through my presentation. The bottom button lets me blank the screen or show the images. A round red center button turns on a built-in laser pointer. You can find a review of this product in PC World. Best Buy, OfficeMax, and Staples sell it.

It is not perfect, but it is simple and does what I really need. I always carry a spare battery because the transmitter does not shut off automatically. The on-off slide switch on the side is black, so I painted White-Out on it to remind myself to turn it off before I pack it away. The laser pointer is OK for a reflective screen. It is not powerful enough for a wall whiteboard.

There are other bigger, fancier presenters. Some have automatic shutoff, or longer range, or built in presentation timers, or cursor control, etc. If you look on you will find about a dozen different flavors.

Last month the Manage Smarter web site posted a brief article on Tools of the Trade: Mouse in the House.The four presenter mice they describe combine a wireless mouse with a wireless multimedia presenter (and laser pointer). If you use a laptop a lot, then you may prefer having a presenter mouse. My guess was that the Microsoft one would be like a flying car; it would do a mediocre job at both roles.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Getting over hurdles

Can watching Olympic athletes help you to become a better speaker? It can, but only if you observe the right event. The one I have in mind is the hurdles. Hurdles are different from some other Olympic events, like the high jump or the pole vault, where the bar you need to clear keeps getting raised higher and higher.

Hurdles are set at a fixed height. They do not get taller as you proceed along the course. You have to try to get over all of them, but are not disqualified if you just accidentally knock one over. You only can be disqualified if you obviously don’t even try to clear one (or you try to sneak around it). The goal is to finish faster, but you do not need to be perfect and clear every single one of the obstacles in your path.

Here in Boise we just finished hosting the Special Olympics. At their best Special Olympics athletes are an inspiration of triumph over adversity. At their worst the regular Olympic athletes are comical exaggerations of college athletes: monomaniacal perfectionists with a sense of entitlement.

Timothy Koegel said that: “Being an exceptional presenter doesn’t mean being perfect, being flawless.” In the real world you almost never have enough time to reach perfection.

Alan Weiss is an exceptional presenter. In his video on the Crisis of Self Esteem he said that: “When you’re 80% ready, you move. The final 20% you put into anything is dysfunctional. The final 20% in a speech, the audience doesn’t appreciate.”

Whoever wrote the Army slogan, “Be all that you can be” was kidding us to hit a recruiting quota. Just be most of what you can be. You never have enough time to be all. It doesn’t sound as inspiring, but it’s a lot closer to being true.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Two sides of a coin: Toastmasters International and POWERtalk International

Back in 1924 Ralph C. Smedley started the first Toastmasters Club. That organization grew to become Toastmasters International. It started as an all-male organization, and stayed that way for almost fifty years. Toastmasters finally began to allow women to join in 1973.

Meanwhile, in 1938, a similar but separate organization for women was started called the International Toastmistress Clubs (later called ITC for short). ITC began to allow men to join in 1973. What happened to ITC when Toastmasters began to admit women? It kept right on going its own way, and it is still around.

I incorrectly assumed that Toastmasters and ITC must logically have joined forces in 1973. Recently I became aware of the continuation of ITC when I saw it discussed by Murray B. Stein and John F. Walker in their book Triumph over Shyness: conquering shyness and social anxiety.

ITC Membership peaked at 25,484 in 1981, while membership in Toastmasters reached 100,000 in October 1982. Since then ITC membership has declined to about 5,000 versus the 235,000 for Toastmasters International. Currently Toastmasters membership is coeducational: 52% women and 48% men and it has a woman president, Jana Barnhill. I could not find specific percentages for ITC membership, but guess it is still largely women.

ITC changed its full name to International Training in Communication in 1985, and eventually relocated its administration from southern California to Tauranga, New Zealand. In 2007 ITC changed its marketing name to POWERtalk International.

In most countries Toastmasters is much bigger than ITC. In Japan the numbers of clubs are similar. However, there are still some countries like Iceland which have ITC clubs but no Toastmasters.

I have been told stories about one Toastmasters club whose culture remained macho and misogynistic long after the organization officially became co-educational. For women who encounter that kind of “good old boy” atmosphere ITC offers an alternative.

Andrew Dlugan has posted answers to some frequently asked questions about Toastmasters on his Six Minutes blog.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Take this inventory of platform poise and mastery

In the fall the students enrolled in the Fundamentals course in the Department of Speech at Michigan State were given an Inventory of Platform Poise and Mastery. They were asked to answer the following 20 questions either TRUE or FALSE. Which of them would you answer TRUE?

1) I have spoken to audiences many times.

2) I have spoken to audiences a few times.

3) I have appeared before audiences very little.

4) I never fear the public speaking situation.

5) The nervousness or fear I do have never handicaps me.

6) I feel nervous about speaking, but quickly get over it.

7) I can speak more fluently before an audience than in private.

8) I have been unable to continue a speech on account of fear.

9) I have been able to speak but feel uncomfortably nervous about it.

10) I have refused speaking engagements on account of fear.

11) I have always dreaded to appear before an audience.

12) I have talked faster than I should on account of fear.

13) My heart beats faster when I speak.

14) My voice quavers when I speak.

15) My throat seems to fill up when I speak.

16) I seem to lack for words when speaking to a new audience.

17) My nervousness causes me to play with a pencil, fumble my notes, or rest on the furniture.

18) I fear I will forget while speaking.

19) My knees shake when I speak.

20) I consider overcoming undesirable nervousness the most important feature of this course.

For question #20, 220 of 244 of the students (or 90%) answered TRUE.

Did these questions all sound contemporary to you? I think that they do. However, they actually came from an article that is over 70 years old! Back in the November 1938 issue of Western Speech magazine J. D. Menchhofer put them on page 11, at the end of an article on the Causes and Cures of Stage Fright.

Over time the terminology has changed from “stage fright” to “communication apprehension” or “public speaking anxiety”. The symptoms remain the same, and they still motivate people to seek training in public speaking.

Other more detailed sets of questions to measure communication apprehension were developed later, like the Personal Report of Public Speaking Anxiety (PRPSA).

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Christmas camouflage graphics: how to lose ~5% of your audience with just 2 mouse clicks

The festive Christmas color combination of red and green has high contrast for most people. For a mostly male minority (7 to 10%) with red-green color blindness there instead is little or no contrast. To them that color pair just is an effective form of camouflage. When you choose colors for graphics you should consider that accessibility problem.

A few days ago I saw a blog post about PowerPoint Slides for Color Blind Audiences. It discussed using an online tool called Vischeck that lets you upload and then see an image (.png or .jpeg file) the way someone with color blindness would. There are three options in the online tool: deuteranope, protanope, and tritanope. The first two types are red-green color blindness.

Try Vischeck on this cute clipart image of Santa Claus with a set of drums. For a deuteranope his bright red suit and green drums both will be perceived as being olive drab, so Santa will just have joined the army.

In a previous post on this blog (September 16, 2008) I referred to an article by Professor Stephen Few on Practical rules for using color in charts. The red and green in his palette of soft natural colors shown near the bottom of page 6 are almost indistinguishable if you have a color blindness problem.

I also thumbed through my copy of Garr Reynold’s otherwise wonderful book, Presentation Zen, and found examples of Christmas red-green combinations on pages 137, 168, and 169.

Back on February 1 on his Slides that Stick blog Jan Schultink discussed “Using historical paintings as an inspiration for color schemes”. He showed a palette of five colors borrowed from a Van Gogh painting, "Night Cafe Arles". I commented on it, and on February 10 he posted again on “PowerPoint template colors and color blindness.” The original palette is shown at the left, and what a deuteranope would see is shown at the right. The Van Gogh green and red are easily distinguishable, but surprisingly the brown and brick red are not.

How do you tell if an Irish-American man is color blind? It’s easy. He’s the only guy in the crowd dressed up for St. Patrick’s Day in Christmas colors of red and green.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Public speaking and other phobias in Iceland

Are US residents unique in having public speaking come at or near the top of a list of feared situations? What about other countries? Just recently I found a magazine article which reported a survey of phobic symptoms in Iceland. The survey of Icelanders had 775 respondents. The article was titled “Six Month Prevalence of Phobic Symptoms in Iceland: An Epidemiological Postal Survey.” It was published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, Vol. 54, p257, 1998.

Iceland has a population of only about 320,000, which is less than that of about 522,000 for Wyoming, the US state with the least population. Looking at it another way, Iceland has about 950 times less population than the US (about 305 million).

The most frequently reported phobic situations for Icelanders were:
31% - public speaking
28% - heights, small animals
24% - talking to strangers
21% - going to the dentist
16% - writing in the presence of others
14% - flying, enclosed spaces, being alone
12% - crossing bridges, traveling through tunnels, elevators, crowds, going out alone, buses, injections, the sight of blood
8% - being in dark places

Public speaking was at the top, and was reported by 31%, or nearly a third of Icelanders. Fear of heights and of small animals came in second, at 28%. I can understand fear of heights being prevalent, since it is pretty universal. Fear of small animals is mystifying to me, since Iceland reportedly is free of rabies. All I can imagine is a potential problem with illegally imported pets.

The 31% figure for public speaking phobia is extremely close to the 30.2% reported in 1998 for the U.S. in the first column of Table 1 of the National Comorbidity Survey paper by Kessler et al which I discussed in a previous post on November 2, 2008.

Finding topics for speeches

We all sometimes need help in finding topics for our speeches. Public speaking classes in colleges commonly call for students to present both persuasive and informative speeches. This constant demand has generated lots of useful information located on many web sites.

Naomi Rockler-Gladen has written about How to Choose a Great Persuasive Speech Topic, provided a list of four dozen Great Persuasive Speech Topics, and even discusses 13 Tired Persuasive Speech Topics to be avoided. In January 2008 Toastmaster magazine also had an article about What Not to Talk About. At a web site called My Speech Class there is a list of 250 Persuasive Speech Topics.

The Maui Community College of the University of Hawaii has an excellent Topic Selection Helper for Informative Speeches. There also is another list of 250 Informative Speech Topics at My Speech Class.

Jim Peterson, a speechwriter, has a web site on speech topics, help, advice & ideas. He claims that it contains 5750+ Speech Ideas. I am NOT going to try to verify that.

Monday, February 2, 2009

U.S. residents are slightly more afraid of public speaking than of hell or fire

Several years ago Discovery Health Channel had a poll done on the extreme fears (or phobias) of Americans. The results are no longer on their web site, although they were mentioned as existing in a press release back in 2000.

I found some of them in a newspaper article titled The Top Ten Extreme Fears buried in the web archive of the Tech Collegian from the West Virginia University Institute of Technology (page 5 of the October 2, 2002 issue). If these extreme fears results were indeed from the 2000 poll, then they were from a telephone survey of 1,000 people done between August 22 and 28, 2000 by Penn, Schoen, & Berland Associates, Inc. of Washington, DC.

Women and men have different percents for these extreme fears, so I have first listed the pooled results for people (one tie), and then separate results for women (with two tie results) and men. Snakes, heights, and being buried alive all outrank public speaking, and drowning outranks or ties. (For comparison I also have listed some results from a 2001 Gallup poll). Detailed results are as follows:

Top nine extreme fears for people (one tie)

1. 25% Snakes (Gallup 51%)

2. 22% Being buried alive

3. 17% Heights (Gallup 36%)

4. 15% Being bound or tied up

5. 14% Drowning

6. 13% Speaking in public (Gallup 40%)

7. 12% Hell

8. 11% Cancer

9. 10% Fire, & Tornados and hurricanes

Top eight extreme fears for women (two ties!)

1. 35% Snakes (Gallup 62%)

2. 27% Being bound or tied up

3. 25% Being buried alive

4. 19% Heights (Gallup 41%)

5. 17% Drowning & Speaking in public (Gallup 44%)

6. 16% Tornados and hurricanes

7. 15% Hell & Fire

8. 13% Cancer

Top ten extreme fears for men

1. 20% Being buried alive

2. 14% Heights (Gallup 31%)

3. 13% Snakes (Gallup 38%)

4. 11% Drowning

5. 9% Speaking in public (Gallup 37%)

6. 8% Cancer

7. 7% Hell

8. 5% Tornados and hurricanes

9. 4% Fire

10. 2% Being bound or tied up

In the above lists I also have included the percentages for the same three categories (snakes, heights, and public speaking) found in the Gallup Poll done in February and reported on Mach 19, 2001. That poll asked about fear rather than extreme fear (or phobia), and thus got much higher percentages than the Discovery Health Channel did.