Sunday, July 25, 2010

Why asking people to turn up the heat is a bad motivational analogy

With boiling water comes steam, and bad motivational analogies. After two of them it perhaps is time to contact the Analogy Police, for a warning that next time they will take away your poetic license.

On December 30, 2009 I blogged about how the inspirational book 212 Degrees: The Extra Degree was where inspirational vapor clashes with reality. That book confused temperature and the amount of heat required to boil water. At 2:54 in their accompanying video there also is a call to action which says that:

“You are responsible for your results. And it’s time to turn up the heat.”

That statement may seem obvious if your experience with heat transfer is li
mited to watching pots or teakettles boiling on your kitchen stove. But, it is not how the boiling heat transfer process always works. Chemical engineers, mechanical engineers, and metallurgists all know better.

When you look at the section on boiling heat transfer in the Wikipedia entry under heat transfer you will see that there are two very different types of boiling. The more familiar one is called nucleate boiling, but there also is another one called film boiling.

If you keep turning up the heat in an industrial boiler you eventually change over to film boiling. During film boiling there is a blanket of vapor covering the surface which insulates it from the liquid and greatly reduces heat transfer. You can see film boiling on your stove at home if you put a drop of water on a hot pancake griddle. When it is hot enough for the drop to dance around without evaporating quickly, then you are watching film boiling. Film boiling also is discussed in the Wikipedia entry under the Leidenfrost Effect. A more technical discussion appears in one section of the Wolverine Tube Handbook. So, once again inspirational vapor clashes with reality.

My father taught chemical engineering for twenty years. When I was a teenager he told me a story about how film boiling could seem completely counterintuitive. Back in the 1930s he was hired by a glue company who wanted to cut costs and increase production. He looked at their process, and told them to turn DOWN the heat. They were skeptical until he told them why that would hel
p. After they did their glue production soared. Their warehouse began to fill up until their salesmen managed to get more customers.

Asking people to turn up the heat sounds pretty silly when peak daytime temperatures currently are hitting above 100 degrees. Maybe it is time for a big glass of iced tea instead.

Friday, July 23, 2010

How a rear-view mirror can improve your PowerPoint presentation

Last Saturday I spoke about Finding Information at the Toastmasters Leadership Institute for District 15. I was assigned a meeting room with excellent facilities for projecting images. On Thursday evening I got to see it for the first time. The chairs would be set up in a U shape as shown above.

There was a projector mounted on the ceiling and an 8-foot wide screen on the back wall. The keyboard and display for the desktop computer were on a credenza located at the back of the left wall. There were Ethernet and display connections for a laptop computer too. Also, in front of the credenza there was a lectern that could easily be rolled anywhere. I was warned that the projected image was bright, so the best lectern placement would be on center, in front of the projector beam as shown by the letter A.

Usually I try to have my laptop computer or a desktop computer on a table next to the lectern. Then I can easily glance to the side, look down at the display and see where I am without constantly turning completely around to watch the projector screen. Most of my slides are simple enough that I don’t need to turn and point to them. In this room the cables would not reach as far as A, so instead I brought along a small rear-view mirror.

I have a little $15 bicyclist’s mirror that mounts on the frame of my eyeglasses. With just a slight turn of my head I can see behind me. Other people have folding travel mirrors for makeup that could be placed on a lectern or table. Either type of mirror can substitute for having a computer display, and eliminate the tendency to stare at the screen instead of concentrating on the audience.

On Saturday morning I loaded my presentation, plugged in my wireless remote, and moved the lectern. The bottom of the screen was 2-1/2 feet above the floor. However, the lectern was over 4 feet high and so it would have blocked the screen for some of the audience. I rolled the lectern back, and planned to speak from the room center without it.

The 100 participants had a choice of five sessions. The other four topics apparently sounded much more interesting, and only a half dozen people appeared. The audience all fit along the back row of chairs. So, I went to plan B, put my notes on the end of a table, turned about 30 degrees to the left, and spoke without needing the mirror this time.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Who do I write like? Who do I speak like?

Figuring out who has influenced us is both interesting and fun. I Write Like is a web site with software that classifies text and matches it with one of fifty well-known authors. If you cut and paste a sample of your writing into a box, it will tell you who it thinks that you write like.

When I tried putting in the text from my recent blog posts, it told me that I mostly write like David Foster Wallace, a novelist who I do not remember ever reading. Here are five other people I supposedly write like, and the dates of the blog posts:

Dan Brown: June 11th, July 3rd
William Gibson: June 1st
James Joyce: July 2nd
Ursula K. Le Guin: July 12th
Kurt Vonnegut: June 5th

I heard about the web site in a blog post by Karen Blakeman, who also found that she writes mostly like Mr. Wallace. Guy Kawasaki also mentioned it, and linked to an interview with the author.

It probably is only a matter of time before there is similar software that would classify video and tell us who we speak like, including our body language. We could hope that we resemble famous speakers like:

Winston Churchill
Steve Jobs
Barrack Obama
Ronald Reagan
Tony Robbins

Unfortunately, we also might resemble other characters we have seen on television like:

Barney Fife
Matt Foley
Peter Griffin
Reverend Timothy Lovejoy
Yosemite Sam

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Talk like an Egyptian

Eventually speakers will encounter rooms with a variety of proportions and challenges. We just have to learn to grin and roll with the punches. On July 1 Lisa Braithwaite blogged about coping with a very deep, narrow training room, almost like a lane in a bowling alley.

Once I got the very opposite - a wide, shallow room. A technical society held their dinner meetings in the party room at a restaurant. The member who brought the Carousel slide projector grabbed the wrong case, which contained a long focal length lens designed for a much larger room. To get an image to focus, the projector had to be in the back right corner of the room with the screen in the front left corner.

As usual the remote control for slide advance and focus was on a long cord, but not quite long enough to reach the screen. When I tried to point to a slide, I wound up with both arms outstretched awkwardly. My right arm with the pointer was high in the air, and my left with the remote was low. This is the famous hieroglyphic dance pose from the video for the Bangles 1986 hit song Walk Like an Egyptian. It clearly was time to give up and let someone in the audience run the projector.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Promise of Toastmasters: District 15 Summer Leadership Institute in Boise

Last Saturday morning I attended the semi-annual Toastmasters Leadership Institute (TLI) for Divisions A and B here in Boise. It was held at the SuperValu corporate offices (formerly the Albertsons headquarters). The primary purpose for a TLI is simply to provide training for club officers filling the following seven roles: President, Vice President- Education, Vice President – Public Relations, Vice President – Membership, Secretary, Treasurer, Sergeant at Arms. About a hundred members attended, mostly from the Boise area but also including people from both Twin Falls, and Elko, Nevada.

The TLI began with a keynote speech followed by two breakout sessions. The first breakout session had the usual club officer training, The second breakout session offered a series of bonus topics:

Providing Feedback in Difficult Situations

Lead, Follow, or Don’t Get in the Way Too Much...Observations and Suggestions for Volunteers

Club Building Blocks: Planting, Tending, and Growing a Blue-Ribbon Toastmasters Club.

Finding Information

What Makes an Event Great

I spoke on Finding Information. My title began as How to Deal with Change - Continual Learning, but then got narrowed down and made more specific. My presentation was an updated version of one that I had given at one of the educational sessions at the District 15 Spring Conference in Boise back in May 2008.

I particularly enjoyed the keynote speech by Dwight Edwards. He began by joking that he isn’t tall - the rest of us are short. Dwight is 6’8” tall, and played college basketball for the University of Hartford. He also has an MBA and is a training manager at Hewlett Packard. Dwight was a guest speaker at Capitol Club last December. His keynote speech on Saturday was very impressive. He discussed growing up as a black inner city kid in Connecticut, being the first one in his family to attend college, and realizing the importance of communication skills in a career.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Public speaking training is a journey; You get to choose how to go

Taking an introductory class in public speaking at a college is like going on a bus tour. You’re part of a large group, and the professor is doing the driving. Like a tour, before you start you can see a description. You can check the catalog, look at a syllabus, and even look in the textbook.

Attending a commercial workshop is like hiring a guide with a luxury car. You are part of a small group, and will get a more personalized experience. You can see more of what you want in a shorter time, and get a very smooth ride, but in return you will pay more.

Joining a Toastmasters club is like driving your own 4x4 vehicle on a dirt road. You get a road map (the manual), but it’s up to you to take the initiative, decide how fast to go, and find your way.

Which will be best for you? That depends on how much time versus money you can devote to your journey.

You can find a balanced discussion comparing the pros and cons of those three options in a magazine article by Renate Zorn published in the Fall 2001 issue of Canadian Manager magazine called PUBLIC SPEAKING PROGRAMS: Finding the Right Fit.

UPDATE April 23, 2012

Using a speaking coach is like waving down and hiring a taxi. It’s quick and may be very effective -  if you have limited time. However, it can get very expensive if you want to go far.

Monday, July 12, 2010

What is Rule Number One for running a Toastmasters club meeting?

It’s very simple. Everyone gets to stand up and speak in some role. That is true whether you are in Portland, Oregon or Pune, India.

There are three speeches on the schedule at one of our club meetings in Boise. However, there are many other volunteer roles involved in running the meeting. The eight that change for each meeting are the Ah-Grammarian, Timekeeper, Toastmaster, General Evaluator, three Speech Evaluators, and the Table Topics Master.

Table Topics is the impromptu speaking part of the meeting. The Table Topics Master ask questions, and club members get to stand up and answer them with a one to two minute off-the-cuff speech. He usually begins by asking the members who have not already had another role. Then he asks any guests if they would like to try. Finally, if there is time, he asks other members.

At the end of the meeting everyone walks out the door feeling good. They all got to stand up and speak, they got applause, and whatever fear they once had about speaking in public just got a little smaller.

Last year Nick Morgan pointed out that the most important rule for success in public speaking is to have fun. The fun goes up as the fear goes down.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A claim about how often Toastmasters speak that doesn’t add up

Last September Doug Staneart, the CEO of the Leader's Institute, described what he claimed were the Top Five Myths About Public Speaking Fear and Stage Fright. His Myth #5 caught my attention. Here’s what he says (I’ve divided it into smaller paragraphs and added italics to highlight his very dubious discussion of Toastmasters):

“Myth #5: It Takes Years to Become a Great Speaker

Public Speaking is just like any other skill in that when you practice and have a success, you feel more confident about yourself and you get better next time. So the key to becoming a great speaker fast is to have a series of successes quickly.

Toastmasters is a great organization, but a lucky speaker might get a chance to give five speeches in two or three years, and there is a good chance that not every one of those speeches are going to be winners. So, after a couple of years, a Toastmaster won’t see a great growth in public speaking skills.

When you go to a class at a University or Junior College, you might get to speak three times in a 12 week class, and after each speech, you’ll get the dreaded constructive criticism. So that way will take a while as well.

However, if you want gain presentation skills quickly, find a way to deliver four to six presentations with a really good coach in a short period of time. Ideally, if you can do it in a couple of days, you’ll grow quickly.

However, I’ve seen people have a lot of success by setting up a series of weekly speeches at the office or as a guest speaker at a Rotary Club or Chamber of Commerce meeting to get practice.”

Now, I may not know as much about public speaking as a professional speaker like Mr. Staneart, but I sure know more about Toastmasters than he does. His numbers don’t really add up. How do I know? I just finished two years as Vice-President: Education for The Capitol Club in Boise. My role included making up the schedule. Also, I’ve watched people’s public speaking skills grow greatly in just a year.

What would we need to assume in order to come up with only 5 speeches in 3 years? Suppose we chose to attend a large club that only met every two weeks. Assume there were 30 members in the club, and 25 meetings per year. If there only were two speakers per meeting, then there would only be 50 speeches per year. Then, on the average, a member could speak 50/30 or 1.67 times per year, or 5 times in 3 years. Note that is for an average member, not a lucky one. If there were only 20 members then an average member could speak 2.5 times per year, or 5 times in 2 years.

Do clubs meet every two weeks? No, many meet every week. I looked on the Toastmasters web site and found clubs within 25 miles of the 83706 zip code for The Capitol Club, and the 76164 zip code of the mailing address for Mr. Staneart’s company. There are 26 clubs listed for 83706, and 22 of them (85%) meet weekly. There are 106 clubs listed for 76164, and 87 of them (82%) meet weekly. In a 30-member club that meets every week an average member could speak TWICE as often, or 10 times in 3 years.

Then I looked on the Toastmasters web site for 20 states, and counted what percent of the clubs met weekly. There were huge variations as follows: West Virginia (7%), Vermont (9%), Wisconsin (11%), Delaware (12%), Maine (21%), Hawaii (22%), Kentucky (38%), Louisiana (42%), Alabama (46%), New Hampshire (50%), South Dakota (55%), Mississippi (59%), North Dakota (58%) Wyoming (69%), Utah (74%), Oklahoma (75%), Arkansas (79%), Idaho (82%), Montana (88%), Alaska (97%).

The Capitol Club has three speakers scheduled per meeting, or 150 per year. With 30 members that would mean on average that you could speak 5 times in a single year (not in three years) or THREE TIMES as often as Mr. Staneart claimed. We average 20 to 25 active members, so it’s actually more like 6 to 7.5 times per year. Based on my experience people can speak way more frequently than the lower limit Mr. Staneart claimed.

Some clubs that meet at lunch time have shorter meetings, with only two speakers. Clubs that meet early in the morning or in the evening are more likely to have three speakers. But wait, there’s more.

If you want to speak even more often, then there always is the option of being proactive and asking to be a guest speaker at other Toastmasters clubs. For example, on December 30, 2009 we had not one but two guest speakers from Boise Club. That was a rare event, but it does happen.

We meet at lunch time on Wednesdays, which is the most popular time slot here in Boise Six clubs meet then. But, there are another 16 weekly clubs that meet at other times. About half of the clubs use the Easy Speak online planning software, so you even can check the Calendar and find their meeting schedules online.

So, if you want to learn public speaking relatively quickly (and inexpensively), check out some nearby Toastmasters clubs. Ask them how many speeches they schedule for each meeting.The basic Competent Communication manual has ten speeches. Ask how long it it taking their members to complete that manual. The answer may only be a year or two, not the four to six years you would imagine from Mr. Staneart’s claim.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Web search: 10 strategies for various occasions

We need to think globally when finding information. Admirals and generals always talk strategy before they get bogged down in the details of tactics. In the July/August 2001 issue of Online Karen M. Drabenstott discussed Web Search Strategy Development. She described six strategies; I have added four more.

Which strategy is best depends on whether the topic is complicated or simple. Complicated concepts have multiple facets. For example, the concept of dinner contains an appetizer, soup, salad, main dish, side dish, dessert, and beverage.
The 10 strategies are:

1. Guess and Go. Men don’t stop and ask for directions! Who needs search engines? Just guess and type the address into the web browser. (Homer Simpson always uses this strategy).

2. A Shot in the Dark. Type one word into a search engine like Google, hit return, and hope. This occasionally works for loaded words like schadenfreude or Guadalcanal.

3. Bingo. Use a search engine. Describe a concept using the reporter’s menu of who, what, when, where, and how.

4. Everything But the Kitchen Sink. Use a search engine to describe the facets of a complicated concept with one giant phrase. This sounds great, but it usually doesn’t work the first time.

5. Take a Big Bite. This is how sharks eat. Use a search engine to describe some facets of a complicated concept with a phrase. Look at the results, then modify the phrase to narrow things further.

6. A Little Help From Our Friends. Use subject directories to get started on an unfamiliar topic. Take advantage of other people’s experience. Start with a few great sites rather than oodles of the mediocre ones you might find using a search engine.

7. Pearl Growing. Like Oliver Twist you can ask for more. If you look at the list of results from a Google search, you will see the word Similar in blue to the right of some web addresses. You also can flip the search over, and use Google Advanced Search to search for pages that link to a page you have found. If you found a book by an author, you can check to see if he also wrote any magazine articles (or vice versa).

8. Find Someone Who Cares. Look for an Expert on the topic, and then contact him or her by email, phone, or in person.

9. Let the Fish Swim to You. Use Google Alerts or Google Reader, and similar tools to keep updated on interesting topics.

10. No Stone Unturned. This is how we handle big questions, like a graduate school thesis, changing careers, or starting a business. First we do everything we can think of. Then we think some more, and do some more.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Web search tactic: Use the Google Advanced (Helpful) Search screen

One of the most powerful and easy to use features of Google is the Advanced Search screen. Don’t be intimidated by the word Advanced - it actually should be called something friendlier like Helpful. When you fill in the blank
s the top line shows how your search is being constructed when we follow the instructions to “Find web pages that have...”

For example, if we put the words public speaking into the box labeled the exact wording or phrase, then Google puts quotation marks around it.

If we use some combination of “all the words,” “one or more of the words,” or “But don’t have any of these unwanted words,” then Google builds a Boolean search for us.

Another powerful option lets us limit the File Type. For example, Acrobat portable document files (.pdf files) often are used for magazine articles or presentations that originally were either in PowerPoint or Keynote. We can also find files with the Microsoft Office formats for Word documents (.doc), Excel spreadsheets (.xls), and PowerPoint presentations (.ppt).
Yet another option lets us search inside of a web site or domain. Google often does a more thorough job than the search featu
re built into a web site.

But wait, there’s even more! Additional features are revealed when we click on the blue line at the bottom of the screen.

One line lets us limit our search based on how recently a page was updated: a day, week, or month ago, etc.
Two other very powerful options let us broaden our search based on specific pages.

The first lets us look for pages that are similar to a page we have found. Another lets us look for pages that link to a page we have found. This flips the search over, and changes our perspective, like an acrobat doing a some

Monday, July 5, 2010

Web search tactic: we still need some Boolean logic

Suppose we decided to look up dolphins (the aquatic mammals) with a Google search.
In the top twenty results we will find four pages about the NFL Miami Dolphins football team (other large mammals who wear uniforms). Now that we know that those two concepts overlap, what can we do about it?

Many of us learned some Boolean logic when we encountered “new math” in school.
(Some found that so painful they would like to forget about it.)

There are three operations (or connectors) used between phrases: AND, OR, and NOT. In search they are used as follows:

What words must appear?: AND (+)
What words (synonyms) might appear? (OR)
What words must not appear?: NOT (-)

When we look at a Venn diagram we will see that the overlap (shown above in green) represents Miami AND Dolphins. If all we wanted was the mammals like Flipper, we need to ask for Dolphins -MIami.

In the next post we’ll see how to painlessly use Boolean logic with Advanced Google Search.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Web search tactic: use quotes to specify phrases

When we use a search engine like Google, one of the simplest and most powerful tactics is to put quotation marks around phrases to specify exactly what we want.

Let’s look at a two-word example. Suppose we had been talking with our aunt Wanda from Warsaw about furniture. If we look up “Polish furniture” on Google, we will get what we want. But, if we forgot the quotation marks, we might as well have been looking up furniture polish, a very different (and much broader) concept.

Without the quotation marks we will get 6,680,000 results. With them there are 430,000 for “furniture polish”, but only 63,400 for “Polish furniture.” Putting the terms in order as a quoted phrase narrowed the search and gave us about a hundred times fewer results.

The photo shows the famous inventor Jan Szczepanik with some Polish furniture.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Why we need a box of web search tools (and a strategy)

To a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail. The Google search engine works so well in most cases that it is easy to forget that it won’t do everything. Even in the world of fasteners there also are nuts and screws. We really need other tools as well, metaphorical wrenches and screwdrivers.

One other very useful tool is a subject directory. When we are starting to research a new topic, we really need a few good reliable sites rather than ten million mediocre ones. Subject directories are trees hand built by people that contain the good stuff. Yahoo started out as a subject directory, and there is still one there. Google also still has a directory hidden away. is yet another commercial directory. The Internet Public Library is an excellent noncommercial directory.

Another useful tool is a metasearch engine. Metasearch engines send a search several different places and then organize the results. Yippy and Ixquick are two examples. Yippy started out as Vivismo, and then became Clusty. Reference librarians keep up with these constant changes.

A few vey helpful web pages show us a whole box of search tools. The Boise Public Library has a Search the Web page, and the Internet Public Library has a Search Beyond IPL2 page. When we want to lose the habit of always just Googling, we can set either of these as the home page for our web browser.

We also need to have a search strategy to avoid getting lost in the details. The University of California at Berkeley search tutorial has an excellent web page about this topic.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Research your audience before you use a quotation

A well chosen quotation can inspire your audience with borrowed brilliance. But, an inappropriate quotation can annoy or enrage your audience. Know before who you stand.

In late May, Leslie Linevsky blogged about how a keynote speaker blundered by quoting Henry Ford at the annual installation of officers for a Jewish philanthropic organization. Ford was well known for his anti-Semitic views, and was revered by Hitler. Back in the 1920s Ford owned a newspaper called the Dearborn Independent which spewed such notoriously vile propaganda that it was successfully sued for libel. Ford was admirable in some other respects. He preserved a lot of American history in his museum.

Thirty years ago in his book Speechwriting: The Master Touch Joseph J. Kelley mentioned another occasion where a group had a long memory. He was preparing a speech to be given in a Pennsylvania mining town, knew there were many members of the state police from there, and asked his client if he should mention them. His client said to avoid that topic. Almost a century earlier the state police had been derived from the coal mine police. Back then there had been bitter conflict between those police and labor, particularly the Molly Maguires. At least one descendant was still trying to get a posthumous pardon for an executed ancestor.