Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Teleprompters and public speaking

I recently had a good laugh when I read the title of an article posted earlie
r this month. It claimed that Obama Made the Teleprompter Popular (Replaces Speech With Reading From a Mirror in Front of a Camera). It is wrong by about half a century. Actually Herbert Hoover began to make the teleprompter popular for public speaking – when he was the first politician to use one way back in 1952. Back then it was a trade name, TelePrompTer, not the later generic teleprompter. (Autocue is another trade name that became generic).

What is a speech (or conference) teleprompter? It is a gizmo that displays the manuscript of a speech as scrolling text on viewing screens. Usually there are two screens, one
on either side of the speaker. Screens are light gray glass panels set at a 45-degree angle. They reflect an image (at eye level) from upward facing displays mounted on the floor. Current displays are unobtrusive, bright, flat-screen color lcd monitors. Before that they were CRT monitors in taller boxes. Originally the display was paper with a typed script scrolling between a pair of motorized rollers, (similar to a player piano).

You can see the screens (indicated by yellow arrows) when George Bush used a speech teleprompter to deliver his 2007 State of the Union Speech. By using a teleprompter, the speaker can look at his audience rather than repeatedly glancing down at his manuscript, and bobbing his head up and down, as shown on this Monty Python video. President Ronald Reagen used a teleprompter when he spoke to the House of Commons in 1983, and the British press dubbed it the “sincerity machine”.

What does the display look like to the speaker? They see their script (box with dashed yellow lines) superimposed on their view of the audience, as shown below in this over-the-shoulder shot of Sarah Palin speaking last year at the Republican National Convention. Look carefully at 1:43 in the video.

If you must use a teleprompter, then you need to practice with it. Reading from a script can lead to a monotonous, uniform,
monotone delivery, as shown here by T.J. Walker. According to Joey Asher the remedy is to vary your speed and add feeling. Just pretend that you are reading a story book to your child.

A teleprompter user also can just replace the up-and-down head bobbing with a side-to-side motion due to alternating between the screens. The audience may wonder if the speaker is watching his very own ghostly tennis game. Jeanette and Roy Henderson mention this problem on page 184 of their book, There’s no such thing as public speaking (make any presentation or speech as persuasive as a one-on-one conversation). They suggest you concentrate on turning your whole body naturally, not just your head.

If you want to practice reading a script with a teleprompter, then you can just go to the CuePrompter web site, upload your script, and watch it scroll as you read. You don’t need to buy anything.

How did Herbert Hoover make the TelePrompTer popular? He used one when he gave the keynote speech at the 1952 Republican Convention in Chicago. The operator had told him that he would stop the manuscript when he began ad-libbing, and start it again when he resumed. Hoover misunderstood, and when the text did not begin scrolling again he said to the microphone (and audience): “Go ahead, TelePrompTer, go ahead.” Lots of reporters covering the convention asked about the device. They wrote articles, and then the company got free publicity leading to a public speaking business.

Teleprompters started out as a way of prompting actors on live television. A six-page article in the Saturday Evening Post for September 14, 1957 titled “Sure Cure for Stage Fright” discussed how they also were being used both by politicians, and 375 of the nation’s top 500 businesses.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Introducing a speaker

An introduction for a speaker may barely be noticed if done well, but can be glaringly obvious if done poorly. This week I gave a speech at my Toastmasters club on the topic of Creating an Introduction. It is one of ten topics in The Better Speaker Series of educational speeches. I began with their prepared script, and then updated it.

An introduction is a brief speech, just a minute or two long, which should be prepared and practiced before it is given. Either the speaker or the session chairperson may prepare it. (Some professional speakers even provide a prepared introduction that must be read exactly as written).

An introduction is like a TV news bulletin, because it should include the following six elements: who, what, when, how, where, and why.

Who is he (or she)?
Begin the introduction with the speaker’s name. Start with something like” Our speaker today is…” Check with the speaker and find out how to pronounce his name correctly. End the introduction by repeating their name, like “Please welcome…”

What will he talk about?
State the speech title, and briefly describe what the speaker will talk about. In other words, give an abstract. For Toastmasters club meetings we also always announce what manual the speech is from, the name of the project, and the objectives. For example, Project #5 of the Competent Communication manual is called “Your Body Speaks,” so the audience will pay particular attention to stance, movement, gestures, facial expressions, and eye contact.

When will he take questions?
Let the audience know when the speaker plans to take questions. Will it be during the talk, or at the end? If it is at the end, then he can defuse a heckler by just pointing out that remarks will be addressed later.

How long will he talk?
Tell the audience both how long he will speak, and how much time will be set aside for answering questions (if they will be at the end).

Where is he from?
Let the audience know where the speaker is from. State the organization name, the speaker’s position in it, and describe where it is located.

Why should you listen to him?
Your introduction should establish the speaker’s credibility and authority, based on his background and qualifications. Contact him, and get his biography, resume, or curriculum vitae. Then summarize it briefly. For example, the top award in Toastmasters is Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM). Someone with a DTM has instant credibility in discussing public speaking because they have gone all the way through both the communication and leadership tracks of the educational program. Mention if the speaker has written magazine articles or books, etc. on the topic.

What should you avoid in an introduction?
Don’t recite the speaker’s biography in chronological order. If you start by saying that he was born in a “little house on the prairie”, your audience may fall asleep before you get near the present day. Don’t upstage the speaker by using video or PowerPoint in the introduction. Don’t surprise the speaker, or steal his thunder. Don’t leave his name until last. If you say that the speaker needs no introduction, then your next words just should be: “and now, here’s Johnny!”

The Toastmasters web site has a brief discussion about introducing a speaker here. There is a longer article, “Rx for a good speech introduction,” by Michael Varma, in the November 2008 issue of Toastmaster magazine, which you can find here. There is another excellent article from September 1997 by Marie Wallace, in her Guide on the Side series – “How to Introduce Speakers: Tips and Templates” here. There also are a couple of articles by John A. Kline on introductions (including examples) here and here.

Denise Graveline, in her Eloquent Woman blog, discusses - When you introduce a speaker take 5. James Feudo’s Overnight Sensation blog also discusses Speech Introductions.

Tracy Goodwin has produced a series of ten one-and-a-half minute eHow Videos on introductions which you can see on YouTube:

What are introduction speeches?
Purpose of introduction speeches
Introduction speech information
Introduction speech structures
Consulting the speaker
Biographical Information in introduction speeches
Introduction speech time limits
Praise in introduction speeches
Practicing introduction speeches
Introduction speech sample

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Civility is not dead

Despite all the current high-profile misbehavior by sports stars, music stars, and Congressmen who all seem bent on being our Grossest National Product there are still decent people out there. Civility is not really dead.

One of my favorite gadgets is this little, digital, combination 4-event timer, and clock. The timer can either count up or down. The clip on the back also opens a half-inch, and then a wire frame falls down so the timer neatly stands up on a desk or counter. To change the button battery you put a coin in a slot on a little circular door (red arrow). When you turn it counterclockwise, two little tabs disengage slots to let the door open. One tab on the original door had broken (orange arrow), so I held the broken door on with a piece of duct tape.
I finally got tired of the broken door, and tried looking up the supplier. They seemed to be Component Design Northwest, Inc. (CDN) over in Portland, Oregon. See their PT1A, which you can buy for $20 from Kitchen Kaboodle. When I called CDN last week to ask how to order a replacement door, they took my address, and said they would mail me one for free. Actually they sent two. No more duct tape!

Overcoming fear and finding your voice

In my previous post I mentioned that the solution to anxiety about public speaking is not medication, but rather preparation and practice.

Yesterday’s Times (UK) provides an excellent example. One of their columnists, Sathnam Sanghera, discusses how although he is Not Wolverhampton’s Answer to Barack Obama…at age 32 he is finding a voice. He describes how some coaching finally helped him become comfortable at speaking to large groups.

Mr. Sanghera is a journalist who grew up in Wolverhampton. He has written a book along with numerous articles and columns. You can find a brief biography here on his web site, and a review of his book here.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Herbal remedies for anxiety

A number of herbal products are advertised as remedies for anxiety, including anxiety related to public speaking. The real remedy for anxiety just is preparation and enough practice or rehearsal.

A tablet called Bravina “The Speech Pill” was advertised on page 23 of the February 2009 issue of Toastmaster magazine. Two angry letters to the editor appeared in the April issue. There also were blog posts from Darren Baker and Ian Whitworth. Some claims for Bravina were withdrawn after a review by the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

I Googled and quickly found another four products. (Of course there actually are more, but these five are a reasonable sample). All employ combinations of herbal ingredients. Their mixtures are much like the “secret herbs and spices” used in the coating that makes commercial fried chicken tasty. Some products also add vitamins and minerals.

For example, Bravina contains: St. John’s Wort, Motherwort, Passiflora, Ashwagandha, Valerian Root, Eleuthero Root, Panax, Ginko Biloba, and Octacosanol.

Clarocet NRI contains: St. John’s Wort, Passiflora, Winter Cherry, Rhodiola Rosea, and 5-HTP.

Confidrex contains: Niacinamide (Vitamin B3), Panax Ginseng, Potassium, Magnolia Bark, Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6), Magnesium, Blue Scullcap, Methylcobalamin (Vitamin B12), Fennel Seed, Passion Flower (Passiflora), L-Theanine, and 5-Hydroxytryptophan.

PureCalm contains: Passiflora, Lavender, and Lemon Balm. It comes from the same folks who brought you the homeopathic remedy called SocialFear ReliefTM, that I discussed last month.

Serydyn contains: Passiflora, Valerian Root, L-Theanine, Niacinamide (Vitamin B3), and Magnesium Taurinate.

Are these combinations of ingredients effective? Are they safe? If you look at the bottom of their web pages for the small, light print (or click on their disclaimers) they are careful to say that their claims have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and caution that you should consult your physician.

Has the common ingredient in these five remedies, passiflora, been shown to be effective in random, placebo controlled clinical trials (as are used to test modern pharmaceuticals)? Clinical trials compare a drug with an inert substance (a placebo), and neither the doctors nor the patients know who got which remedy. I looked up passiflora and some other ingredients out in the PubMed medical journal abstracts database. For the full texts of articles you may have to visit either your public library, or your friendly local state university library.

In 2006 Ernst discussed Herbal Remedies for Anxiety – A Systematic Review of Controlled Clinical Trials. He evaluated evidence for: blue skullcap, gotu kola, guarana, kava, keenmind, lemon grass, passion flower (passiflora), and valerian. His conclusion was that:
“Apart from kava, none has been shown beyond reasonable doubt to be efficacious (effective).”
Unfortunately there also are doubts about whether kava is completely safe, which is why it does not appear in the five products previously mentioned.

I also looked at the most recent review article I could find (2009) on Natural Remedies for Anxiety Disorders: Potential Use and Clinical Applications by Kinrys et al. You can read the abstract here. They found that:
“…although there is currently no evidence supporting the use of natural remedies as first-line treatments of anxiety, the limited data available suggest an overall safe side effect profile for such agents and their potential and future clinical use for the treatment of anxiety symptoms.”
In other words, they may be safe, but have not yet been proven to be effective.

Both passiflora and valerian also have been evaluated in Cochrane reviews. You can read their full texts online for free. The 2007 review on Passiflora for Anxiety Disorder concluded that:
“RCTs [random clinical trials] examining the effectiveness of passiflora for anxiety are too few in number to permit any conclusions to be drawn.”

The 2006 review on Valerian for Anxiety Disorders also concluded that:
“…there is insufficient evidence to draw any conclusions about the efficacy or safety of valerian compared with placebo or diazepam for anxiety disorders.”

In a ten-minute YouTube video rant, the Irish comedian Dara O’Briain, whose wife reportedly is a physician, comments (at about 2:55 in the video) that:

“I’m sorry, herbal medicine? Herbal medicine has been around for thousands of years. Indeed it has. And then we tested it all, and the stuff that worked became MEDICINE. And the rest of it is just a nice bowl of soup and some potpourri. So, knock yourself out.”

Proceed with caution before you take herbal medicines. As TV commercials say, ask your doctor if it is right for you. Visit the reference section of your public library. Look up the effects (and side effects) of all the ingredients in a product before you just buy it and try it.

I would rather ingest some of the brightly covered, placebo pills shown above. A whole box is just a dollar. They have pleasant tropical fruit (candy) flavors. Their brand is the nicknames for Michael and Isaac.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Winston Churchill also can be blamed for advice about rehearsing in front of a mirror

In a recent blog post titled Never Imagine Your Audience Naked (and other speaking myths debunked) Aileen Bennett said that: “…Churchill apparently never gave a speech without practicing in a mirror first...” When I commented that he also gets the blame for imagining the audience naked, she replied that much of the public speaking advice in the UK is rightly or wrongly attributed to Churchill.

Is that old practice habit used by Sir Winston Churchill good advice? Not really. It wasn’t a terrible idea for seeing what your gestures and body language look like, back when filming yourself would have required a camera operator and a long wait for processing.

On page 77 of The Confident Speaker, Harrison Monarth and Larina Kase say about practice to:

“Make it as realistic as possible. The mirror is also a helpful tool, but to see what you really look like, a video camera is better.”

On page 70 of his book, The Elements of Great Public Speaking, J. Lyman MacInnes says:

“Do not rehearse in front of a mirror. You’ll spend far too much time and energy looking at yourself rather than concentrating on content and delivery, all the while forgetting that you’re actually seeing things backward in any event.”

You can play back a video recording repeatedly to focus either on looking at your gestures or listening to your voice. In another post I pointed out that Stephan Pastis even made fun of using a mirror in one of his cartoons.

Maybe the only way to get rid of that advice about practicing in front of a mirror is to point out that Churchill’s old nemesis, Adolph Hitler, also: “…perfected his delivery by rehearsing in front of mirrors and carefully choreographing his display of emotions.”

Monday, September 14, 2009

Design, Balance, and Bonsai

Garr Reynolds has a unique perspective on design and presentation graphics. In the last two posts on his Presentation Zen blog he discussed 7 Japanese aesthetic principles to change your thinking and 10 design lessons from the art of ikebana.

Those posts reminded me that you can also see design in bonsai, those artfully pruned miniature trees or shrubs with their own aesthetic rules. Contrast the two bonsai shown above. The top one is upright and balanced, very different from the bottom one.

Both are in the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection, which is located at the Weyerhaeuser corporate campus near Federal Way, Washington. Currently the collection is not open to the public, but you can read more about the top tree in their photo gallery.

If your mind map for a speech topic looks more like the bottom photo than the top, perhaps you should think further before you inflict it on an audience.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Closeness, proxemics, and graphics

In my last post I mentioned that Nick Morgan had discussed the significance of the following four types of spaces or distances:

Public space - greater than 12 feet
Social space - 4 to 12 feet
Personal space - 1.5 to 4 feet
Intimate space - less than 1.5 feet

I drew a figure with a series of concentric squares to illustrate the relative sizes of those spaces. Squares made more sense to me than circles, because rooms typically are rectangular.

At first I missed something in the definition for those spaces. When I looked further I found that they actually were like radiuses, not diameters. A practical person would expect diameters, which is how one measures and orders bolts or drill bits.

The technical term for talking about closeness is proxemics. Edward T. Hall, a cultural anthropologist, came up with it to describe the study of distances between people as they interact. He died at age 95 in July. You can read his obituary here in the New York Times.

The figure shows a series of personal reaction bubbles as illustrated by WebHamster for the Wikipedia article on proxemics. A recent article about personal space by Alan Rapp discusses the concept further and also mentions a 1969 book by Robert Sommer, Personal Space: The Behavioral Basis of Design.

The Wikipedia article has a more complicated description of those distances that divides each of them into near and far phases:

Public distance (used for public speaking)
Far phase – greater than 25 feet
Near phase – 12 to 25 feet

Social distance (for interactions among acquaintances)
Far phase – 7 to 12 feet
Near phase – 4 to 7 feet

Personal distance (for interactions among good friends or family members)
Far phase – 2.5 to 4 feet
Near phase – 1.5 to 2.5 feet

Intimate distance (for embracing, touching, or whispering)
Far phase – 0.5 to 1.5 feet
Near phase – less than 0.5 feet

I gave up on making a figure incorporating both the near and far phases, because it started to look almost like an archery target. You can see why Dr. Morgan avoided discussing the near and far phases.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Closeness and connecting with your audience

Yesterday I was mulling over the first of a series of blog posts by Nick Morgan on How do you connect with your audience?

He began by pointing out that there are four different zones or spaces between people. These are:

Public space- Greater than 12 feet

Social space- 4 to 12 feet

Personal space- 1.5 to 4 feet

Intimate space- less than 1.5 feet

The four spaces could have been described better by an illustration, so I used PowerPoint to create one.

He finished by stating the essential point that:

“Everything significant in communication between people happens in personal space or intimate space.”

When I looked at my illustration I began to wonder if the distinction between public space and social space might roughly correspond to Professor Andrew Abela’s distinction between conference room and boardroom presentation styles.

Last December I discussed both how Your presentation style should match both your intent and the size of your audience and how Audience size determines working distance and thus presentation style. We don’t have common terminology for describing either working distances or audience sizes, so there is much more that could be said about interactions, if we just could find the words.

For theater seating a person takes up a square with a 3-foot side, so an audience of 64 people would fit into the 24-foot side of the green square marked as social space. Does that audience size define the limit for a boardroom presentation? (I first assumed that 12 feet was the width, but it's the half-width,or radius).