Friday, July 31, 2009

Presentation timer leads to a visit from the bomb squad

Many Toastmasters clubs use fancy, programmed presentation timers. This device consists of a lunchbox holding three colored lights. It looks similar to a traffic light, and is wired to a digital timer. Both pieces sit on the table in view of the speaker. The lights warn the speaker about how he is doing relative to his allotted time. For example, for a 5 to 7 minute speech the green light goes on at 5 minutes, the yellow at 6 minutes, and the red at 7 minutes. These timers used to sell for ~$250. I saw one being used just yesterday.

On Tuesday morning, July 28th, in north metro Columbus, Ohio an employee set up such a programmed timer in a conference room at the JP Morgan Chase Bank’s McCoy Center complex. Unfortunately someone else did not recognize that device. They decided it looked suspiciously like a time bomb. After panicking they called in an emergency shortly after 10:00 am. A couple thousand of the approximately 8,500 people were evacuated from Wings J through P of the 2 million-square-foot building.

By 10:15 am the Columbus Division of Fire had responded with their bomb squad, robot, and paramedics. They eventually identified that the device in question was, in fact, quite harmless. Meanwhile, many employees waited out in the parking lot. Several were overcome by the heat, and were treated by paramedics. Shortly after 1:00 pm the emergency finally was over, and all employees were allowed back into the building.

What did this fiasco cost? Assume 2000 people times 3 hours, times $16 per hour, and the result would be $96,000. That’s a really expensive timer!

If you have an iPhone, then you can get a presentation timer application program for $2 or less. Toastmasters also sells a little flip book with three 6” by 8” timing cards for just $2.50.

At our Toastmasters club we are low-tech, so our Timekeeper uses a $10 Deluxe Sports Stopwatch from Radio Shack. We have three homemade cloth flags that one of our crafty members made. Our Timekeeper holds them up in succession to show the speaker how they are doing. So far we have not been visited by our bomb squad.

James Feudo mentioned this fiasco yesterday on his Overnight Sensation blog. He concluded that it gave new meaning to the expression that: “My speech is THE BOMB”. I saw two more newspaper reports about the incident, and thought it was bizarre enough to tell again with a bit more detail.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Who said to picture your audience naked?

In a post yesterday on his Speaker Confessions blog Scott Berkun asked where the questionable advice about picturing your audience naked came from. He said he had already tried the following and come up empty:

1.Asked Toastmasters International Headquarters
2. Tried various Google/Internet searches
3. Looked in over 50 books on public speaking
4. Asked some presentation experts

I took a crack at his question, and found an answer via Google Book Search. It makes sense, since that source was someone very well-known for his mastery of public speaking.

In Dorothy Sarnoff’s book, Speech Can Change Your Life, 1970, on page 199 it says that: “Winston Churchill overcame his early fear of audiences by imagining that each of them was sitting there naked.”

A similar quote (with two additional celebrities) also appears in Dorothy Leeds book, PowerSpeak, 2003, on page 33: “Winston Churchill liked to imagine that each member of the audience was naked. Franklin Roosevelt pretended that the members all had holes in their socks. Carol Burnett thinks of them sitting on the commode.”

I much prefer Franklin Roosevelt’s image choice. By the way, the cartoon above is a color version of the only nude image we have sent outside of our Solar System (the little plaque on the Pioneer 11 spacecraft).

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Bullfighting the Mehrabian Myth

If you have been reading about public speaking, or sales, or other topics involving communication, then you probably have seen a bar or pie chart similar to the one shown above. Or, perhaps it just was a table or some text. Typically this startlingly specific information about the primary importance of nonverbal communication will be presented as revealed wisdom (“experts say”).

Sometimes the source will be credited properly to Professor Albert Mehrabian at UCLA. Those three percentages often are discussed as if 42 years ago they were carved magically onto stone tablets, and then carried over the Sepulveda Pass to Westwood. For a recent example, see page 10 of Brian Tracy’s 2008 book Speak to Win which you can view over at Google Books.
On a June 2, 2009 blog post Olivia Mitchell discussed Why The Stickiest Idea in Presenting is Just Plain Wrong. She pointed out that Mehrabian’s results apply to some narrow situations, but have been treated as universal truth. I applaud her stepping up as the matador in this bullfight. Her post links to 19 other recent posts discussing why the popular interpretation is just a myth.
Mehrabian has even said on his web site to:
“Please note that this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like-dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable. Also see references 286 and 305 in Silent Messages -- these are the original sources of my findings”.
I got curious, followed some of Olivia Mitchell’s links, and found that this topic has been kicking around for a long time. Back in 1994 (or 15 years ago) Dr. C. E. "Buzz" Johnson wrote about the Myth of Nonverbal Dominance. In 1999 (10 years ago) Herb Oestreich discussed Let’s Dump the 55% 38% 7% Rule. In 2004 (5 years ago) Dale H. Emery wrote about Misrepresenting Mehrabian.
The recent flurry of blog posts is unlikely to finish this bullfight. There are plenty of books, newsletters, and blog posts repeating the myth. It will be read again and spread again to a fresh crop of uncritical readers. We probably can look forward to yet another decade of miscommunication about this aspect of communication. Get out your capes and swords, and bring on the bulls!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pubic speaking???

I read that phrase yesterday in an article title on the eHow web site. They clearly meant to instead say “public speaking.” Pubic is a word too though, so a computer program just for checking spelling will not flag it. A careful human proofreader likely would have found it and fixed it.

A typographical or grammar error in the title of an educational web page (or blog post) already raises multiple questions:

1. Do you not know what you are doing?

2. Do you just not care?

3. In either case, why should I bother to read further?

4. Is your content really so wonderful I should ignore your lack of form?

5. Would I be disappointed if I bought your e-book, CD, or DVD?

6. Should I avoid hiring you?

If I do choose to read further, then I will not be either surprised or upset when I see one error every 1000 to 4000 words (or an error rate of 0.1% to 0.025%). But this week I read a blog post with 10 errors in just 400 words. That is an error rate of 2.5%! Both the horn and flashing red light for my mental bozo alarm went off. That blog did not get added to my RSS reader.

Obvious lack of attention to details suggests sloppy thinking. Most people will never tell you if they are annoyed or even appalled. They just will leave, and you may never get them to return.

Getting absolutely all of the errors out of a book (~100,000 words) is almost impossible. If you don’t believe me, then go to Google, set the options to search in books, and enter the phrase “pubic speaking”. You will find over 100 results!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

An unusual sound system disaster

Is there anything worse than having a sound system with a dead microphone? There is, and I encountered it last year. For a while it seemed like my talk was going down in flames.

In January 2008 I gave a technical talk. It was for a corrosion meeting held at the ski resort in Sun Valley, Idaho. There were presentations in one half of the Inn ballroom all day Thursday. The wireless microphone, sound system, the laptop computer, and digital projector all worked perfectly.

My talk was the second one on Friday morning. Our chairman handed me the microphone. Just as I was about to begin speaking, we all heard another voice take over the sound system. He began with, “Welcome to the annual refinery meeting!” My microphone acted like it was turned off, and the other speaker continued by reciting their safety record. Then he began discussing production statistics.

Our chairman sent someone running down the hall for the audio-visual staff. They got our sound back after three or four minutes, but it seemed like forever to me. What could have gone wrong only on the second day?

The large ballroom had been split by a movable wall to accommodate two different meetings. On Thursday no one was using the other half of the ballroom, so their wireless microphone had been switched off. The staff had forgotten to split the sound system into two independent parts. On Friday the other half of the room started their meeting later than we did. As soon as their master wireless microphone was switched on it overrode ours, and it fed the speakers for the entire room.

Fortunately this is an uncommon situation. Unfortunately, unless you are a skilled mime, there is not much you can do about it.

It is more common to encounter an adjacent ballroom with amplified music. An accountant told me about a tax refresher course held next to a Native American Powwow. Their speaker could not compete with drums and chants. Bagpipes also are rather piercing.

In a previous post I mentioned having a projector bulb fail as I began a long technical talk. With more forethought I could have begun without using visual aids. You can too, if you have planned, written out, and outlined your introduction.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Building leadership one success at a time

That was the title for the Toastmasters Leadership Institute held yesterday at the lovely Boise Bible College. Courtney White from BSU gave the keynote address on The front end of leadership – five lessons from motivational science. Her lessons were:

1. Break from the past - it’s different now.
2. Create urgency - now is the time.
3. Provide easy on ramps - make the first step simple.
4. Foster intrinsic motives - build referent power.
5. Adapt - people and situations are different!

The Vice President – Education training session was held in a room containing refreshments on two tables and a long counter. The mingled smells of coffee, lemonade, and cinnamon buns made it hard to concentrate on the topic, but my patience was eventually rewarded.

The brand new Boise Young Professionals club was there, as was Club #61 (the oldest club in town, from back in 1936).

Friday, July 17, 2009

Why do I write this blog?

This is my virtual platform for speaking to the world. It got started last year when I agreed to take over as Vice President-Education for the Capitol Club, the Toastmasters International club I belong to here in Boise, Idaho. I wanted an easy way to share information with the members of my club (and anyone else beyond who wanted to learn more about public speaking). This month I began my second one-year term as Vice President-Education. So, I expect to keep writing for another year. This is my 125th post.

Why didn’t I just write articles in my club or District newsletter? In the past couple years the club newsletter has been sporadic. District 15 has an online Newsletter called The Pulsebeat. I wrote a brief article for the Spring 2008 issue, but the archive disappeared when the District 15 web site was redone. However, that article became one of my first blog posts, and you can find it right here.

The blog also has lots of links to other useful articles. Like Woodrow Wilson, “I use not only all the brains I have, but all I can borrow”.

My interest in Toastmasters had been rekindled by Cleon Cox when I lived in Portland. Cleon had added a blog to the web site for his Job Finders Support Group. My blog post about elevator speeches,What do you do that can help me?, was a guest post on Cleon’s blog. A printable version lives over here on Cleon’s web site. Two more of my articles about job search there are about magazine articles and university web sites.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Stealing Thunder: say the worst, but say it first

Some presentation tactics go against common sense. Suppose that you are giving a panel presentation about a controversial topic. You know there is a weakness in your case - negative information that would damage your position.

Should you:
[1]. Make sure to bring it up before your opponent does.
[2]. Ignore it and hope that he or she does not bring it up.

Trial lawyers know that the correct answer is [1]. Being proactive with bad news in order to soften its impact is known as “stealing thunder”. (Psychologists call it inoculation. Lawyers do it because it usually works, as has been shown in research by Kipling Williams.

Examples of this tactic show up on TV shows such as “Law and Order”. Sam Waterston, who plays District Attorney Jack McCoy, said that he not only has to make the prosecution case, but also has to make the defense’s case before they do.

Stealing thunder is 300 years old. The cartoon showing Daniel Webster stealing Henry Clay’s thunder is somewhat younger.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Hinckley, Ohio woman talks her way into the Toastmasters International public speaking championships

Yesterday I found this newspaper article about Maureen Zappala’s journey in public speaking. On August 15th she will be representing Region 6 in the Toastmasters International championships.

The story headline caught my eye because Hinckley, Ohio is known mostly for celebrating the impending arrival of spring by the annual return of the turkey buzzards on March 15th. They have been celebrating that event since 1957.

Back on March 31 I discussed Toastmasters speech contests, and the long road leading up to the championships. It would be wonderful if Hinckley gets publicity for something else other than turkey buzzards. The buzzard clip art image is from here.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A visit from the Lectern/Podium Police Patrol

When I posted our article from the District 15 newsletter about fear of public speaking on June 23, I was hoping for at least one favorable com
ment. Instead I got a visitor from the self-appointed Lectern/Podium Police Patrol. His comment took issue with our closing line using the word podium to describe an object you could either stand behind of (or in front of) when you speak. He said that a podium only was something you stand on, and he eventually quoted me the etymology for both podium and lectern.

In my blog reply to his comment I noted that our use of podium in fact was consistent with current use, as shown both in the online Oxford English Dictionary and the Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage (1989). Current use is lexicography. I have looked around further since t
hen. I quickly found five recent books on speaking which also use the word podium the way we did:

In the book on The Art of Lecturing by Parham Aarabi (Cambridge University Press, 2007), on page 72 you will find that he talks about standing behind the podium.

In the book The How of WOW by Tony Carlson (Amacom, 2005), on page 207 he talks about using a half-inch tall speech box to hold your text in place on the podium.

In the book Trust Me by Nick Morgan (Jossey-Bass, 2009), on page 148 he talks about standing behind a podium.

In the book The Complete Presentation Skills Handbook (Kogan Page, 2008) by Suzy Siddons, on page 114 she talks about being trapped b
ehind the podium.

In the book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Public Speaking (Macmillan, 1999) by Laurie Rozakis, on page 15 she talks about standing behind the podium.

Lexicography is about seeing where you are right
now. It is useful because word meanings can and do change over time. Etymology just is about seeing where you have been. Etymology is like driving by only looking through your rear-view mirror. It works well for backing up, but is silly otherwise.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Glossophobia might as well mean the fear of waxing your car to a high gloss

Compare the shiny car at the left with this un-waxed Honda Accord, and its matte camouflage paint job. The owner of this Honda clearly has a serious case of glossophobia, accompanied by delusions of stealth.
If you look in Wikipedia it currently says that “glossophobia or speech anxiety is the fear of public speaking.” Try looking up glossophobia online in the Merriam Webster dictionary - it isn’t there. (It’s also not in the Oxford English Dictionary). Using that word is pedantic nonsense. It will not help you to locate good information about fear of public speaking.
Nevertheless, glossophobia just keeps right on showing up in blog posts by both public speaking coaches (for example, here and here) and by Toastmasters clubs (here and here ).
The word glossophobia is NOT useful jargon because that is not what the psychiatrists and psychologists who study it (and treat it) call that problem. They used to call it public-speaking phobia. More recently they have called it speech anxiety or public speaking anxiety, a subtype of social anxiety.
In the April 2009 issue of the Journal of Anxiety Disorders there is a 9-page article on The Relation Between Public Speaking Anxiety and Social Anxiety: A Review. The word glossophobia never appears.
If you look in Triumph Over Shyness, a book by the psychiatrist Murray B. Stein you will not ever find the word glossophobia used. Neither will you find that word in Laurie Rozakis’s book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Public Speaking.

Now, I also have seen it claimed that glossophobia is not the fear of lip gloss. Perhaps it should be.

Just knowing the name for something is a very low form of knowledge. In his book of reminisces, What Do You Care What Other People Think?, Richard Feynman recalled what his father told him about birds in the following quote:

“You can know the name of that bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. You’ll only know about humans in different places, and what they call the bird. So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing – that’s what counts.”

Monday, July 6, 2009

Celebrate Freedom from Fear of Public Speaking Week

In a blog post from up near Toronto, Canada on June 29, Beverly Beuermann-King claimed that July 1st to July 7th is Freedom from Fear of Public Speaking Week.

I never heard that particular holiday proclaimed before. The week is centered on our US Independence Day. It obviously calls for a suitably patriotic poster which is submitted for your approval.

A title can trigger the creative process, or just confuse the audience

A blog post on Effective Speech Titles & Why They Matter points out that the choice of a title can trigger, focus, or organize the creative process.

In his book Chuck Amuck Chuck Jones tells how he once directed an entire Looney Tunes cartoon by stumbling on the mountaineering phrase “Ascent of the Matterhorn.” He realized that if “Ascent” became “a scent” then the new title would be a perfectly natural vehicle for one of their stock characters - PepĂ© Le Pew (that amorous little French skunk). It was their15th story with that character and it fell together with amazing ease, as if the storyboard wrote itself. You can watch the video for A Scent of the Matterhorn either here or here.

Plays and movies sometimes wind up with amazing titles. Peter Weiss wrote a famous play that later became a movie and usually is advertised just as Marat/Sade. That is because the actual very pretentious title was: The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade.

Five of the worst movie titles are:

1. Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever

2. Freddy Got Fingered

3. Vanilla Sky

4. To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar

5. Gigli

Gigli also is considered one of the worst movies ever made. It did amazingly poorly at the box office considering that it starred Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez (along with Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, and Lainie Kazan). Gigli is the last name of Affleck’s character.

A Gigli saw is a flexible wire saw used by surgeons for cutting bones. During World War II Gigli saws wre hidden in the boot laces of pilots (and used to cut prison bars if they were shot down and captured).

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Two types of speech outlines: speaking and preparation

In Chapter 10 of his textbook on The Art of Public Speaking Stephen E. Lucas defines two different types of outlines used in preparing speeches: a preparation outline and a speaking outline (a structured set of notes).

During the speech preparation process you may create a preparation outline, which is a very detailed outline. It includes: the title, specific purpose, central idea, introduction, main points, subpoints, connectives, conclusion, and bibliography. The main points and subpoints are stated in full sentences.

A speaking outline is just a brief outline used to jog a speaker’s memory during the presentation of a speech. It uses phrases or key words to state main points and sub points.

Other textbooks use slightly different terminology. In Chapter 13 of A Speaker’s Guidebook (2nd edition) by O’Hair, Stewart, and Rubenstein they call the detailed outline a working outline (or preparation outline, or rough outline), and they note that a speaking outline also may be called a delivery outline.

A more detailed discussion of outlines appears in Chapter 6 of the online textbook, Fundamentals of Public Communication.

Word processing software can simplify creating outlines. For example, Microsoft Word has an Outline View that can be used to plan presentations, as described by Charles Anderson, and also in the for Dummies series of books. You can learn how to save yourself hours by using Outline View properly.

Outlines are not the only way to organize a speech. You may prefer to start from mind maps or storyboards

UPDATE October 3, 2015

Chapter 8 of the Public Speaking Project online textbook has a detailed .pdf file that discusses Organizing and Outlining

Friday, July 3, 2009

Will your title draw people in, or turn them away?

Your speech title on a written program is the first impression that people have of you. Based on it they will either decide they must hear you, or perhaps attend another session.

The following articles discuss creating speech titles. Which will you read first (or choose to ignore)?

How to Create Book and Speech Titles that Sizzle and Sell, by Joe Sabah

How to Create Sizzling Speech and Book Titles, by Sandra Schrift

The Power of a Great Title, by Dave Curley

Effective Speech Titles & Why They Matter

Write Good Speech Titles

How to Make Your Speech Titles Talk

How to Title a Public Speech, by Jennifer Eblin

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Rule number one is just to have fun

Last week Nick Morgan answered the question of: What is the Most Important Rule for Success in Public Speaking? with just two words – have fun.

It is all too easy to forget that if you are not enjoying yourself, then your audience also probably is not enjoying themselves.

The photograph of a laughing Theodore Roosevelt commemorates the 111th anniversary of him leading the Rough Riders, who charged up San Juan Hill and into the history books.