Wednesday, December 30, 2009

212 Degrees – Where inspirational vapor clashes with reality

212 Degrees: The Extra Degree
is an inspirational book by Samuel L. Parker and Mac Anderson. Of course there is a web site too (including an inspirational 3-minute video). An older video also is circulating.

Both videos have several comparisons showing that in sports there are very small differences between winning big and losing. Those comparisons are real, and perhaps relevant to the rest of us. If they had stopped there, then they would have been fine.

Unfortunately the book instead begins with the following:

“At 211 degrees water is hot. At 212 degrees it boils. And with boiling water comes steam. And steam can power a locomotive.”

“….Raising the temperature of water by one extra degree means the difference between something that is simply very hot and something that generates enough force to power a machine – a beautiful, uncomplicated metaphor that ideally should feed our every endeavor – consistently pushing us to make the extra effort in every task we undertake. 212 degrees serves as a forceful drill sergeant with its motivating and focused message while adhering to a scientific law – a natural law. It reminds us that seemingly small things can make tremendous differences. So simple is the analogy that you can stop reading right now, walk away with the opening thought firmly planted in your mind, and benefit from it the rest of your life.”

To many people that sounds very inspiring. Just a little more effort can bring huge results! The web site also has the catch-phrase: “One extra degree = exponential results.”

Don’t try telling the stuff about steam to engineers or scientists. At best they just will giggle. At worst they will scald you with their derision. For them it is a horribly bad analogy, an incomplete one that does not really add up. Instead it clashes with what they know about thermodynamics, and how water actually behaves.

That metaphor and “scientific law” confuses temperature and heat. How much added heat it does it really take to both bring a gram of water from 211 degrees to 212 degrees, and then to make it all boil away – to turn it from liquid to vapor?

Heating the liquid from 211 to 212 degrees takes only 2.342 Joules (the specific heat times the temperature difference). One degree F is 0.555 degree C, and the specific heat is 4.2159 Joules per gram degree C.

But, boiling it away takes adding another 2257 Joules (the heat of vaporization). You need to add another 964 times as much heat before you can turn it all into steam. Although it’s only one degree more, it takes adding much more heat to finish the job. And heat is equivalent to work. There really is no huge difference achieved with just a little more effort.

If instead you begin with the water at room temperature, 68 F, and heat it to 212 F, it only takes 335 Joules. Then you just need to add about another 6.74 times more heat to turn it all into steam. Tom Lambert pointed this out last year in a scalding blog post.

So the uncomplicated metaphor in the 212 degree book left out a huge part of the effort required to reach the goal. It is simply…wrong. The video says that: “…sometimes we need to sweat the small stuff.” Wrong! We always need to sweat the small stuff.

Boil some water, sit back, and have cup of nice hot tea. Consider the huge gap between an incomplete analogy and physical reality.

Mr. Parker since has written another motivational book called Smile & Move. If you do motivational speaking, then I strongly suggest you consider that one. You are now aware. Don’t steam people up by repeating a bad analogy!

Speaking of bad, there also is a much briefer (and only slightly obscene) parody video called 32 Degrees – the Extra Degree. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Don’t end by driving your audience off a cliff

The Looney Tunes cartoon ending, with Porky Pig stuttering: “That’s all folks” is a horrible way to treat your audience. If you do that, they will feel let down - much like Wile E. Coyote going off a cliff in a Roadrunner cartoon.

On December 16 at our Capitol Club Toastmasters meeting I presented Concluding Your Speech. It was the last talk from the Better Speakers Series. The prepared text from Toastmasters International for the talk described six types of endings. I added an example for each one as follows:

1. Call for action. At the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, back on June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagen famously said: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

2. Tell a story. It can be one of your own, someone else’s, or even a fairy tale. A small boy was crying. Although he was stretching as high as he could to reach a door bell, it was still just a few inches out of reach. An old man passing by took pity on him, and picked him up. After he rang the bell, the man put him down and asked “now what?” The boy said, “I don’t know about you mister, but I’m going to start running away - just as fast as I can.”

3. Use a quotation. Abraham Lincoln said that: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

4. Refer back to the beginning. Suppose that we started in Marion, Ohio. Most of the speeches for the 1920 presidential campaign that led to an election landslide were made from the front porch of Warren G. Harding’s home. He died before even completing one term. He and his wife Florence are buried in Marion, in a marble memorial just a few miles from his home. (The losing Democratic candidate for vice president was expected to get out of politics. He was Franklin Roosevelt!)

5. Ask a rhetorical question. Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins said: “If practice makes perfect, and no one’s perfect, then why practice?”

6. Repeat your main points. Suppose that you were trying to get funding for a five-year exploration mission, perhaps a trek to the stars. Near the end of your presentation to management you could get bogged down in details - like the budget for repair, replacement, and refurbishment of equipment in fiscal year number five. You need to go back and clearly state that what you really want to do is:
a) to explore strange new worlds
b) to seek out new life and new civilizations
c) to boldly go where no man has gone before.

I also discussed concluding or ending a speech in a previous post back in June 2008. There is a very detailed 16-page module by Warren Sandmann on Introductions and Conclusions in the ACA Open Knowledge Guide to Public Speaking.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Joy of being published again

Earlier this month the Journal of Failure Analysis and Prevention published a four-page feature article that I wrote on the topic of Fire Sprinkler Heads, Design, and Failure. You can read a preview of the first page here. It includes an updated fable about seven blind men and an elephant.

The article has an interesting history. It grew from a previous post on this blog. Mac Louthan, the editor of the journal, saw it and emailed me. He asked me if I could turn it into a magazine article, so I did. I first met Mac back in the early 1970s. The last time I saw him in person was at a conference a few years ago – before I started blogging.

So, here I am enjoying yet another “15 minutes of fame.”

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Nick Morgan sticks his neck out and checks the emperors for clothes

Big names in business like Steve Jobs and Jack Welch often are pointed to as obviously being great communicators. For example, there is a recent book by Carmine Gallo called The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience.

This sheepish attitude of fawning adulation reminded me of a scene in the movie Wayne’s World where Mike Meyers (Wayne Campbell) and Dana Carvey (Garth Algar) bow down before Alice Cooper and keep repeating the catch-phrase “We’re not worthy!”

I was pleasantly surprised to find that one speaking coach, Nick Morgan, had the chutzpah to stick his neck out and say otherwise. He is like the little boy at the end of Han’s Christian Andersen’s fairy tale about The Emperor’s New Clothes. This fall he critiqued the big names in a series of blog posts. For example, Nick called Steve Jobs good, but not great. His posts offer constructive criticism. He points to videos from specific speeches. You can read them, watch, and then see if you agree or disagree:

Steve Jobs October 29

C. K. Prahalad November 11

Paul Krugman November 12

Richard Branson November 16

Philip Kotler November 17

Gary Hamel November 18

Michael Porter November 19

Marshall Goldsmith November 23

Ram Charan November 24

Jack Welch December 1

Eric Schmidt December 7

In a blogosphere with mostly sheep it is inspiring to find a giraffe. By the way, the giraffe image was edited from one by Miroslav Duchacek.

Pantophobia is not just the fear of pants

Pantophobia is not just the fear of pants, although it certainly could include the startlingly green jeans shown above. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “a condition characterized by groundless or irrational fears; fear of everything; generalized anxiety.” In current terminology this condition is known as generalized anxiety disorder. It is given the acronym GAD. You can read about it at the Mayo Clinic or NIMH.

Pantophobia is mentioned in A Charlie Brown Christmas, the 1965 animated TV special, which airs annually. You can watch that scene here on YouTube, starting about four and a half minutes from the beginning. In the scene Charlie Brown goes to see Lucy, who has a booth labeled “Psychiatric Help 5 cents.” They have the following dialog:

Lucy: All right now, what seems to be your trouble?

Charlie: I feel depressed. I know I should be happy, but I’m not.

Lucy: Well, as they say on TV, the mere fact that you realize you need help indicates you are not too far gone. I think we better pinpoint your fears. If we can find out what you are afraid of, we can label it. Are you afraid of responsibility? If you are, then you have hypengyophobia.

Charlie: I don’t think that’s quite it.

Lucy: How about cats? If you’re afraid of cats you have elurophobia.

Charlie: Well, sort of, but I’m not sure.

Lucy: Are you afraid of staircases? If you are, then you have climacophobia. Maybe you have thalassophobia. This is fear of the ocean. Or, gephyrophobia, which is the fear of crossing bridges. Or, maybe you have pantophobia. Do you think you have pantophobia?

Charlie: What’s pantophobia?

Lucy: The fear of everything.

Charlie: That’s it!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Improve your public speaking with iUmmm?

One of the sillier iPhone apps is a filler-word counter called iUmmm. If you were looking for an inexpensive stocking-stuffer gift for someone who both has an iPhone and is the Ah-Counter at Toastmasters club meetings, then it may be exactly what you were looking for.

I found a review of it here. The web site for iUmmm shows a screen with room for displaying five filler words at a time. There is an unlimited database for storing both words and events. However, it is not clear whether it would be easy or hard to scroll the list, or to add new filler words while listening to a speech. With a pen and paper it is easy to add new categories as they occur. So, like, you know, I’ll stick with my pen and note pad for now.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Stuttering and Richard Thompson

I did not realize that the critically acclaimed singer-songwriter and guitarist Richard Thompson had a problem with stuttering when speaking in public. Back in the early 1980’s I saw him headline the Ann Arbor Folk Festival. He walked onstage with just his acoustic guitar, started singing, and held a theater audience spellbound for over an hour. That day no stutter was evident in his remarks between songs. Thompson’s name appears in this list of famous people with speech disorders.

Recently I saw an article in Performing Musician magazine that mentioned his stutter. I also found a BBC TV documentary about him called A Solitary Life. At ~3:00 minutes into the first segment of the YouTube video you can hear his stutter come out, prompted by the high stress of being followed around by a camera crew. Thompson played lead guitar for Fairport Convention, and then began writing songs for them. Later he left them, and his wife Linda sang while he played guitar. Eventually Richard began singing.

The Stuttering Home Page is one of the best online sources for information about stuttering. Pamela A. Mertz writes a blog about stuttering called Make Room for the Stuttering that recently passed the landmark of 200 posts.

You can find many songs by Richard Thompson on YouTube. Fairport Convention play Meet on the Ledge here. Linda Thompson sings the title song from the album I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight here. Richard sings 1952 Vincent Black Lightning here. He and Jo-El Sonnier perform the break-up polka song, Tear Stained Letter, here. Sonnier also has a Cajun nightmare video version here. Bonnie Raitt sings Dimming of the Day here.

The photo by Kevin Smith shows Richard Thompson playing at Croperdy, during the 2005 Fairport Convention reunion.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How to turn a newspaper column into trash by reformatting

Today the American Reporter, which is an online newspaper, reran an old humor column by Erik Deckers from the week of October 31, 2003. It is titled Just Imagine Them Naked. You can read a correctly formatted version at his Laughing Stock web site. That version has 18 paragraphs.

The American Reporter rerun today turned his column into trash. They left out all the carriage returns and line feeds that formerly had separated it into easy to read short paragraphs. Now it is just one gigantic paragraph - with almost 740 words. Their combination of small type and no paragraphs made it almost unreadable.

Back in April I discussed the Joy of software: what you see may not be what you get. A web publisher should never do this to a writer!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Almost nobody wants to see your Top 15 list: please use either a Top 10 or a Top 20 list

At the end of the year it once again is time to compile silly annual lists of “The Top N.” Where should you stop – at 10, 15, 20, 25, or 30? We all know that lists of 10 are commonly used by folks like David Letterman or Guy Kawasaki. If you need a somewhat longer list should it stop at 15 or go on to 20? My answer is 20. Lists of 15 apparently would be about ten times less popular, although I have no idea why this should be so.

Yesterday morning I did a series of Google and Yahoo searches on the quoted phrase “top N” where N was a number ranging from 2 to 30. I tabulated the number of search engine hits, and then plotted them (on a logarithmic scale) versus the number of items as is shown above. (Click on the plot for a larger, clearer view.) The Popularity was defined as the logarithm of the number of hits, so a popularity of 6 means 1,000,000 hits, a 7 is 10,000,000, and an 8 is 100,000,000 and so on. When you connect between the Popularity for 10 and 30 with a straight line, it goes almost directly through 20 and 25, but it is goes about a full unit (or ten times) above passing through the value for 15.

I also did a similar series of searches, for N at intervals of 5 over a range from 5 to 150. The following plot shows those results. “Top 100” was about as popular as “Top 10”, and Top 20 and Top 50 also were relatively popular. Forget about ever using “Top 105” - it was truly pathetic.

This research was inspired by finding a list of 45 Commandments of Public Speaking posted on December 9th by Susan R. Young at Get in Front Blogging. Based on the following plot a “Top 50” list would get about 70 times more hits than a “Top 45 list”.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Does homeopathic Argentum nitricum reduce anxiety?

Back on November 17th Madeline Innocent (who is a natural health consultant in Perth, Australia) wrote briefly at Ezine Articles about Overcoming Your Fear of Public Speaking with Ease. She claimed that:

“The homeopathic medicine Argentum nitricum, Arg nit for short, is a wonderful medicine to allay anticipation anxiety.”

That same day she also posted three other articles praising that homeopathic medicine: Anticipation Anxiety Treatment in One Easy Step, Performance Anxiety Can Be a Help or a Hindrance, and Holistic Anxiety Treatment is Most Likely to Be Permanent.

There are lots of other articles which recommend homeopathic Argentum nitricum. For example, R. Oliva’s eHow article on Homeopathic Treatment of Anxiety says that:

“Argentum nitricum is most effective when used before a big event such as an important test or a public speaking event.”

What is Argentum nitricum? It just is fancy terminology for a tiny bit of silver nitrate dissolved in a whole lot of water. Does it really work for reducing anxiety?

In 2006 Karen Pilkington and her colleagues published a long article (in Homeopathy magazine) called Homeopathy for Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders: A Systematic Review of the Research. You can read the abstract and conclusion here at PubMed. They found no clear and compelling evidence that homeopathy was effective for treating anxiety.

In the article they mention that there were two clinical trials for Argentum nitricum on test anxiety, which is one important type of anticipation anxiety. The first one, done in 1982 by Stanton, found that it helped reduce test anxiety. A second one in 2003 by Don Baker et al attempted to replicate the first one, but found no effect compared with an inert placebo. By the way, that 2003 article reported on work done in Australia! You can read the abstract here at PubMed. Both studies used a concentration of 12X. That means one part per trillion, which is equivalent to 1 drop of water diluted into 20, two-meter-deep Olympic-size swimming pools (50,000 cubic meters), or one second of time in approximately 31,700 years.

What about results from university theses? There was yet another study on Argentum nitricum for test anxiety done in 2005. Christinette Snyman’s Masters of Technology (M Tech) thesis at the University of Johannesburg also found no effect when using a lower concentration (or higher potency) of 200CH. However, an M Tech thesis in 2000 by Gabrielle Traub found that a combination of Kalium Phosphoricum, Argentum Nitricum and Gelsemium at 200CH reduced anxiety. Another M Tech thesis in 2002 by Rowena Emmeline Kathyrn Thomson did not find an effect on anxiety for a combination. An M Tech thesis in 2002 by Karin Pelser also found no effect for Gelsemium sempervirens at 200 CH. Traub has mentioned her thesis results in an interview here. The other subsequent results also are interest.

So, I think you should take any claims about the effectiveness of homeopathy against anxiety with a grain of salt (or in their terminology, many truckloads of Natrum muriaticum).
You should do your own research, read the literature, and make up your own mind.

Also, as I mentioned in a
previous post, homeopathic tablets often incorporate lactose (which can be a problem for some of us).

Update: On December 19, 2009 the first article I mentioned by Madeline Innocent reappeared on another web page titled Cure Your Hemorrhoids.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Naked audiences and Savage Chickens

Recently the silly advice to imagine your public speaking audience naked was the subject for one of Doug Savage’s
wonderful, single-panel Savage Chickens cartoons. I think of Doug as being the Canadian follow-up to Gary Larson and his Far Side. The talking block of bean curd in this cartoon from October 23rd is known as Timmy Tofu. Back on February 11, 2009 Timmy wrote a valentine saying “I want to see you naked.” At first I thought Timmy was a desktop computer tower. When he gets drunk he does too, as seen in a January 8, 2009 cartoon. Doug has published a couple other cartoons about motivational speakers on March 13, 2009 and February 4, 2008.

Speaking of naked audiences, there is a footnote on the bottom of page 3 of Scott Berkun’s new book, Confessions of a Public Speaker regarding my previous blog posts about that fun but useless bit of advice coming from Sir Winston Churchill. It reads:

“I asked more than a dozen experts, and while none knew the origins of the advice, Richard I. Garber tracked down a mention in expert James C. Humes’s book The Sir Winston Method (Quill) connecting Churchill to it.”

My first blog post seems to be the only place on the entire web where a cartoon containing full-frontal nudity was used to discuss this topic.

Monday, December 7, 2009

SAY WHAT? Best, worst, and most clueless speakers of 2009

Today there was a press release in which Deborah Shames and David Booth, who are the principals of Eloqui Communications, handed out their first annual Say What? awards for three categories of public speaking. They named the following people:

OWN THE ROOM (for outstanding speaking):

Barack Obama, for his Fort Hood Address

Patrick Kennedy and Ted Kennedy Jr,. for Ted Kennedy's eulogy

Brian Williams, for NBC Nightly News

BLAH, BLAH, BLAH (for speaking without skill, meaning or passion):

Caroline Kennedy

Alan Greenspan

Joe Biden, our Vice President

FOOT IN MOUTH (for clueless speaking rather than shutting up):

Kanye West

Serena Williams

Joe Wilson, South Carolina Congressman for his “you lie” outburst

This list of top threes really is even sillier than one naming the most boring public speakers in the UK that I discussed previously. You need a list of five or ten in order to accommodate the “winners” in obvious categories like politicians, sports figures, musicians, actors, clergy, and businesspeople.

The press release did a pretty good job of putting “foot in mouth” too. In the first paragraph it described Shames and Booth as authors of:

“…Own the Room, their jointly-authored, business presentation book that has recently earned top rankings on three different bestseller lists.”

The last paragraph gave the full title of the book as Own the Room: Business Presentations That Persuade, Engage & Get Results. However, it omitted listing Peter Desberg, who actually is the third co-author. He does not work for Eloqui Communications, so he wasn’t “featured” in this press release. It is usually better not to leave out any co-authors when mentioning a book, unless you are trying to start a vendetta!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Do you have a high level of anxiety about public speaking?

What do you mean by high? Also, how on earth would I find that out?

First, just ask yourself the following two silly questions:

1. Which of the above photos describes your mental image for a speaker’s platform:
a) the short one on the left
b) the tall one on the right

2. If you could avoid giving a speech by paying money, would you be willing to spend:
a) $1
b) $100
c) $10,000
d) $1 million
e) $100 million

If you answered question #1 with b), and question #2 with e), then you have a VERY high level of anxiety.

Seriously, there is a simple self-test that you can take to see how your level of anxiety compares with other people. It is called the Personal Report of Public Speaking Anxiety (PRPSA). The PRPSA first was described back in 1970 by James C. McCroskey. It has 34 multiple-choice questions. You can take it and score it yourself in less than an hour. Then you can compare your score with the norms and see if your level of anxiety really is low, high, or just normal.

Some public speaking teachers routinely use the PRPSA at the beginning of courses in order to spot students with a high level of anxiety. Then they have their students take it again near the end of the course, so they can see how much their level of anxiety has decreased.

Some textbooks incorporate the PRPSA. For example, you can find it in Public Speaking: an audience centered approach by Steven A. Beebe and Susan J. Beebe, on page 20 of the sixth edition from 2005. If your textbook does not discuss it, then you can download this sample of Chapter 2 from Confident Public Speaking by Deanna D. Sellnow from 2004 which tells you to take the PRPSA and then discusses anxiety.

So, ignore articles from coaches that spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt - like this one from last year about Public Speaking Anxiety: Can Public Speaking Training Make It Worse? Take an hour and find out for yourself where you stand!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Into the dark – and back into the light

Speakers are advised to have a “Plan B” so that they can continue in spite of problems with equipment. But, what do you do if there is a power failure, right before you begin your speech? That’s really stressful!

Over thirty years ago I attended an unforgettable Ph.D. thesis defense at Carnegie Mellon University. The conference room was packed with people from both the metallurgy and mechanical engineering departments. The candidate had a Carousel projector loaded with a long, detailed set of slides. He had his notes in hand, and was ready to begin.

About five minutes before he was scheduled to start his presentation we saw the room lights go out, and heard the ventilation fans coast to a stop. A few hundred yards away a mobile crane had tipped over. The falling boom had snapped the main overhead power lines for the campus.

What next? Should he get out a lamp and try to speak in the dark, like the painting of Diogenes looking for an honest man? Fortunately someone suggested that his adviser call the Mellon Institute building a half-mile away. They still had power, and also had a free conference room.

So, the defense was re-scheduled for an hour later. Committee, candidate, and audience walked over Panther Hollow to the new location. By then the candidate had a chance to recover his composure. He successfully defended his thesis, and went on to a distinguished career in industrial research.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The joy of finding a free and worthwhile e-Book: The ACA Open Knowledge Guide to Public Speaking

How would you like to ALMOST INSTANTLY obtain a COMPLETELY FREE e-book that just might CHANGE YOUR LIFE FOREVER? I am not just talking about a crummy MARKETING E-BOOK which REVEALS THE SECRETS of how YOU CAN MAKE BIG MONEY as a MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKER.

Nor am I talking about a not very AMAZING BOOK that can MAGICALLY ELIMINATE YOUR FEARS.
It is not just a long ad for our FAMOUS SEMINAR that has been ENDORSED BY WELL-KNOWN CELEBRITIES.

But wait, there's more!!!

No OPERATORS ARE STANDING BY to try and sell you a MAGIC BULLET that will take your career to AN ENTIRELY NEW LEVEL.

This offer is not VALID ONLY FOR A LIMITED TIME. There is no MONEY BACK GUARANTEE. You do not need to ACT NOW.

$ $ $

What I am talking about is a non-commercial textbook resulting from a collective effort by a bunch of real, live college professors in the American Communication Association (ACA). It is called the ACA Open Knowledge Guide to Public Speaking. The Guide is a work-in-progress. It began to appear in September 2008. Right now it consists of a series of 13 modules (chapters) that you can read online or download as Adobe Acrobat files here.

The download list on the right side of the page shows abbreviated titles of the modules. Full titles for them are as follows:

Public Speaking in Context: How Does Public Speaking Differ from Other Forms of Communication (12 pages)

Listening: The “Lost” Communications Skill (16 pages)

On Critical Thinking and Reasoning: Deduction, Induction, and Logical Fallacies (27 pages)

The Significance of Audience Analysis: Strategically Considering Your Target Populace (14 pages)

Persuasive Speaking: Origins of Contemporary Persuasion (13 pages)

Persuasive Speaking: Strategies for Causing Attitudinal and Behavioral Change (22 pages)

Developing Quality Research Skills: Getting the Most Out of Your Library and Online Resources (10 pages)

Using Language Well: The Power of Effective and Ethical Language (15 pages)

Figuratively Speaking: Techniques for Adding Clarity and Style (19 pages)

Developing and Using Visual Aids Effectively: Charts, Models, and Artifacts Galore, Logical Fallacies (16 pages)

Introductions and Conclusions: On Perfectly Beginning and Ending Your Speech (16 pages)

Informative Speaking (16 pages)

Special Occasion Speaking: Public Speaking in the Workplace, Public Relations, After-dinner Speaking, and Ceremonial Speaking (8 pages)

When you add up the modules there are 204 pages so far. I found my way to the Introductions and Conclusions module when I was looking for references to give my Toastmasters club while preparing to conduct their Better Speaker Series presentations on beginning and concluding speeches.

The ACA Guide still has an extremely low profile because it is non-commercial. It was mentioned as Speech Reference of the Month in a November 10 newsletter by Statehouse Toastmasters (Salem, Oregon).