Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Looking back at two years of blogging about public speaking

After two years and 256 posts, it is time take a look back. Based on my labels, the numbers of posts for the top 30 topics were:

39 - Fear
29 - Social anxiety (social phobia)
27 - PowerPoint
26 - Visual aids
19 - YouTube
18 - Storytelling
15 - Surveys
13 - Graphics
12 - Joy and Toastmasters
11 - Research
10 - Planning
9 - Stage fright
8 - Rehearsing and Body language
6 - Films, Gestures, Humor, Speech topics, Top lists, and Video
5 - Blogs, Churchill, Color, Evaluations, Introductions, Jargon, Naked audience, Props, and Speech titles

The blog title promised both fear and joy, but there has been much more on fear. The biggest surprise on the list was having a series of five posts about picturing the audience naked. There have been many thoughtful comments and a few silly ones.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Deadly Sins of Speechwriting

In 2001 Fletcher Dean wrote and gave an outstanding speech on The Seven Deadly Sins of Speechwriting at the annual Speechwriters Conference in Washington, D.C.

Before he gets to his own list of seven he mentions emailing several colleagues asking their opinions on the deadliest sins. Charles Francis said there was just one sin - writing a speech that the audience won’t listen to (and repeat that six more times). Another colleague said the deadliest sin just was having more than two or three main points, so seven was way too many.

Nevertheless, Fletcher came up with the following list of sins:

1. Mismanaging the speaking schedule

2. Failing to do the audience research

3. Giving ownership of the speech process to anyone else

4. Favoring A/V material (e.g. PowerPoint) over content

5. Forgetting that the audience has emotions

6. Sloth (lack of variety and editing)

7. Pride (intense craving for applause and admiration)

Fletcher Dean writes the Speechwriting 2.0 blog. He won the 2008 Cicero speechwriting grand award for Working Toward a New Industrial Policy. In 2010 he won an honorable mention in the Public Policy category for The Path Forward on Climate Change.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Where can you read prize-winning speechwriting?

First, you can read the winners of the multiple annual Cicero Speechwriting Awards, which are associated with Vital Speeches of the Day. Marcus Tullius Cicero was a famous Roman.

There are long Acrobat pdf files you can download with the texts for all of the winners from 2007, 2008, and 2010. What happened to 2009? I don’t know, but I couldn’t find that file easily.

For 2010 along with a Grand Prize Winner there were texts of winners (and some honorable mentions) for the categories of: Educator, Agriculture, Commerce and Retail, Energy, Government, Nonprofit, Pharmaceutical, Transportation, Hot Buttons Topics, Diversity, Education, Healthcare, Leadership and Management, Public Policy, Commencement Address, and Award Acceptance.

Second, there also is an annual Theodore C. Sorensen Speechwriting Award that has been given out in 2009 and 2010. Ted Sorensen was special counsel and adviser to President John F. Kennedy. Unlike Cicero, Ted is still alive and able to speak for himself.

For 2010 the winner was Brenda Jones for a Keynote for 60th Anniversary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. For 2009 the winner was Laurie Vincent for Leadership is the New Normal.

One 2010 honorable mention up was Grant Neely for Why Business Must Change to Earn Back Trust, and another was LeAnne Petry for Leading Through a Fundamental Business Transformation.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Speechwriting advice US citizens already have paid for

If you want to learn how to write a speech, then you probably should read Speechwriting in Perspective: A Brief Guide to Effective and Persuasive Communication which is Congressional Research Service Report #98-170. This report originally was written in 1998 by Thomas H. Neale, and then updated in 2007 with help from Dana Ely. It is a 26 page document that you can find here.

Congressional Research Service is the “think tank” for the U.S. Congress. This research arm of the Library of Congress has a budget of roughly $100 million per year.

The summary of this report is a good introduction to speech writing. It says that:

“The frequent delivery of public remarks by Senators and Representatives is an important element of their roles as community leaders, spokespersons, and freely elected legislators. Congressional staff are often called on to help prepare draft remarks for such purposes.

Writing for the spoken word is a special discipline; it requires that congressional speechwriters’ products be written primarily, although not exclusively, to be heard, not read. Speeches are better cast in simple, direct, and often short sentences that can be easily understood by listeners. Rhetorical devices such as repetition, variation, cadence, and balance are available to, and should be used by, the speechwriter.

It is important for speechwriters to analyze audiences according to factors such as age; gender; culture; profession; size of audience; political affiliation, if any; and the occasion for, and purpose of, the speech. Most effective speeches do not exceed 20 minutes in length.

After researching a topic, speechwriters should prepare an outline from which the speech will be developed. They should strive to maintain a clear theme throughout the speech. Most speeches will have a three-part structure consisting of an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.

The accepted style of contemporary American public address is natural, direct, low key, casual, and conversational. This puts listeners at ease and promotes a sense of community between audience and speaker.

Punctuation should reflect the sound structure of the speech, reinforcing the rhythm and pace of actual speech. Clarity of expression is as important a consideration in speech grammar as rigid adherence to rules for written language.

Effective delivery can greatly improve a speech. Congressional speechwriters should make every effort to become familiar with the speaking style of the Member for whom they are writing, and adjust their drafts accordingly.

A wide range of speechwriting resources are available for congressional staff from the Congressional Research Service and other sources.”

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Write it right, and you'll say it right

Philip Yaffe wrote an excellent article on speechwriting titled The Better You Write It, The Better You Say It, which was in the March 2010 issue of Toastmaster magazine. You also can find earlier versions on Article Base and Searchwarp.

Mr. Yaffe laments that what are sometimes called principles of writing merely are tips – descriptions of what to do, rather than why to do it. (Tips are tactics; principles are strategy).

He says the three principles are clarity, conciseness, and density and uses “semi-mathematical formulas” to describe them. For example, in describing how to achieve clarity (Cl) he says that your writing should:

Emphasize what is of key importance (E)
De-emphasize what is of secondary importance (D), and
Eliminate what is of no importance (E again, which I would call Un)

Philip expresses this with the equation: Cl = E D E,
which might better be written: Cl = E + D – Un

Writing pseudo equations is about all you can really do in a pure text article format. If you have graphics and color, like PowerPoint or Keynote, then you easily can do much better with some traffic-light colored arrows and an X, inspired by Dave Paradi’s Slide Makeover #46.

He also says that to be concise your writing should be both as long as necessary and as short as possible: Co = L S. Minimalism or simplicity is an old idea. I’ve discussed it in a post on Why less is more - or even less, and so has Olivia Mitchell.

Finally, Philip says that your writing should be dense, with precise information that is logically linked. D = P L. After describing those three principles he gives his list of ten tips:

1. Keep sentences short

2. Prefer the simple to the complex

3. Prefer the familiar word

4. Avoid unnecessary words

5. Use active verbs

6. Write the way you speak

7. Use terms your audience can picture

8. Tie in with your reader’s experience

9. Make full use of variety

10. Write to express, not to impress

Friday, May 21, 2010

Looking back: Toastmasters International in 1950 versus now

When Harry Truman was President (sixty years ago) there was an article in the May 1950 issue of Western Speech magazine about Toastmasters International by Wyne W. Porter. As part of his Master’s thesis at Whittier College, Mr. Porter conducted a survey of 240 club members in the Los Angeles area. He found that:

The majority of Toastmasters club members are age 26 to 35

Most members are in professional, managerial, sales, or clerical occupations

Membership declines markedly after 18 months or when the Basic Training for Toastmasters course is completed

The majority of members had little or no previous speech training

Those members who had previous speech training felt it was not adequate for their present needs

The majority felt they gained more confidence, poise, and better listening habits, rather than aspects such as speaking concisely or being better organized

All clubs visited were friendly and informal

The majority of clubs used their own members as critics for speeches

The majority of members felt that giving a 5 to 10 minute speech and impromptu (Table Topics) speaking were more important than the opportunity to serve as a club officer.

It’s interesting to compare Toastmasters then versus now. Back then Toastmasters only had about 18,000 members in 700 clubs. Now we have 250,000 members in 12,500 clubs. Back then Toastmasters was all-male. Since 1973 it has been co-ed and currently is almost equally split: 52% female and 48% male. Currently, for all of Toastmasters 69% of members are between the ages of 35 and 49. I’m not sure if the younger majority age range in 1950 was typical for all Toastmasters or perhaps just characteristic of Los Angeles.

Back then the basic communication course was called Basic Training for Toastmasters, and had 15 speech projects. Now it is called Competent Communication and has 10 projects. Sadly, what has not changed is that many members drop out after the basic course (typically when they just have improved all the way up to mediocre). Back then the important role of speech evaluator was called a Critic, and the gentleman who evaluated the entire meeting program was the General Critic. Now those role titles have been softened to become Evaluator and General Evaluator.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Inspiring moments at the Toastmasters District 15 Spring Conference

On May 14 and 15 I attended this conference at the Airport Holiday Inn in Boise. The theme was Desire to Inspire. The conference program cover had the following quotation from John Quincy Adams:

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

I was inspired by encountering dozens of leaders, all self-motivated lifelong learners.

The most inspiring moment for me was watching the International Speech Contest. One of the contestants was Sid Smith, an 85 year old grandfather, who is just as old as Toastmasters International. Sid also is a Distinguished Toastmaster, and former District Governor and International Director. Next to me in the audience was Andrea Solis, a sixth grader, who was the youngest member of a Toastmasters Youth Group coached by the new Eagle Toastmasters club. Andrea was listening intently as Sid described a lesson he had learned from watching his grandson. In that room there were people interested in speaking whose ages covered a range of nearly 75 years. You can view Sid’s previous Division E contest speech from April 24 starting at the 71 minute point here.

The next most inspiring moment came during the awards ceremonies after dinner on Saturday. There was a spotlight parade of the Distinguished Toastmasters. Near the end of the parade, there was Sid Smith again. He was escorted (and supported) by Deborah Whitman. That’s what Deborah does – she supports all of us. Deborah was the conference chairman. Right now she also is Treasurer of Capitol Club. She previously has been Club President, District Public Relations Officer, and held many other roles including supporting two other clubs. Faye Jett also was a Distinguished Toastmaster, and handled the program on the conference committee. She also has been president of Capitol club, and held other offices including preceding me as Vice President – Education.

The third most inspiring moment was watching the officer elections at the district business meeting. As VP – Education for Capitol Club I was a delegate. The agenda included selection of eight officers. These all are unpaid volunteer positions, and call for an enormous time commitment. We did not just have a Stalinist rubber-stamping where delegates nodded and confirmed a single preselected candidate. Three of the eight officer positions were contested. There were two nominees for District Lt. Governor of Marketing. Also, both previous nominees for Division B Governor had to decline, but were replaced by a pair of nominations from the floor. The first vote was a tie, but a second vote finally produced a winner. The candidate who was not elected District Lt. Governor of Marketing was nominated from the floor for Division D District Governor, but also lost that election. We had a healthy (but lengthy) democratic process.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

What should I do to keep from running out of ideas?

Be proactive. Make new information swim to you. Go to right where it should be. Tara Calishain wrote a book on Information Trapping which discusses ways to stay informed. She also writes a blog called ResearchBuzz.

For example, instead of searching in Google you can set up continuing alerts to receive email about particular topics. A Google Alert has the following parameters:

Search terms: a list of phrases enclosed by quotation marks
Web, News, Blogs, Video, Groups, or Comprehensive
How often:
as-it happens, once a day, or once a week
Email length:
up to 20 results, or up to 50 results

Right now I have two comprehensive, 20-results, daily alerts, on the broad phrases of “public speaking” and “business presentations.” Usually I just glance at the item titles, and look at the web addresses. Occasionally I look further and read the first paragraph. On rare occasions I read an entire article.

My Google Alert on business presentations mostly has led to forgettable articles on topics like buying projectors and getting presentation folders printed. However, yesterday’s referred to an article by Warwick John Fahy about how to get most people to turn off their mobile (cell) phones during presentations. His first name both is unusual and sounded vaguely familiar. I searched in my blog and found that I had linked to a YouTube video of him speaking to a Toastmasters Club in Shanghai in a 2008 post about how Speech Evaluation Leads to Improvement.

One way to read blogs is to save their addresses in your web browser (as Favorites or Bookmarks). Then you can occasionally go and look at a particular one. You can instead use Google Reader to automate that process. When you set up Reader you enter the web address for a blog. Reader connects to the RSS (really simple syndication) feed, and automatically sends you the latest entries as they are posted. That article I mentioned said that Mr. Fahy has a blog called The One Minute Presenter. I just subscribed to his blog via Google Reader. I looked some more at Mr. Fahy’s blog and found that he even had a box where you can sign up for email alerts of his new ezine articles.

Yet another way to manage reading of blogs is to view a buffet of them – a feed aggregator like Alltop. Alltop Speaking has a digital “magazine rack” showing the titles of the five most recent posts for about 75 blogs. I occasionally look at Alltop Speaking. When I find that I have been reading most of the recent posts on a particular blog, then I subscribe to it via Google Reader. Alltop does a reasonably good job of keeping their list relevant. Some lousy stuff gets on there, but then gets removed. Other excellent blogs like Sarah Marks’s Ah, Um, Er sometimes disappear and then reappear because they are not posted to every week.

Friday, May 14, 2010

What do you do when you run out of ideas?

I sometimes look at Tim ’Gonzo’ Gordon and Roger Pike’s Communications Steroids web site. On May 5th Tim posted about What to Do If You’re Stumped for Ideas. My title for this post replaced his “if’ with a “when”.

If you are completely stumped for a topic, you could begin your brainstorming by looking at a list of titles in this Topic Selection Helper for college students.

Tim suggested that you go to the Web and, for instance, search under your topic in an article repository such as Ezine Articles. Then, after you have listed some titles that tickle your fancy, you can list some sub topics for each of them, and outline an article of your own.

He suggested that you just look at the article titles. I wholeheartedly agree. There are lots of other e-article repositories, like: Amazines, Article Alley, Article Base, and Article Dashboard. Many of their articles have both shallow content and mediocre style. They are the literary equivalent of unripe green bananas. I ranted about them back on January 1, in my post to Resolve to Read Less and Learn More This Year. Some even are sources of ignorance rather than knowledge, like one about homeopathic Argentum Nitricum for anxiety.

Where can you find a better source for titles? Go to WorldCat, and click the tab for Articles. Now you can look at titles from articles published in actual print magazines.

Tim somehow omitted referencing his own article on 18 Ways to Come Up with Speech Topics.

He also suggested that you can post your own articles on repositories like ezine articles. Beware! What you have written and published may be horribly mutilated, but then reposted as if it still came from you.

For example, the first paragraph of this above-average ezine article on How to Choose a Presentation Training Course originally sensibly read:

“There are hundreds of different presentation training courses available, all of which promise to banish your nervousness and make you an accomplished public speaker. How do you choose the right course for you?”

A reposted version, which clearly had been viciously attacked by that wily dinosaur known as a Thesaurus, instead said the following gibberish:

“There are hundreds of altered presentation training courses available, all of which affiance to banish your agitation and accomplish you an able accessible speaker. How do you accept the appropriate advance for you?”

The first sentence of the fourth paragraph was even more mutilated. It originally said:

“Does the course give you the opportunity to give at least two presentations?”

The ludicrous repost said:

“Does the advance accord you the befalling to accord at atomic two presentations?”

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Rubrics and figuring out where you are

In the jargon of educators a rubric is a set of criteria for assessing a type of work. Usually it includes several levels of achievement for each criterion. ((Think of a ruler or yardstick). Naturally there are rubrics for evaluating public speaking. Rubric sounds very similar to Rubik, like the very popular Rubik’s cube puzzle.

For evaluating a speech you need to consider both content and delivery. Often they each are described via four criteria, as follows:


1. Chooses a suitable topic
2. Communicates the purpose appropriately
3. Provides relevant supporting materials
4. Uses an appropriate organization pattern


1. Uses appropriate language and adapts to the audience
2. Uses vocal variety (rate, pitch, and intensity)
3. Uses nonverbal tools (body language) to support the verbal message
4. Uses suitable visual aids

In the U.S. there is a standard, single-page, Competent Speaker Speech Evaluation Form that was developed by the Speech Communication Association, which now is called the National Communication Association. A dozen colleges and universities participated in developing the current version (2007), which is described in a very detailed $18 publication. The University of Alaska Southeast has a web site with both a form and the detailed criteria for Unsatisfactory, Satisfactory, and Excellent. Tusculum College has another rubric for public speaking with ten criteria and five levels of achievement.

These rubrics evaluate a single speech. It also is useful to take a more global view of competence. In a recent post on her Self-Promotion for Introverts blog at Psychology Today, Nancy Ancowitz described her Presentation Skill Self Evaluation Tool. It has ten questions about preparation (mostly content and structure), but twenty questions about delivery. Each question calls for an answer on a scale from 1 (Poor) to 5 (Excellent). Last November in a post on the joy of figuring out where you are I discussed some other self-assessment tools from Melissa Lewis.

February 21, 2012 Update

The Competent Speaker Speech Evaluation Form can be downloaded as an Acrobat .pdf file.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Why Alltop Speaking Isn’t

Guy Kawaski’s Alltop feed aggregator claims to give you all the top sites. I counted that its current lineup for Speaking has 77 items, and a Most Topular Stories list. Most of Alltop Speaking is worthwhile content, and I enjoy reading some of it when I have the time. A few items just are feeds of tweets, from Tony Robbins and Kevin Eikenberry.

However, there is one pile of drivel in there. It is a blog titled The Next Meeting that seems to have very little to do with speaking. Right now it also is showing up as black print on a dark gray background. The current posts have the following five inane titles:

Credit Card For Poor Credit Guide

Several Gain Of The Utility Carports

Real Estate Investing Tool & Tips

The Excellent and Beneficial Treatment of Packaging Material

The Advantages of Housing Estate Saving

A screen shot with the three opening paragraphs from Several Gain of the Utility Carports is shown above, followed by a more readable version edited by sliding both brightness and contrast way up. The content also is forgettable. It seems to be an Australian newsletter filler piece on how to build an inexpensive shelter for your car, written in very poor English.

What is more curious is that a Whois lookup shows the site owner to be Thomas Sechehaye who actually puts out some reasonable content on the topics of both presentation storyboarding and strategic storyboarding.

I was scratching my head about why he might be putting out The Next Meeting this way, and finally concluded that it must be a bad joke, like the front page of The Onion. Or, perhaps someone else has just hijacked the site.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

What stories are you carrying in your pocket?

At our Capitol Club Toastmasters meeting yesterday I was in charge of running the impromptu speaking portion of the program, which is called Table Topics. As the Table Topics Master I asked people a question, and they answered it with a one to two minute speech. My question was, “What’s in your wallet, pocket, purse, or backpack?” The idea came from a blog called Stories You Haven’t Heard. “What’s in your wallet?” has also been used as a catch phrase by Capital One for TV commercials about their credit card.

My example answer begins with a key chain. On it there is a little stainless steel, multipurpose tool called a Leatherman Micra. It unfolds to feature a scissors rather than the pliers found on the original larger tool. There also are a knife blade, regular and Phillips screwdrivers, tweezers, a nail file, and a bottle opener. A Micra normally sells for about $18.

This Leatherman Micra reminds me of my first road trip from Boise to the Seattle area. I bought my used Micra tool for just $3. It came from the State of Washington surplus warehouse in the Seattle suburb of Auburn. They had a tub full of confiscated knives and other sharp objects, like those deposited outside of security checkpoints at airports.

I had visited that warehouse to pick up an item won on an eBay online auction. It was a Polaroid MP4 copy stand. You probably have seen an MP4 used for close-up photography in the crime labs on CBS television shows like CSI and NCIS. It has a Polaroid camera that can move up and down on a five-foot tall column. The camera points down at a panel which is illuminated by four flood lights. Back before scanners and PowerPoint a copy stand was used to copy artwork, like making 35 mm slides for presentations. My MP4 has a mount for a digital camera instead of the Polaroid one. The image showing the Leatherman Micra was made on my MP4.

Auburn originally was named Slaughter, in memory of Lt. William Slaughter, who died in an Indian skirmish back in 1855. The main hotel in town even was called the Slaughter House. Later a large group of settlers from Auburn, New York moved there, and Slaughter was eventually renamed Auburn. However, when Auburn was building its second high school in the mid-1990s some suggested reviving the old name and calling it Slaughter High School. That sounded more like a title for a horror movie. Eventually they instead chose to call it Auburn Riverside High School.

While I was in Seattle I also stopped at the Boeing surplus warehouse in the suburb of Kent, Washington and also bought some other items from their famous tool crib.

My road trip to Seattle was via Interstate Routes 84, 82, and 90. I could have told you other entire stories about things in some of the towns on the way (Ontario, Baker City, Pendleton, etc.), or the scenery like the mountains, the Columbia and Yakina river valleys, and the Snoqualmie Pass.

The very best answer to the question of what’s in your pocket is a story retold by Robert Fulghum on page 170 of his book, It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It. That story commonly is called Are There Any Questions? and has been incorporated in many sermons. The story told by Alexander Papaderos starts from a piece of a broken motorcycle mirror, and finishes with an answer for the meaning of his life.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

If PowerPoint caused the war, then Excel caused the financial crisis, and Word caused those long product warning labels that nobody reads completely

It has become fashionable to blame software for enabling existing human behavior. Recently the New York Times published an article about how We Have Met the Enemy and He is PowerPoint. Dave Paradi wrote a parody of it about how If PowerPoint caused the war, Excel caused the financial crisis. We might as well also blame their word processor, since it is the most commonly used component in the Microsoft Office suite.

Ladders are hazardous, but people have been using them for a long time, as is shown above. That image from 1340 has a hazard that is now uncommon. Of course, lawyers are responsible for approving warnings for products. They were creating long documents out of boilerplate before there ever was word processing software to blame. No one except a lawyer would either say or write something like:

“19....You may lose your balance and/or tip the ladder.”

Some lawyers even have a sense of humor, and have discussed adding additional warnings like the following ones from a 1997 article about Rungful Suits:

1. Never drink and climb. Always have a designated climber on hand.

2. There is no such thing as "Safe Sex" on a ladder.

3. This sticker gets slippery when wet. That’s why we put it on the side. If you’re standing on this sticker you’ve got the ladder pointed the wrong way.

4. Avoid contact with lawyers. Statistics show most ladder accidents involve lawyers.

The following ladder warning label from Werner is circa 1994 and thus may or may not meet the relevant current safety standards. You are warned that reading this label may induce drowsiness:


WARNING: Failure to follow all instructions may result in serious injury


1. Inspect for damaged or missing parts before each use.

2. Never use a ladder with missing or damaged parts.

3. Check all parts for good condition. Lightly lubricate moving parts occasionally.

4. Never repair a damaged ladder without permission from manufacturer.

5. Destroy ladder if exposed to excessive heat or any corrosive agent.



2. DANGER! METAL CONDUCTS ELECTRICITY! BE CAREFUL! Use care when using near power lines and electrical circuits.

3. You should never use a ladder if you are not in good physical condition.

4. Ladder is designed to support the weight of one person and material. Maximum weight not to exceed duty rating of ladder (see other labels).

5. Do not use ladder in front of unlocked doors.

6. Place ladder feet on firm level ground.

7. If forced to use on slippery surface secure ladder from sliding before climbing.

8. The use of ladders on drop cloths may present a sliding hazard.

9. Never place anything under or attach anything to a ladder to adjust for uneven surfaces other than a ladder leveler approved by the manufacturer of this ladder.

10. Use only the proper length ladder. Never attach anything to or place anything under a ladder to gain height.

11. Extend only from ground. When using for access to roof, extend ladder top 3 feet above roof edge.

12. Check that all four ends of the ladder are firmly supported to prevent excessive movements.

13. Set ladder at proper angle by placing your toes against the bottom of the ladder. Stand erect. Extend your arms straight out. When palms of your hands contact the top of the rung, which is about at shoulder level, ladder is approximately at the proper angle. (Check with other labels). Use only at proper angle.


15. Use extreme caution getting on or off the ladder.

16. When possible, have someone hold the ladder.

17. Always face ladder and maintain a firm grip while on it.

18. Never walk, bounce or move ladder while on it.

19. DO NOT OVER-REACH. Always keep belt buckle between side rails when climbing or working from ladder. You may lose your balance and/or tip the ladder.

20. Use extreme caution pushing or pulling anything while on a ladder. You may lose your balance and/or tip the ladder.

21. Windy conditions require extra caution.

22. Never climb or stand higher than 3 feet from the top of the ladder.

23. Never use as a platform, plank, or brace.

24. Do not use any components not supplied or approved by the manufacturer of this ladder.


1. Always keep ladder clean of all foreign materials.

2. Never store material on ladder.

3. Properly support and restrain ladder in transit or storage.

4. For additional care, safety, and use instructions contact your employer, dealer, or the manufacturer, or see ANSI A14.5.”

Monday, May 3, 2010

Microsoft and Level 0 of Humor Proficiency

Last Friday at Techcrunch Michael Arrington posted about this Microsoft page with a table listing four humor proficiency levels. On Saturday Mike Pulsifer also posted about it.

What first struck me about this table was that it very easily could have been shown as a set of four PowerPoint slides (typically each with four bullet points).

The second thing that struck me is that the table is incomplete because they neglected to list the lowest proficiency level, Level 0.I have heard a boatload of Level 0 humor in presentations from large corporations.

Based on this one-downsmanship, I generated the following set of five PowerPoint slides:

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Everybody does it this way, don’t they?

Everybody calls these deep-fried potato sticks French fries, or perhaps chips. Obviously they are best eaten with ketchup, or malt vinegar, or mayonnaise, or fry sauce which is a mixture of mayonnaise and ketchup.

Toastmasters club meetings have three main parts: prepared speeches, evaluations of those speeches, and impromptu speaking (known as Table Topics). The speech evaluators are introduced by a General Evaluator, who later also gives an evaluation of the meeting.

In a blog post on April 30th Jason Peck described how in the U.K. the General Evaluator role is filled by a guest from another club. The General Evaluator thus is an outside critic and can provide very useful constructive criticism. Here in the U.S. the General Evaluator is a club member, and typically is less critical than an outsider of how the meeting was run.

Some clubs have Table Topics before the prepared speeches. My club does them after the prepared speeches and their evaluations. Our format lets the length of Table Topics vary depending on the number of scheduled speakers. If a speaker cancels, then Table Topics is longer and may include all the attendees.

Some clubs have a separate Ah-Counter and Grammarian. We have a single role of Ah-Grammarian. Many clubs have fancy “traffic light” timers for the speeches. We just have three flags and a stopwatch from Radio Shack.

It is good to find out that not everybody does things the exact same way. If you think that your way is the only way, then you may have institutionalized something like a Ministry of Silly Walks.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Will your introducer have a meltdown?

A speaker occasionally will encounter an unprofessional introduction. When drinks are served with an evening meal, the introducer for the after-meal speaker may be slightly incoherent. Sometimes the introducer even may be completely incoherent, and melt down like the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz.

Paul Tobey, a Canadian pianist and motivational speaker, tells a story about this type of a public speaking nightmare in Toronto. The introducer rambled on for over twenty minutes, never did a proper introduction, ignored hand signals, and finally stopped when the audience began heckling loudly. She didn’t just have issues – she had a whole subscription. Most people handling introductions display a lot more common sense.

That story beats the one I mentioned last November about a professor being introduced as having killed one of her advisers!