Thursday, May 28, 2009

More about filler (clutch) words

As I mentioned in an earlier post, filler words like Ah, Um, or Uh also are known as filled pauses, and that term implies you just should replace them with empty pauses. They also have been derisively referred to as: crutch words, clutch words, wasted words, vocal hiccups, and even vampire words.

A couple years ago Clara Moskowitz discussed other viewpoints from psychologists and linguists about filler words in an article on Well, You Know, It’s How We Talk. A filler word also may be known as a discourse marker, a discourse particle, or a linguistic marker. So, just as was said 25 years ago about software, "It's not a bug; it's an undocumented feature!"

In a March 27, 2009 blog post a public speaking coach, Steve Arrowood, even said that filler words are OK! He referred t
o a discussion of the linguistic use of fillers presented in a 2004 paper in the National Forensic Association (NFA) Journal. That paper by Stephen M. Croucher was titled Like, You Know What I’m Saying: A Study of Discourse Marker Frequency in Extemporaneous and Impromptu Speaking.

I was fascinated to find that Croucher had measured how frequently college students used Um, Uh, Like, and You Know during both impromptu and extemporaneous speeches. Those NFA events have a maximum time of 7 minutes, just like some Toastmasters speeches. Croucher’s results are shown in the following bar chart:

Croucher found that college men and women used about the same numbers of Uhs and Ums. However, women used both Like and You Know a LOT more than the men. He suggested this was due to a cultural influence from Southern California as humorously portrayed by Frank Zappa in the song, Valley Girl.

I like the phrase “clutch words” because it suggests an analogy between public speaking and learning to drive a car or truck with a manual transmission (or stick shift). In speaking you need to learn to smoothly shift from one idea to the next. In driving you need to learn to use your right hand on the shift lever in perfect coordination with your left foot on the clutch pedal (while also checking the speedometer or tachometer).

When you begin to learn to drive your shifts are made quite consciously and are not smooth at all. I learned to drive a stick shift in the hills of Pittsburgh. My early attempts at starting out uphill often led to either wheel-spinning or stalling-out, and amused my neighbors. However, with continued practice the processes involved in shifting got smooth and became almost unconscious.

For most people the process of speaking also gets smoother with practice. A minority still may be plagued by a problem known as cluttering (that is distinct from stuttering).

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Taking shots at Toastmasters

Sometimes I listen to, or read the transcripts from Lisa B. Marshall’s podcast blog The Public Speaker. Her May 15 episode, #43, was titled Does Toastmasters Work? (She said it did). The next day I added a comment, and then later looked again to see what else was being said.

I was appalled to find the following 4-point, 220 word diatribe against Toastmasters posted on Sunday, May 17 by Jeff Hurt (paragraphing added by me):

“As someone who has hired more than 2,500 professional speakers, a professional educator by trade, a trainer for more than 20 years and an event and meeting planner, I do not recommend Toastmasters. As a matter of fact, I automatically discard any speaker candidate that I'm considering that lists Toastmasters on their reference.

Likewise, anyone wanting to improve their presentation skills should NOT take Toastmasters. They should take a class on "Presenting With The Brain In Mind" or "Presentation Skills: How To Use Good Adult Learning Tools." Why do I say this? I have several reasons.

1) Toastmaters (sic) is about lecturing an audience. It is not about a hands-on interactive presentation engaging an audience and using good two-way communication.

2) Toastmasters does not focus on good pedagogy-adult learning skills and styles. Again, the focus is only on the speaker delivering a controlled message, not the speaker adapting to an audience's needs.

3) Toastmasters puts the focus on the speaker, not the audience or the attendee. It's not about the speaker, it's about the learner. It's not about "Being the sage from the stage but the guide on the side."

4) Most of Toastmasters methods are outdated and antiquated. I'll stop there for now as there are many, many more reasons not to attend or recommend Toastmasters for presentations skills.”

Now, Mr. Hurt has his own blog, Midcourse Corrections. He had a rather touching post on The Beauty of Friends there on May 21, so I’m not sure why he was so upset a few days earlier. Perhaps his Sunday newspaper never came, or he ran out of coffee at breakfast.

I posted a comment in reply to Jeff’s point #1, and said: No Toastmasters is NOT just about lecturing an audience. Every Toastmasters club meeting includes practice in answering questions, a form of impromptu speaking that they call Table Topics. Go look here on their web site. Then I said that I'll stop here for now as there are many, many more reasons not to listen further to Jeff.

He never replied to my comment, so I’m going to continue my reply here. Regarding his points #2 and #3, I don’t think he knows what Toastmasters actually has been teaching. One of the modules in their Better Speaker Series (#275) is titled Know Your Audience. It contains the following paragraph about training on page 10 of the 1994 version:

“The traditional training session suffers from a bad reputation – perhaps deservedly so! Attendance is generally required, and most trainers have a tendency to talk at their audience, rather than encouraging interaction and involvement. You can disarm a resigned-to-be-bored audience, however, with a creative presentation that not only encourages but expects audience members to participate.”

Doesn’t that sound very similar to what Mr. Hurt said? So much for Toastmasters being outdated!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Like, You- Know: Ah, Um, Er

When I get nervous I wind up with a whole bowlful of filler words sprinkled through my speech. These are words such as: ah, uh, um, er, eh, like, or “you-know.” Filler words also are known as filled pauses, and that term implies that you just should replace them with empty pauses.

Most of us are blissfully unaware of just how many filler words we use, and as Steve Adubato said, we easily can wind up with a nasty case of um-it is. Excess use of filler words can produce a negative impression, as happened recently to Caroline Kennedy. Somehow we incorrectly expected all Kennedys to genetically be silver-tongued orators.

Feedback can help reduce use of filler words. One simple way is to record your speech and then listen to it. Another is to have someone else listen to a rehearsal or speech. Toastmasters meetings have an assigned “Ah Counter” (sometimes called the “Wizard of Ahs”). In our club the counter reports the results. Some clubs also levy a fine of 5 cents per filler word (with a maximum of 25 cents) to act as a friendly reminder. Other stricter clubs may ring a bell, or even drop a BB in a coffee can to mark each filler word.

Filler words depend both on language and dialect. In the US we are unconscious of our own fillers, but find others very noticeable, like the profuse Canadian English use of “eh.” Linguistically there is a lot more to filler words - even a whole book called Um by Michael Erard.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A great speech is like a Chicago hot dog

Most speeches are like a hot dog that could have come from any of a thousand food courts in as many malls. There is an opening and closing (two pieces of bun), and a body (the undistinguished meat in the middle). Perhaps there is a tiny bit added of color and flavor (the stripe of yellow mustard). Otherwise there is absolutely nothing to make it exceptional. You probably forgot about it just a few minutes afterwards.

A great speech has a lot more. The extra ingredients make it clear it could only come from one individual: YOU. A great speech is like a Chicago hot dog.

Unlike a plain hot dog, that sandwich has been “dragged through the garden.” It has a wonderful variety of tastes, textures, and colors. Typically the following ingredients are assembled:

Poppy-seed bun (steamed).

Kosher hot dog (typically Vienna beef brand, also steamed).

Stripe of yellow mustard.

Dollop of kryptonite green relish or piccalilli.

Spoonful of chopped onions (white, or maybe red).

Dill pickle wedge.

Pair of red, ripe tomato wedges.

Couple of sport peppers (I usually skip these).

Sprinkling of celery salt (the final magical touch).

Think about what you can add to make your speech individual and memorable.

Exactly what should be in a Chicago style dog has been discussed at some length: here, here, and even here on Wikipedia. (The image by John Fink of Oxford, Ohio shows a Chicago style hot dog meal as served at the Bunny Hutch in Lincolnwood, Illinois). The poppy seed bun is extra tasty, but you probably do need a toothpick afterwards to get those pesky little seeds from between your teeth. Ketchup is NOT ever put on a Chicago hot dog! It may be added to French fries by the customer.

I lived in Chicagoland once for a couple of years. Their hot dogs (particularly Superdawg) are a pleasant memory of the Windy City. By the way, they are not kidding about it being windy there, especially on the Lake Michigan shore.

Other cities have their own variations on hot dogs. If you’re reading this in Atlanta, then you might say a great speech is like a chili slaw dog from the Varsity. If you’re in Cincinnati, you might say a great speech is like a cheese Coney (also covered with onions and mustard, with the unique local chili - perhaps from Skyline or Gold Star).

This post was inspired by finding that my blog feed was on that for Talk of the Tower Chicago Toastmasters, and also linked from Willi Hsung’s Lessons Learned.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

100 blog posts: are there any reader suggestions for future topics?

Today I’m celebrating a milestone. The last post was number 100 for this blog. It took slightly less than a year to get here. So far I’ve had the fun of discussing things ranging from one of this week’s articles in New Scientist magazine to a 500-year old painting showing a slate. So, what is next?

If you would like to suggest a topic for me to discuss, then please comment on this post.

According to Andrew Dlugan’s Public Speaking Blogs: The Definitive List this blog is #67 out of 104. By his very personal reckoning I’m just slightly above being in the bottom third. Since I didn’t wind up in the top 20 I didn’t crow about it like Denise Graveline did. Andrew’s rankings obviously included the frequency of posting. Heck, Jerry Weissman’s Power Presentations blog wound up way down at #93. Now, Jerry has written three serious books. Last July I referred to an article about answering questions he based on one of them.

Attitude and performance: Think lovely thoughts

An article in the May 13 New Scientist by Helen Pilcher called The Science of Voodoo: When Mind Attacks Body points out how attitude affects performance - both for better and for worse.

Along with the well-known positive effect of inert substances (placebos) there also is a negative effect (nocebos). Placebos should not be labeled too obviously.

So, as they say in Peter Pan, you should think lovely thoughts and they will lift you up into the air.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Gestures and Gilbert Austin

A while back the 1915 book, Effective Public
Speaking, by Frederick B. Robinson showed up in the results of a Google search. (It can be downloaded free from Google Books).When Robinson discusses gestures he refers back to Gilbert Austin. Each gesture has a preparatory movement, an execution, an ictus (or stroke), and a return (recovery to the position of rest). He shows a system using multiple planes (the green illustration above) that I have never encountered due to my historical ignorance of rhetoric.

For example, the yellow illustration shows how in saying “I admired his virtue, mercy and charity” one makes horizontal front for virtue, horizontal oblique for mercy, and horizontal lateral for charity. The preparatory motion of the second and third are “simply slight curves accompanied by the wrist.”

Robinson also shows some exercises with two clubs (the blue illustration, below) for practicing these movements. I got tired just from looking at it. Gilbert Austin wrote Chironomia or a Treatise on Rhetorical Delivery back in 1806.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Blackboards and Whiteboards

Back before blackboards there were personal-sized slates. Blackboards on walls or portable stands are one of the oldest visual aids. In 1801 George Baron was using them to teach math at West Point. Over in Edinburgh, Scotland James Pillans even was using colored chalk to teach geography.

The more recently developed whiteboards can provide better contrast for colors. A whiteboard is like an infinite supply of flip chart paper. Most tips in a previous post about flip charts also apply to whiteboards. The main improvement is that the whiteboard can be erased and re-used almost endlessly to make simple points either during your presentation or while answering questions.

Here are some tips about using whiteboards:

1. Do you want to be a “Snow Ninja” and hide at the whiteboard? If not, then don’t wear a white shirt or a dress for your presentation.

2. Always have a spare marker in your briefcase, purse, or pocket. Murphy’s Law says that the one on the tray beneath the whiteboard will be dried out and useless.

3. Talk to the audience, and not to the board. Write a brief point, then turn around and stand beside what you have just written.

4. Unless you like wearing clown makeup, don’t wipe your marker-covered hands either on your face or clothes.

5. Don’t be a board magician. Let the audience read what you have written before you make it disappear. If you show off by writing with your right hand and almost immediately erasing with your left, you can go right to the top of your audience’s enemies list.

Recently I saw a blog post on how the lowly whiteboard is the perfect presentation tool. It talks about using a laptop-sized board for discussion with one other person. The same could have been said for a slate with a wood frame – as is shown above in the painting of Friar Luca Pacioli from around 1500.

There also are digital whiteboards, but they are a whole other story.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Speech Anxiety: the sweaty killer

This Youtube video from 2004 is a sophomoric college parody of quick cures for this problem. Picturing the audience naked doesn’t work. Neither does taking tranquilizers.

Fortunately Smellypits Incorporated (or is it Sweatypits Incorporated?) sells their almost magical course of sleep tapes for just 3 payments of only $199.

There are glowing testimonials from Reena, Olivia, and Craig (who even manages to interview himself). Watch carefully for two brief appearances by Quijibo, the monkey, at 1:30 and 3:20! Also, most of the wildly applauding audience for Reena’s motivational speech at 3:00 look extremely young.

For most people the real cure for anxiety simply is practice in a supportive environment like Toastmasters.

I Hate Public Speaking; a 3-minute karaoke animated video

“I hate public speaking; suddenly I’m someone I don’t know.” It’s a humorous description of the symptoms for anxiety. Just play the video and sing along like you are in a demented Karaoke bar. The song was written and performed specially for Spoken Impact by singer/songwriter Barbara McAfee.

Three Teflon ® Tubing Presenters

Back on April 15 Dianna Booher had a blog post with an embedded link to a video with a “perfectly polished bozo presenter.” She saw the video while leading a writing workshop at Microsoft. He should be called a Teflon ® tubing presenter: slick on the outside, hollow on the inside and totally unbelievable. Watch and see what you think of the Rockwell Retro Encabulator.

When I saw that video I vaguely remembered hearing about encabulators long ago. I looked on YouTube and found a similar but longer Chrysler video. It uses two presenters: one who describes the Turbo Encabulator, and another who demonstrates how to diagnose and service it.

The product shown may actually be an Ultradrive electronically controlled automatic transaxle. Why is one presenter picking up that spark plug cable at 1:30? Also, what is that open box of Argo cornstarch doing sitting out on the service bench? Perhaps the other presenter used it to dry his sweaty palms.

Turboencabulator is the original terminology. Of course the product is an engineering joke; it is described entirely with doubletalk. The text might actually date back to 1946. A phony General Electric catalog page insert for the product apparently was created in 1962.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Help! I’m a SMERF!

No, not a smurf – a smerf. SMERF is a long acronym used by hotel owners, etc. for a market segment consisting of Social, Military, Education, Religious, and Fraternal groups.These groups are nonprofit, price sensitive, and typically fill slow dates in the off season.

So, folks like Toastmasters are known to event planners as smerfs. Believe it or not there actually is a magazine called the SMERF Meetings Journal.

I am continually amazed by the number of acronyms and amount of jargon out there. So far though I have not heard a Latin or Greek derived compound word for “fear of swine flu". Maybe next week.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Butterflies in Formation (introduction to public speaking): wonderful 9-minute educational film

This funky 1983 stop-motion clay-animated film by John Millstone shows “the nervous advantage”. Those butterflies in your tummy can change from just lying around to fluttering in formation.

Professor Harry Stumbel has a rough audience for his lecture on: “p-p-puppet speaking.” The students hold up signs like “Give it up!” and “Quit while you’re ahead” and someone off-screen also comments: “What a turkey!” Eventually though, his speech takes flight.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Before you open your mouth: 10 pages of good advice from Nick Morgan

Yesterday Nick Morgan posted a ChangeThis manifesto called Before You Open Your Mouth (the keys to great public speaking).
His four main points are that speeches are awful because speakers:

1. make it about them instead of the audience

2. don’t take their audiences on a journey

3. don’t rehearse

4. think about their content but not their “second conversation” – their body language

You can download it for free here.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Aids to speaking: a 15-minute film from 1979

Have you ever noticed how some people grip a lectern like the steering wheel of a bus? Others imitate Teddy Roosevelt and bully it like an anvil.This oldie from the Centron Corporation has clear descriptions of how to use a lectern, a microphone, and various visual aids. Watch it here on YouTube. Just before the very end watch out when the bearded gentleman returns. He uses the microphone to practice a clarinet fingering!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Using Your Voice: another short film from 1950

Yet another Centron film about speech. This one comes with an unrelenting commentary by the smart alecks from the Mystery Science Theater 3000 television show.

The wire rack used as a visual aid at 1:45 for holding three cards is amusing. Was it borrowed from a display for the lunch specials over at the campus dining hall?

A speaker shown at 3:40 sounds very similar to the Karl Childers character played by Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade.

The Function of Gestures: a short film from 1950

There is useful information inside, and the carnival organ music at the beginning is hilarious. You can see why they call George Johnson, “Old Stone Face”. Why is that ludicrous handkerchief erupting from his coat pocket at 1:30 though, as shown below?

They point out that if your gesture leads your audience to look off into the distance, then you may not get their attention back again.
The reference at 7:25 to $500,000 may strike modern audiences as silly. Back then it was a lot of money; now it would be equivalent to nine times as much or around $4,500,000!

Platform Posture and Appearance: a short film from 1949

Here is another short from 60 years ago. Is your posture more like: a tired farm horse, a telephone pole, a rocking horse, or a turtle? The “knee test” for how to plant your feet may have inspired a dance called the Twist. In 1947 Ezra Christian Buehler wrote a textbook called You and Your Speeches. You can tell that we are in Kansas because Professor Buehler invites us to: