Saturday, November 28, 2009

Joy of figuring out where you are

Every now and then it is great to sit back and think about where you are metaphorically. Most of us instead just get stuck on the details of the feedback we received on the very last speech we gave.

On her Upside Down Speaking web site, under the Resources tab, Melissa Lewis has an excellent free tools page. It contains a three-page Acrobat file on doing a quick self-assessment with four different forms which you can download and print.

Form “A” has seven lines labeled 1 through 10 for marking how you feel about the following aspects: confidence, authenticity, persuasiveness, organization, customization, integrating visual aids, and answering questions.

Form “B” has a cloud with 59 items for either circling as strengths, or check-marking as needing more work.

Form “C” asks five questions about positive or negative experiences.

Form “D” asks you to reflect on the previous three forms, and then decide what are your two biggest strength and areas in need of improvement. It concludes by asking you to describe your goal as a speaker.

Her tools page also has a printable sheet for making wallet-size encouragement cards which you can carry and read just before you get up to speak.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Public speaking without vomiting

On November 10th the Detroit Free Press published an article titled Public speaking needn’t make you nauseous. One of their staff writers had attended a seminar by Donna Marie, a speaking consultant and life coach, which had the same title as this post. It certainly is a memorable title, but not in a positive way. For me nausea and vomiting will always be associated with very unpleasant experiences involving motion sickness. How about you?

Ms. Marie’s web page also describes her program as Public Speaking Without Vomiting, the SPEAK E-Z in Front of Groups workshop. In a previous post I asked Will your title draw people in or turn them away. Would you be much more likely to spend $159 for a workshop titled:

A) Speak E-Z in front of Groups

B) Public Speaking Without Vomiting.

My vote is for A), since vomiting disgusts me. How about you?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The joy of looking back: quotations from Dr. Ralph C. Smedley

Ralph C. Smedley (1878 – 1965) founded Toastmasters International, whose 85th anniversary was last month. He wrote a monthly column in Toastmaster magazine called Personally Speaking. In 1966 Toastmasters produced a memorial book with that same title, and the paperback version is still on sale. The book consists of a selection from his columns and other writings in the magazine. The last section is a list of 100 aphorisms and precepts, from which I have selected my five favorites:

"The greatest speakers have usually been remarkable for the abundance of their ideas and their economy of words"

"Learning to give a speech is important, but almost equally so is learning to listen critically, analytically, and then to give the speaker the benefit".

"Sometimes it pays to make yourself ridiculous, just to prove that you can."

"Fault-finding without suggestions for improvement is a waste of time."

"Knowledge inspires self-confidence, and knowledge plus confidence will overcome fear of the audience."

Friday, November 20, 2009

How would you like to be introduced?

That was the title for this Wednesday’s Unshelved comic, one of a series of four on that topic.

Unshelved chronicles work at a branch library located in the mythical Seattle suburb of Mallville. In Monday’s comic the young adult librarian, Dewey, waited while a teacher gave a long rambling introduction for his school talk. In Tuesday’s comic he was writing his own intro because, “I’ve been called ‘sweetie’, ‘honeycake’, and in one horrifying instance ‘lamb chop’.” In Thursday’s comic he insisted that the next teacher read his introduction word for word (or else).

If you don’t write your own introduction, then you are at the mercy of your introducer. He or she may not have thought ahead at all. I’ve discussed writing introductions in a previous post.

Every Sunday Unshelved does a Book Club poster. Every year they have a contest to see who can come up with the most creative customized book cart. It’s called Pimp My Bookcart, and last year’s entries were awesome.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Look it up before you speak up!

On November 7 I posted about World Communication Week, and got a comment about the Esperanto language from Brian Barker (in London) which, among other things, mentioned that:

“After a short period of 122 years Esperanto is now in the top 100 languages, out of 6,800 worldwide, according to the CIA factbook.”

Wow! That sounds very authoritative. But, wait a minute, why is it just somewhere in the top 100? Shouldn’t there be a specific number, like #73, or #97? I got curious and looked up the word Esperanto on the CIA web site, via the current version of the CIA World Factbook. There was nothing about Esperanto there! In the World section, under the heading of People and the Subheading of Languages there just was a brief list with the following languages, and percent of first language speakers (estimates from 2005):

Mandarin Chinese 13.22%

Spanish 4.88%

English 4.68%

Arabic 3.12%

Hindi 2.74%

Portuguese 2.69%

Bengali 2.59%

Russian 2.2%

Japanese 1.85%

Standard German 1.44%

French 1.2%

Later on I looked in the older hard copy versions of the World Factbook from 1994 to 2007 down at my friendly local university library. There were similar short lists with estimates from 2000 (in the 2003 edition) and 2004 (in the 2007 edition). I couldn’t find anything listed about Esperanto, and there was no list of the top 100.

So, Brian was barking up the wrong tree and spouting an urban legend. The moral of this story is to not trust secondhand statistics if you value your credibility. Check out the primary source before you speak up.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How to get beyond just using a worn out cliché

On October 29, 2009 Professor Tania Smith at the University of Calgary posted about Fear of public speaking - a worn out cliché? on her Edu*Rhetor blog. On August 29 Jim Davidson (a public speaking coach in London) made a similar post about Who says public speaking is our number one fear? Comparing fear of public speaking with fear of death (from the 1977 Book of Lists) is pretty tired.

How could you talk about fear of public speaking without making it into a cliché? Really research the topic before you give a speech. Find some more recent and specific information that actually is relevant to your audience. That means going way beyond the first page of ten hits in a Google search, or looking up an article on Wikipedia. An encyclopedia article is a reasonable first step for finding introductory information and terminology. You can follow it with a serious search of magazine articles (and books) on databases in your local public library (or better yet a local university library).

For example, suppose that your audience is a communications class at the University of Calgary. You eventually would find an article published in 2000 on Social Phobia Symptoms, Subtypes, and Severity from a survey done in 1996 and 1997 in the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Manitoba. That article would provide you with data from a sample of 1956 people (just a bit smaller than the 2543 in the Book of Lists). Results for a dozen different social fears are shown in the following bar chart (click on it to enlarge):

Public speaking is the number one social fear, and speaking in a meeting or class is a very close second. The fears listed can be divided into performance or interaction situations. Returning items to a store (perhaps Canadian Tire) is an interaction which is much less scary than a performance like public speaking. By the way, why do psychiatrists always ask about bathrooms? You can take the psychiatrist out of the toilet, but you can’t take the toilet out of the psychiatrist.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Getting a root canal done is scarier than public speaking or a job interview

On March 30, 2009, as part of their Third Annual Root Canal Awareness Week, the American Association of Endodontists (AAE) put out a press release on Getting to the Root of Dental Phobia. They included a curious survey comparing people’s fears in four situations. Results are shown in the following bar chart (click to enlarge).

Flying on an airplane during a storm (57%) was feared slightly more than getting a root canal (52%). Getting a root canal was feared more than either public speaking or a job interview (42% for either).

Other survey results were that fear of the dentist affects more than 80 percent of Americans, more than half say fear may keep them from going to the dentist, and one-third admitted that their fear was based on hearing about someone else's experience rather than their own.

I got a root canal done back before I joined Toastmasters. Back then I probably would have ranked my fear for public speaking above getting a root canal. Now I would agree that it’s significantly below a root canal.

For me the scariest part of flying through a storm is going into clouds, and then losing a reference point for which way is up.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The joy of being included on a list, even at #73

Andrew Dlugan just updated his Definitive List of public speaking blogs (on his Six Minutes blog) to also include those with Twitter Accounts. If you landed here and are wondering what other blogs cover public speaking and presentations, take a look at Andrew’s list.

Right now Joyful Public Speaking is #73 out of the 115 blogs listed. What does being #73 mean? I’m not really sure. If I consider #1 though #38 to be the “A list”, #39 through #76 to be the “B list”, and #77 through #115 to be the “C list”, then I could crow about barely being a “B list blogger.” How did I get on the list? I just emailed Andrew.

The writers of these blogs have diverse backgrounds. Some have written books, others have written magazine articles, or produced videos. There are speaking coaches, storytellers, professors, engineers, librarians, etc.

Those writers are located all over the world. For example, the first ten writers are in the following cities and countries:

Andrew Dlugan: Vancouver area, British Columbia, Canada
Lisa Braithwaite: Santa Barbara, California, USA
Bert Decker: San Francisco, California, USA
Garr Reynolds: Osaka, Japan
Olivia Mitchell: Wellington, New Zealand
Denise Graveline: Washington, DC, USA
Nancy Duarte: Mountain View, California, USA
Jan Schultink: Tel Aviv, Israel
Ian Griffin: Castro Valley, California, USA
Laura Bergells: Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

There is also a “buffet” or magazine shelf of the most current five title lines from 82 items, mostly blogs, at Alltop: Speaking. I discussed this aggregated collection of RSS feeds in a post almost a year ago. Many of the blogs on Andrew’s list also are on Alltop. However, Alltop also includes some other blogs or Twitter feeds.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Don’t shoot yourself in the foot

In a recent article on Rules for Public Speaking the President of the City Club of San Diego, George Mitrovich, started off by giving some excellent advice on what NOT to do at the beginning of a speech:

“Whenever a speaker begins his or her remarks by saying, ‘I'm not a public speaker’, my friend and I will, at that point, get up and leave. Why? If you think you're not a public speaker then why speak? Why trouble your audience? Why waste their time? There's already sufficient boredom in this life, why add to it?”

So, please don’t begin by shooting yourself in the foot! Also, don’t tell the audience that you’re really, really nervous about speaking. They usually can’t tell that, unless you blurt it out.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Stage freight and other true typos or yakwirms

True typos are typographical errors that give rise to striking mental images. In their own way they are as true as the correct words or phrases. Sometimes they are homophones, but not always. Letters also may either be added, missing, or interchanged. For example, a speaker may have stage freight (rather than stage fright) if he brings a lot of emotional baggage along.

I already have mentioned three true typos on this blog. A drive-by survey on horseback is a Gallop poll. A person may have a flare (rather than a flair) for introducing speakers. People may even practice pubic speaking.

There are lots of others out there. Word-of-moth marketing is a subtype of word-of-mouth (WOM). It involves creating buzz by whispering in the dark. You can get discrete (rather than discreet) help for your fear of public speaking, if you pay for the advice one piece at a time.

There are a few conslutants here and there hiding in the midst of a lot of consultants. I even found one psychic conslutant. Apparently being psychic didn’t help her catch that one last typo!

Real estate listings can feature items like a wreck room, a remolded bathroom, or even a sinking living room.

Yakwirm is an acronym for You All Know What I Really Meant. We didn’t, but we sure had fun trying to figure it out!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Happy 85th birthday to Toastmasters International

Oops! Last month I forgot to put up the obligatory post noting that October 22, 2009 was the 85th birthday of Toastmasters International. The organization has come a long way from a single chapter that met in the basement of a YMCA in southern California.

Andrew Dlugan wrote an excellent blog post which answers a lot of frequently asked questions about Toastmasters.

There was a nice article about the anniversary in their hometown newspaper, the Orange County Register. You also can read the article on the Toastmaster web site about Toastmasters Then….And Now! In it the executive director of Toastmasters, Daniel Rex, says that there is no limit to the growth potential of Toastmasters International. I agree.

In the U.S. there are approximately 150,000 Toastmasters members. Approximately 20% of the U.S. population (of 300 million), or 60 million people, have a fear of public speaking. So, Toastmasters only has reached approximately 0.25% of its potential market.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What was an audience of UK business executives thinking about, rather than listening to presentations?

A survey of a sample of 200 people, done by the Aziz Corporation, had some surprising results:

“….Perhaps of greatest concern to speakers is the proportion of the audience, who, far from paying attention, are thinking about sex. 69 per cent admit that they typically spend at least part of their time thinking about whether or not they are attracted to the speaker or a fellow member of the audience, whilst 60 per cent habitually daydream about sex.”

The survey found that 76 percent of men and 35 percent of women let their minds turn to sex while they should be listening to presentations. Alarmingly, 88 percent of those over 60 admitted to thinking about sex.

Now that I have your attention, what else was the audience actually thinking about? Well:

82 percent were frustrated by poor delivery

78 percent were annoyed by over-reliance on complicated slides

75 percent wondered how long the speaker would go on, and

73 percent worried about work they had to do back in the office

Those executives also had serious concerns about presenting:

80 percent were worried about doing a television interview

71 percent were nervous or worried about addressing a large conference

42 percent said public speaking was the most daunting aspect of their job, &

34 percent had at least one bad experience with public speaking

The survey of 200 senior managers and directors in the UK was reported on May 24, 2007 in a press release.

Monday, November 9, 2009

An unforgettable introduction for a professor

On October 15th the Chronicle of Higher Education had an article about introductions (Speaking of Speaking) written by someone who blogs as a Female Science Professor. As an invited speaker she has encountered seven distinct types. They cover a range from the terse to the epic. Her last type was the most unforgettable:

“The most interesting introduction I ever had was years ago when an introducer informed the audience that I had killed one of my advisers. The introducer explained that my research had disproved part of my adviser's lifework, and the shock had killed him. It was a memorable introduction, but, given the choice, I prefer not to be accused of murder when being introduced for a talk, even if it does get the audience's attention. Perhaps I should just be happy that I wasn't introduced as the best female adviser-killer.”

An epic introduction just recites the CV in chronological order and includes much “information that is unlikely to be of interest to anyone other than the speaker's department chair and mother.” The worst introduction type was the condescending “best female X” - a brief version of saying that she’s really pretty good for just a girl.

In a post on September 25th I pointed out that an introduction should cover:

Who is she?
What will she talk about?
When will she take questions?
How long will she talk?
Where is she from?
Why should you listen?

The quote shown above is a stunning answer for both who she is and why you should listen to her!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Britain’s 10 biggest fears revealed - just in time for Halloween

The October 30 edition of The Independent had a Halloween-inspired article by Grace Chapman containing a list of top ten fears, which are summarized in the bar chart shown below. Some of the data was buried in captions shown with a set of images, and stated only roughly. Public speaking wasn’t at the very top – it came in at number five. She said that:

“…Research found that Britons' biggest fear is of spiders. Despite the size difference and our ability to stamp on them with ease these eight legged enemies cause two fifths of us to leap onto the nearest chair in fright; next scariest is heights, with 35 per cent of us admitting we'd struggle to hold our nerve when faced with a drop; while 21 per cent would get stage fright at the thought of public speaking.

Irrational or not, many Brits have a genuine fear of the paranormal and the supernatural. Almost a quarter of us get scared by the prospects of aliens ‘out there’ and two out of five are afraid of ghosts, spirits and poltergeists which might explain the two million Brits who sleep with the light on...”

Compare the two paragraphs of text, and my chart. They don’t match. Didn’t newspapers used to check their facts before they published? Some poltergeists or ghosts must have been playing with their data just before Halloween. They changed things so they could come in second on the list, ahead of heights. Thus the rankings in the article are pretty bogus.

The article claims that the research was done by Opinion Matters ahead of EA’s launch of the new Dead Space Extraction video game which was described as a Nintendo Wii fright-fest. No sample size was listed for the survey and no hyperlink was given to a press release, or to the original data. However she did say that 80% of Britons enjoy a good horror movie, and 25% would sit down with a scary video game.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Advice on overcoming anxiety

When you begin doing public speaking, anxiety often seems like a big scary monster that will control you. With practice it usually winds up being smaller, much less scary, and quite manageable.

On October 23, 2009 two pieces of good advice about overcoming anxiety appeared on the web. One was a YouTube video, and the other was a blog post.

The six-minute YouTube video by T. J. Walker was on Fear of Public Speaking.

The Psychology Today blog post by Nancy Ancowitz was on Public Speaking for Private People.

World Communication Week is November 1 to 7, 2009

I almost missed that this is World Communication Week. It is one of many observances sponsored or promoted by the International Society of Friendship and Good Will. Their web site lists ten objectives. Number 1 is:

“To encourage and foster the advancement of international understanding, better human relations, friendship, good will, and peace through a world fellowship of men and women of good will.”

Number 8 is:

“To promote the teaching and learning of Esperanto, the most widely used auxiliary language for international communication, and to collaborate with national and international Esperanto associations.”

If you forgot to celebrate, then don’t fret because Pursuit of Happiness Week starts tomorrow!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Knowledge, consciousness, and curses

Both unconscious ignorance and unconscious knowledge are curses. Conscious knowledge is best.

On Wednesday I presented a project called The Technical Speech at my Toastmasters club. The objective was to convert a technical paper or technical material into an 8 to 10 minute speech. The topic was the coil springs used on valves in car or truck engines. There were three major process improvements that have been made in the past eighty years. I lost some of my audience, and my speech also ran over the time limit.

In preparing this speech I was fighting with what has been called the Curse of Knowledge. The curse happens when you are unaware that your audience does not know what you know. You can read about it in an excerpt from Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Made to Stick. (Start just above the heading on Tappers and Listeners).

Even with a conscious effort, it is difficult for me to think back to when I did not know a lot about coil springs. On my bookshelf there is a book on Quality of Coil Springs that was written by two individuals at the Daimler Benz laboratory in Stuttgart. I also referred to a more recent technical article from the Kobe Steel Company.

The Curse of Knowledge is an oversimplification of a situation that is better described by four stages of competence, as are shown above.

The worst stage is unconscious incompetence, where you don’t even realize that you don’t know. Bob Sutton recently discussed how this lack of knowledge can lead to flawed self-evaluations. One example is the residents of the mythical town of Lake Wobegon on the Prairie Home Companion radio show, who believe that all their children are above average.

A somewhat better stage is conscious incompetence, where you realize that you don’t know and thus are ready to learn.

Then there is unconscious competence, where you have knowledge but are unaware. Although you are capable you have not thought about the topic enough. You can do something, but probably can’t teach it well.

Finally there is conscious competence where you not only have knowledge, but still understand what it was like not to have it. Now you are ready to actually teach, or speak clearly to the general public.

Some otherwise brilliant people get stuck at unconscious competence. In my freshman year of college I took a very frustrating introductory course on computer programming. The lectures were given by the head of the Computer Science department at Carnegie-Mellon. Alan Perlis truly was a genius, but his lectures were aimed way above most of the audience. They largely were quite bright sophomore students of science or engineering. Fortunately two of the three weekly sessions were handled by his teaching assistants. They learned to recap his lectures in more understandable terms. Perlis wrote 120 epigrams about programming.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Another example of Christmas camouflage graphics

On November 1 Garr Reynolds posted on his Presentation Zen blog about Using Kuler to Create Color Themes. As shown above, the bar chart in his last example can be used to illustrate a potential problem with using Kuler.

I called it Christmas camouflage graphics, or how to lose 5% of your audience (the men with red-green color blindness). You can catch these problems by using a tool called Vischeck to preview your colors.

Most people will see lots of contrast between the salmon and green bars, but to a deuteranope they are almost identical. In some pathological cases you can get a trifecta where three of the five colors in a Kuler palette will be almost identical.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Gallop Poll: A type of drive-by opinion survey

This time those cowboys asked questions first - rather than their usual strategy of shooting first and asking later.

The Frederic Remington western image popped into my head when I read the phrase “Gallop Poll” in an article that asked: Are These Your Top 10 Fears? The poll it mentioned was done by an organization named after its founder, George Gallup. They don’t really use horses.

You can find other references to Gallop Polls here and there, because they slip right through spell checking software. Careful proofreading by humans usually catches them though.

A year ago I discussed the gender gap in the well-known 2001 Gallup poll article on how Snakes top list of American fears. Their main results are shown in the following bar chart (click on it to enlarge).

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Speech Made Simple – free download of an eBook

Speech Made Simple is a 20 to 30 hour persuasive presentation course designed for university and adult English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) or English-as-a-Foreign-Language (EFL) students. It consists of a 94-page book by Joshua Davies (which you can download), a detailed teachers' guide, and a web site with multimedia materials, etc.

Ask yourself these two questions:
1. Do you like free eBooks?
2. Do you like graphic novels featuring a cat and girl?

If you answered yes to either question, then you probably will enjoy reading Speech Made Simple (even if you are not an ESL or EFL student). The book contains useful information presented in an entertaining manner.