Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Someone tweeted it, so it must be true

Some people can’t tell the difference between a puffin and nuffin. The iPhone 4 to be recalled: it’s true - the Daily Mail says so was the title of a blog post by Karen Blakeman on June 27th. The online version of that newspaper fell for a Twitter post from a parody of Apple CEO Steve Jobs that claimed:

'“We may have to recall the new iPhone. This, I did not expect.”

The Mail story only was out for a few hours before they took it down. What happened to fact checking? The tweet source was clearly labeled as a parody. If they had read more from there, they also would have found that:

“I heard the CEO of AT&T got married recently. The service was great but the reception was terrible.”

“My kids use iPads as placemats.”

“I think we've exhausted the letter ‘i’. It's time to move on to ‘j’."

“I'm not sure what's worse: Being placed on the back of the ‘TIME 100’ cover or being pictured next to Sarah Palin.”

“What's the difference between Google and the oil spill? One is a slimy uncontrollable disaster. The other is an oil spill.”

“So why does Stephen Colbert get an iPad before you? Well, because, next to me, he's America's greatest treasure.”

How should you celebrate Freedom from Fear of Public Speaking Week?

According to Beverly Beuermann-King the week from July 1 to July 7 is Freedom from Fear of Public Speaking Week. It includes July 4, so a slightly Photoshopped patriotic poster is mandatory.

How should you celebrate? Remember the helpful motto “Don’t Panic!” According to Douglas Adams it appears on the cover of that mythical electronic encyclopedia, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Friday, June 25, 2010

PowerPoint induced coma

In today’s cartoon Dilbert found that his audience had fallen into a PowerPoint induced coma. Many people are wishing that they also had said coma instead of the now trite “Death by PowerPoint.” A coma is slightly funnier but much less final.

His audience look more like they are in a hypnotic trance. Too many bullet point slides, consecutive pie charts, or animated slide transitions are probable causes. Clip art is fine, thank you. After all, we are discussing a cartoon.

Martin Yate wrote a plethora of job search books whose exaggerated titles include the phrase “Knock ‘em Dead.” His reader’s intent really was just to temporarily stun some of the HR department.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Would you buy a used car from these men?

First impressions based either on appearance or speech delivery may be dead wrong. In the photo from 1921 the man at front left is Albert Einstein. The hunchback to his right is Charles Proteus Steinmetz, a famous electrical engineer. The shifty looking character between and behind them is Nikola Tesla, another famous electrical engineer.
In college I remember how radically my classmate’s first impressions of the professor who taught them the introductory materials science course were revised after they attended a second class. Jack Low was short, gray-haired, and very soft-spoken. After the first class some even suspected he might be senile.
During the second class a student asked about the difference between two related concepts: the proportional limit and the offset yield strength. Jack put one foot up on a chair and spoke extemporaneously for five minutes about what, how, and why. He explained both concepts more clearly and in much more detail than was in the textbook. Jack concluded by noting that the superficially attractive idea of a proportional limit was much less useful to engineers than the easier to measure offset yield strength.
Later we found out that Jack had been doing research on metallurgy for a decade before we were even born, and also had been head of the metallurgy department at Penn State University.

In his memorial tribute from the National Academy of Engineering it was noted that:

“Jack Low played an exceedingly important leadership role in both the science and application of metal deformation and fracture through the years 1940 to 1977, a period when physical and mechanical metallurgy underwent a tremendous forward advance.

He has played a major role in that advance, both through his own research and through careful and diligent training of those students fortunate enough to have worked with him. His students particularly remember his low-key, but extremely penetrating review and critique of their work and ideas.
He was a recognized authority on the relationship between microstructure and fracture processes in structural alloys, and his publications on such topics as temper embrittlement, the role of inclusions and dispersoids, and cleavage processes in the fracture of high strength steels and aluminum alloys are universally cited.”

Friday, June 18, 2010

Public address systems and the demise of theatrical gestures

On page 14 of his book Working the Room, Nick Morgan notes that:

“These gestures were important because of how speeches were delivered until the advent of radio and television in the mid-twentieth century. It’s important to remember that public speaking was a form of mass entertainment. Most speeches were delivered without amplification to audiences in large halls or outdoors. As a result, a style of speaking developed that involved grand rhetoric, big, dramatic gestures, and voice projection.”

In a blog post on June 8 Jim Anderson described how the introduction of public address systems early in the twentieth century led to the demise of wildly theatrical hand gestures. Once everyone in a large audience could hear clearly, there was no longer a necessity for gestures as a backup form of communication to those far away from the speaker.

Triode vacuum tubes (or thermionic valves) were patented in 1908. They were a key component for audio amplifiers. By 1922 there was a public address system in the US Capitol. A red-tinted photo of the control room is shown above, as is a pole-mounted horn loudspeaker from 1923.

A web page for the Museum of Public Address has many more photographs of early equipment. I was surprised to read that back on December 30, 1915 a Magnavox public address system was used at the Civic Auditorium in San Francisco for a remote wire broadcast by the California governor, Hiram Johnson. The governor had a severe cold, and spoke from his home. This predated commercial radio, which began in Pittsburgh on November 2, 1920 when KDKA broadcast election returns. Manufacture of radio receivers led to the mass production of loudspeakers.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s most movie theaters in the US were being equipped for sound films, and thus large amplifiers suitable for public address systems were mass produced.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

What did Emerson say regarding nonverbal communication?

The philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson is often quoted as having said something like:

“What you do speaks louder than what you say"

or perhaps:

“What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say”

or maybe:

“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say”

or even (according to John F. Kennedy):

“What we are speaks louder than what we say.”

According to Ralph Keyes’s book The Quote Verifier, what the other Ralph actually said (in Letters and Social Aims) was:

“Don’t say things. What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.”

Thunders is a much more powerful word than the longer and less specific “speaks loud” (or loudly).
In his book The Devil’s Dictionary Ambrose Bierce defined quotation as:

‘The act of repeating erroneously the words of another”

I prefer Emerson’s original words. How about you?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Gesture size usually should match audience size

In a detailed 2009 b
log post Andrew Dlugan discussed Are Your Speech Gestures Too Small, Too Big, or Just Right? He pointed out that the size of the gestures usually should match the size of the audience. An exception is in a large room, when a magnified image of the speaker appears on one video screen, and prepared images such as PowerPoint slides appear on another screen.

In this special case the gestures can be much smaller and still be effective, as is summarized in the image shown above. If the speaker is not prepared though, he may appear like an angry fairy-tale giant with beanstalk issues, as shown below.

Back in 1994 Successful
Meetings magazine had an article by Dona Meilach about what to do When Your Presenter is Larger Than Life. She gave advice for preparing the speaker, the video cameraman, and the meeting planner and then conquering the big room.

The speaker was advised to practice to eliminate nervous gestures. Don’t rock from side to side. Don’t move your tongue to wet your lips - you’ll look like a lizard. Instead, get a drink of water before you begin speaking. Wear solid colors rather than detailed patterns that will flicker. Don’t wear photochromic glasses - they will become dark under the bright stage lights, and your eyes will be hidden completely. Women should wear simple jewelry and avoid long, dangling earrings. Also, please don't sneeze.

The cameraman was advised to place the camera high enough to avoid up-the nostril shots of the speaker, or getting the audience’s heads in the images. Check that the lighting for the speaker doesn’t spill over and wash out the screen images.

Finally, the planner was advised to have a session for preparing the speakers, and enough time for the audiovisual staff to set up properly. Consider the room layout, and placement of the podium and lectern. Avoid camouflage from complicated or very dark backgrounds.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Common and obscure gestures

There are some systems of gestures that most people will recognize. For example, almost all adults understand the police hand signals for directing vehicle traffic. You could use them to add humor to almost any speech.

Referees in NBA basketball and NFL football games also use a variety of signals. Some are fairly iconic, like the NFL gesture for tripping. Others are more obscure, like the NBA gesture for traveling (similar to the NFL gesture for false start) with forearms and fists rotated over and over in front of the body. Are these movements meant to mimic the paddle wheel of a steamboat? They would be an amusing way to begin a speech about travel and its penalties.

Lots of work environments are too noisy for reliable communication via speech. Two years ago the New York Times showed the hand signals used by traders at the mercantile exchange. There are other systems for signaling to operators of forklifts, excavators, and mobile cranes. If your audience does construction, then you could add them to a speech and expect a chuckle.

One of the more obscure systems is used with helicopter pilots. The gesture shown above means “droop stops out.” You can find it discussed in Navy and Air Force manuals about flight operations, which also include signals for exciting events like “your engine is on fire.”

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Room acoustics and background noise

There is an excellent web page that illustrates both with sight (waveforms) and sound clips how increasing the reverberation time (0, 0.8, 1.3, and 2.0 seconds) makes speech less intelligible. Another page on the same site has two more sound clips of the same speech sample with both a shorter reverberation time of 0.6 seconds and a longer one of 5.0 seconds.

Background noise is another factor that affects how clearly a speaker is heard. A room might sound fine until the heating or air conditioning system starts running. To avoid an unpleasant surprise, a speaker should plan ahead to watch and listen to the room for long enough to find out what the ventilation does.

Effects of reverberation time (RT) and background noise are discussed at length in an publication by the Acoustical Society of America about Classroom Acoustics. There also is an American National Standard for Acoustic Performance Criteria, Design Requirements, and Guidelines for Schools, which is summarized here. Jonathan Sheaffer has discussed the Prediction and Evaluation of RT Design Criteria. He plots suggested times both from an acoustics handbook and two European standards.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The sound just goes round and round

One important constraint for a speaker is room acoustics - how sound behaves in the space where you speak. Some spaces are excellent, like Symphony Hall in Boston. Other spaces, like sports arenas or stadiums, are notoriously poor - about like speaking in a fishbowl. Most of us are more likely to speak in a local church or high school gym, but we still need to consider the space when planning a speech.

Reverberation time is an important factor which describes how sound behaves. It measures how long it takes for a sound to die away completely, and depends both on the room volume and how sound is absorbed.
Speech is more intelligible when the reverberation time is short, somewhere around a second. Music sounds better when the reverberation time is around two seconds. Before it was fixed the San Diego Sports Arena had a reverberation time of around seven seconds.

Sound travels much more slowly than light. The speed of sound is about 1125 feet per second. You can estimate how far away a lightning strike is by listening for the thunder, and counting five seconds per mile. A concert hall is much smaller than 2250 feet, so the two second reverberation time represents many reflections of sound from different surfaces. The sound bounces round and round before it dies away.

For two years Marisa Minor was a keynote speaker in the Miss Ohio program, and learned to deal with crowds of several thousand people. Some of her advice for large audiences is that:

“The actual words of the speech must be altered to suit a larger audience, as well. Short sentences are better for larger crowds. Longer pauses are more effective. The use of powerful verbs and strong statements is amplified in the presence of several thousand people. They can sense each other’s excitement, which triggers the memory to recall that feeling long after the speech is over. The manner of speech is also important in delivering to large audiences. Projecting the voice, enunciating up to 5x more than you would in normal speech (which will come across as “normal” to the audience after reverberation has taken its toll), and using more exaggerated inflection (the rising and falling of pitch) all lend to a professional-sounding speech.”

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Speaking in stadiums, arenas, or large auditoriums

On June 2nd Steve Siebold video blogged about the ways in which speaking to very large audiences differs from the smaller ones most speakers are familiar with. His video showed the exterior of the famous Madison Square Garden in New York City. The Garden holds an audience of up to up to 20,000 people. An earlier podcast in March 2009 described speaking to an audience of 8000 in Los Angeles. Mr. Siebold identified three differences between stadiums and smaller spaces.

The first difference is that it takes much longer for a very large crowd to respond. Their reaction runs through the audience like The Wave at a football stadium. A speaker will need to wait for it. Before he even can start he may have to wait a few minutes for the crowd to settle down.

The second difference is visual. There are gigantic video screens (JumboTron or Imag) beside the speaker. Also, the stage lights may be so bright and hot that the speaker will find it difficult to see most of the audience.

The third difference is audible. It takes far longer for a voice to echo and die away, so he will need to speak more slowly in order to be heard clearly above the background from reverberation. A speaker needs to check and listen to someone else before speaking. I will discuss reverberation in another post.

The current Madison Square Garden is the fourth building to bear that name. It is such a well known name that its lack of reality is overlooked. It is not a square, not located at Madison Square, and definitely not a garden. Madison Square Garden has hosted concerts, speeches, and political conventions, but mostly is a sports arena for hockey and basketball.

A sports stadium or an arena is not a concert hall or theater. It is not the best possible space for public speaking, as Jonathan Sprinkles discusses in this video.

The image showing a hockey jersey retirement ceremony is from Iris Kawling.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Where did uptalk really come from?

The stereotype that it is from 1980s California Valley Girls clearly is wrong. So, who should get the credit (or blame) for spreading it? There is evidence for far earlier use in the United States and Canada. Also, there is evidence for both Australia, and New Zealand, which I will avoid discussing in order to sidestep the controversy about which country had it earlier.

Uptalk has a history in the United States before the first use of the term in 1993. In a documentary called American Tongues (1987) you can watch the comedian Robert Klein describe how his Georgia in-laws “talk in questions.” There was a 14-page article in 1982 by Marvin Ching in American Speech magazine about “The Question Intonation in Assertions.” Mr. Ching gives numerous examples taken from the Memphis area. He also points out that on page 9 of his novel Marry Me (1976) John Updike describes Sally’s intonation:

“Her voice was lifting everything into questions again.”

The TV comedy show Rhoda(1974) featured Lorenzo Music as an unseen character heard over the apartment building intercom who often began a conversation with:

“Hello? This is Carlton? Your doorman?"

In his novel The Angry Ones (1960) John Alfred Williams has the black narrator point out that:

“Southerners have a way of making statements sound like questions.”

Similarly, in the February 8, 1995 Toronto Globe and Mail, Robert Fulford pointed out that “Uptalk has a long, long history?” He begins by noting that it is described by Jack Batten in the book Lawyers (1978). He also found a discussion deriding its use from a Waterloo County school board meeting back in 1901!

In closing, I note that there is a novel by Angela Thirkell called High Rising (1933) which is set in a mythical village located in the equally fictitious British county of Barsetshire. Presumably the railway station located there was known as the High Rising Terminal.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Is uptalk like totally terrible?

The 4th edition (2004) of the American Heritage Dictionary defines uptalk as:

“A manner of speaking in which declarative sentences are uttered with a rising intonation as though they were questions.”

That word was coined by James Gorman in a 1993 article in the New York Times. Uptalk is related to an earlier linguistic term, high rising terminal (HRT), although Mark Liberman pointed out that the detailed definition for that term likely is incorrect. Uptalk generally is dismissed as an affliction. For example, Diane Diresta said that:

“….This is a real credibility killer. Women will not be taken seriously with this vocal pattern. To speak with authority practice bringing the voice down at the end of a sentence. American intonation patterns use a downward inflection to declare or demand and a rising inflection to question or indicate uncertainty.”

Other speaking coaches like Lisa Braithwaite have expressed similar sentiments. In their book Essentials of Business Communication, Mary Ellen Guffey and Richard Almonte, (6th edition, 2009) say on page 297 that:

“Some speakers today are prone to ‘uptalk.’ This is a habit of using a rising inflection at the end of a sentence, resulting in a singsong pattern that makes statements sound like questions. Once used exclusively by teenagers, uptalk is increasingly found in the workplace, with negative results. When statements sound like questions, speakers seem weak and tentative. Their messages lack conviction and authority. On the job, managers afflicted by uptalk may have difficulty convincing staff members to follow directions because their voice inflection implies that other valid options are available. If you want to sound confident and competent, avoid uptalk.”

Uptalk serves some functions. One is to hold the floor and convey: “but wait, there’s more.” In a newspaper article Stephanie Marsh noted to the contrary that:

“New studies show that people who use uptalk are not insecure wallflowers but powerful speakers who like getting their own way: teachers, talk-show hosts, politicians and facetious shop assistants.”

How about a quantitative example? During a trial you might expect the highest-status judge would use almost no uptalk, the lawyers (prosecution and defense counsel) would use more, witnesses even more, and the low-status defendant the most. Is this how people behave? Bronwen Innes looked at the rates of uptalk (HRT) during the examination phases of the hearings for seven criminal jury trials held by the District Court in Auckland, New Zealand. Here are the uptalk rates she found:

Note that witnesses used more uptalk than the defendant. Attorneys (prosecution and defense counsel) used the least uptalk, and the judge used it more than the attorneys. She concluded that:

“….although HRTs certainly have some association with power, it is more accurate to describe them in terms of discourse function, role, and goals than as a stable social attribute of speakers.”

Reality is more complicated than advice from speech coaches might lead you to believe.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Foam flags for the timer at Toastmasters meetings

In a previous post I mentioned that in many Toastmasters clubs the timer uses an electronic timer with green-yellow-red “traffic light” displays to let speakers see how they are doing relative to their allotted speaking time.

At Capitol Club we adopted a lower technology approach about a decade ago, after our electronic timer broke. Chuck Bunch made flags by gluing colored felt rectangles to bamboo handles. One of the handles finally split, so I made another set of flags as shown above. The parts came from the local store in a crafts chain called Michaels. They cost less than $5.

Each flag was made from a 9” x 12” piece of self-adhesive backed, 2 mm thick foam. Foam pieces were cut in half to produce two 6” x 9” pieces. Each handle was a 15” length of ¼” diameter wood (from a dowel rod, sold in 36” lengths). Handles were cut to length with a hand saw, and ends were sanded flat. After the handle was placed on the sticky side of one piece of foam (an inch from the shorter side) the other piece of foam was placed on top and pressed to form a sandwich around the handle. Finally the edges of the foam were trimmed. Michaels was out of yellow self-adhesive foam, so that flag was plain foam assembled with white glue.

Why use foam rather than felt? It is easier to clean food stains from foam. We meet at lunch time, so our members sometimes have food from the Life’s Kitchen Lunch Cafe located in the building where we meet. Life’s Kitchen is a training program for at-risk teens. Their program builds self-sufficiency through comprehensive food service and life skills training, and placement in the food service industry.

If you’re not crafty, Toastmasters sells timing cards with 6” x 8” green, yellow, and red cardboard pages.