Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Myths about fear and the Book of Lists

I forgot to mention yesterday that the blog post by Garth Reynolds which I discussed had a nice endorsement for Toastmasters International.

That post also provoked a comment by Robert Fineberg that:

“The greatest public speaking myth is that it’s the number one fear. It was started by a man named Wallenchesky in the early 70′s in his flawed “The Book of Lists”. Jerry Seinfeld in a stand-up routine joked that it’s higher number than the fear of death; therefore, we’d rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.

The latest Gallup surveys say that 60% of those surveyed are afraid to speak — 20% would do it if they had to — and 20% are okay with presenting.

Hardly the number one fear.”

Mr. Fineberg managed to start five new myths in the first paragraph of his comment. That's enough to frighten a unicorn!

1. The Book of Lists really was compiled by David Wallechinsky, Irving Wallace, and Amy Wallace. Who the heck is Wallenchesky? That name does not even show up as a book author either in the Library of Congress catalog or in WorldCat.

2. The Book of Lists was published by Morrow in 1977, which was the late 70’s, not the early 70’s.

3. The “myth” that public speaking is the number one fear did not start from the Book of Lists. That result came from a survey done in April 1973 by Richard H. Bruskin and Associates. I have discussed the survey at length in a blog post just before last Halloween.

4. The Bruskin survey was cited in Rudolph F. Verderber’s 1976 textbook The Challenge of Public Speaking even before the Book of Lists was published. Since then Bruskin’s survey has been cited in many other public speaking textbooks. They spread this “myth,” not just the Book of Lists. Should we shoot all the messengers?

5. In 1993 Bruskin’s later organization (Bruskin-Goldring) did another fears survey and they again found public speaking to be the top fear. Is it a myth if you can replicate it?

I looked around on the Gallup web site, but can’t find what Fineberg claims that the latest Gallup surveys say. Their 2001 fears survey had public speaking coming in second, after snakes.

Quoting the #1 fear from the Book of Lists is irritatingly common. I suspect many who open with this startling statistic are unaware of how ancient the book and that first survey are. It showed up a in a 2007 press release here, and again this month here. Last year Professor Tania S. Smith blogged about how it had clearly become a worn out cliche.

A new variant is to quote that survey as if it still was in the 2005 revision, The New Book of Lists. If you do a Google Books search you won’t find it in there. I also checked the index and table of contents in a printed copy over at Borders and couldn’t find it.

As I mentioned last year, that old survey just stumbles on like a mumbling zombie. Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 25, 2010

What should we really be afraid of for Halloween?

Earlier this month Garth Reynolds began a blog post with:

“Did you know that the #2 thing people fear most is being burned alive. Guess what #1 is. That’s right, public speaking.”

No, I didn’t know it and Garth didn’t bother to provide a reference to where he found that little gem. When I looked around on Google I instead found the following claim here:

“Public speaking unease is so common it may qualify as an everyday problem. You may have read about the survey that showed public speaking to be the #2 thing people are afraid of, with #1 being burned alive.”

I had never read about that survey either. The word survey had a link, but it was to the Job Search function at Monster.com. So far I haven’t found who did that survey, or how, when, or where, or why.

Being burned alive is not on my top ten list of fears. I had not thought of it for years until earlier this month when I saw Ignmar Bergman’s 1957 film The Seventh Seal on television again. That film takes place when the Black Death (probably bubonic plague) was ravaging Sweden around 1350. It contains this scene where a young girl is burned as a witch.

Infectious diseases certainly are something we should fear. What other common causes of death are there? There is a cheerful web site all about Death Risk Rankings where you can look up what probably will kill you next year.

The Top Ten Causes of Death for U.S. residents are:

1. Circulatory system diseases 38.6%
2. Cancers 23.2
3. Respiratory diseases 9.7
4. Accidents 4.2
5. Nervous system diseases 4.1
6. Endocrine system diseases 4.1
7. Digestive system diseases 3.6
8. Infectious and parasitic diseases 2.6
9. Urinary tract diseases 2.4
10. Mental and behavioral disorders 2.2

Suicide came in at #11 with 1.3%. Together those eleven causes account for 96% of deaths. Even when you expand the list of causes to the full 63 categories you won’t find one for being Burned Alive, just Accidents - Other and Others which total 1.1%. Transportation Accidents were 1.9%. Homicide was 0.7% and AIDS was 0.6%. (You won’t find Public Speaking either). If you look at different age groups, then you will find very different rankings.

For ages 20 to 29 the Top Ten Causes of Death are:

1. Accidents 38.1%
2. Homicide 15.2
3. Suicide 13.2
4. Cancers 6.3
5. Circulatory system diseases 5.9
6. Infectious and parasitic diseases 3.3
7. Ill-defined symptoms and causes 2.9
8. Nervous system diseases 2.2
9. Endocrine system diseases 2.1
10. Respiratory diseases 1.8

For ages 40 to 49 the Top Ten Causes of Death are:

1. Cancers 24.0%
2. Circulatory system diseases 23.6
3. Accidents 12.3
4. Infectious and parasitic diseases 7.2
5. Digestive system diseases 6.8
6. Suicide 5.2
7. Endocrine system diseases 3.9
8. Respiratory diseases 3.4
9. Mental and behavioral disorders 2.3
10. Nervous system diseases 2.1

For ages 60 to 69 the Top Ten Causes of Death are:

1. Cancers 36.7%
2. Circulatory system diseases 32.5
3. Respiratory diseases 8.9
4. Endocrine system diseases 4.9
5. Digestive system diseases 4.0
6. Accidents 2.3
7. Infectious and parasitic diseases 2.3
8. Nervous system diseases 2.2
9. Urinary tract diseases 1.9
10. Suicide 0.8

Watch out for transportation accidents, and have a happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Axe grinders and denialism

Some people just have an axe to grind. Their minds already are completely made up. They won’t be listening for any evidence to the contrary. Trying to persuade them is a waste of time.

Denialism is employing rhetorical tactics to give the appearance of argument or legitimate debate, when there is none. Mark and Chris Hoofnagle
have a blog about denialism which has a section that discusses the following five general tactics:

1. Conspiracy
2. Selectivity (cherry picking)
3. Fake experts
4. Impossible expectations (moving the goalposts)
5. Logical fallacies

More specific tactics are discussed in their Deck of Cards section, like the card above which means that really there is no problem.

In 2009 Pascal Diethelm and Martin McKee wrote an excellent magazine article about Denialism: What it is and how should scientists respond? You can read and download it here.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Have you heard of the International Listening Association?

John Marshall, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, once said that:

“To listen well is as powerful a means of communication and influence as to talk well."

The International Listening Association (ILA) was founded in 1979 by Dr. Ralph G. Nichols (1907 - 2005), who was a professor and longtime member of the Rhetoric Department at the University of Minnesota. Every March the ILA proclaims Listening Awareness Month. Christopher Witt mentioned it here in his Life After PowerPoint blog.

When I googled the phrase “International Listening Association” on the first ten blogs listed at Alltop Speaking I came up empty. (There is no Alltop category for Listening). ILA also didn’t show up on Tom Antion’s Great Public Speaking blog. Apprarently the ILA is relatively unknown to many involved with public speaking and presentations. However, there is a blog called Listening Matters by Barbara B. Nixon, a past president of the ILA.

ILA publishes a scholarly magazine called The International Journal of Listening. The May issue has a lengthy article by Adams and Cox about The Teaching of Listening as an Integral Part of an Oral Activity: An Examination of Public-Speaking Texts. You can read the abstract here. The percent of ten current public speaking textbooks that covered listening was as follows:

17% - The Public Speaker/The Public Listener, Wolvin, Berko, Wolvin, 2ed, 1999
6% - Public Speaking: an audience-centered approach, Beebe and Beebe, 6ed, 2006
6% - Invitation to Public Speaking, Griffin, 2003
5% - Public Speaking: choices for effective results, Makay, Butland, Mason, 2008
5% - Public Speaking: building confidence in stages, Ferguson, 2008
4% - Effective Speaking, Verderber, Verderber, 12ed, 2003
4% - The Art of Public Speaking, Lucas, 9ed, 2007
3% - iSpeak: public speaking for contemporary life, Nelson, Titworth, Pearson, 2008
2% - A Speaker’s Guidebook,O’Hair, Stewart, Rubenstein, 3ed, 2007
2% - Public Speaking, Osborn, Osborn, Osborn, 2008

The senior author of the book with the 17% coverage of listening was Andrew D. Wolvin, a past president of the ILA.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Learn to be a better listener

Where can you learn how to become a better listener? The American Communication Association (ACA) has an excellent module in their ACA Public Speaking - The Open Knowledge Guide called Listening: The “Lost” Communication Skill that you can read online here, or download as a 16-page Acrobat .pdf document here.

You also can go here to download a vintage illustrated pamphlet about how Listening is a 10 Part Skill. It reprints a four-page magazine article by Ralph G. Nichols which appeared in Nation’s Business back in 1957. Those 10 parts are:

1. Find areas of interest
2. Judge content, not delivery
3. Hold your fire
4. Listen for ideas
5. Be flexible
6. Work at listening
7. Resist distractions
8. Exercise your mind
9. Keep your mind open
10. Capitalize on thought speed

The content still is relevant, and the drawings are still funny.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Are you listening or just talking?

Back in 1996 Ken Johnson said that:

“Listening effectively to others can be the most fundamental and powerful communication tool of all. When someone is willing to stop talking or thinking and begin truly listening to others, all of their interactions become easier, and communication problems are all but eliminated."

Instead most people are more like the person described by Sara Bareilles in her recent song, King of Anything:

“...You got the talking down, just not the listening.
And, who cares if you disagree?
You are not me.
Who made you king of anything?

So, you dare tell me who to be.
Who died and made you king of anything?”

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Gap between marketing and customers

The Gap is a huge clothing retailer founded back in 1969. Recently they decided to patch up their two decades old logo by changing the type face for the name to Helvetica and moving the simple blue square (which was the overall background) to a just small one in the upper right corner, Some customers and designers were shocked. There were angry stories in newspapers and in Adweek. Was the logo what needed to be changed to improve their performance?

I think they should have left their logo alone. The name is a brief word which describes an opening (or hole, or space). It would be hard to improve that logo without making it more complicated, as I have done above to illustrate the concept.

There even was a web site where you can instantly turn your logo into generic crap with a little blue square, like they did. Their fumbled attempt at change gave an impression that they had more money than sense.

There is another reason why playing with the GAP name is hard. The same year the company was founded the London Underground started a Mind the Gap safety campaign to make people aware of the space between subway trains and platforms at stations. Then that phrase spread to other subway systems, like the above sign in Toronto.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Boring to Bravo: a buffet of techniques for better presentations

Two weeks ago I got a copy of Kristin Arnold’s recent book from my friendly local public library, and skimmed through it. This book is an excellent collection of techniques for taking your presentations up another level. It has a web site with free downloads of the introduction, table of contents, and the first chapter.

Kristin is currently president of the National Speakers Association, and has written three other books: Team Basics, Team Energizers, and Email Basics. She clearly has put a lot of thought into this book, including changing the title twice. The full, final title is:

BORING TO BRAVO: proven presentation techniques to engage, involve, and inspire your audience to action
Before that it was:
BORE NO MORE PRESENTATIONS : Proven Techniques to Engage & Involve Any Audience
It started out as:
PUNCH UP YOUR PRESENTATIONS: 101 Techniques to Engage and Inspire your Clients, Co-workers and Cohorts

Most sections are marked with a degree of risk from low (*) to high (*****).For example, Chapter 8 is titled Let Your Natural Humor Shine Through. It has the following section titles:

A word about finding your comfort zone *
Making humor work for you *
Finding the common ground ***
Keep your humor eyes open *
Other sources of humor ***
The pure humor of spontaneous interaction ****
What about jokes? *****

You can find other reviews by Ian Griffin and Andrew Dlugan.

Friday, October 1, 2010

You have no idea who you're dealing with

Lately at Toastmasters I’ve been working on the Humorously Speaking manual, so I’ve been looking for funny stories. Two weeks ago there was a good one in the Idaho Statesman. A man responded to a Craigslist ad for a laptop computer. First he was told to meet the seller at night in a gated neighborhood. Then the seller tried to redirect him nearby to a dark, abandoned parking lot.

At that point the buyer got suspicious that this looked like a setup for an armed robbery. He took out his cell phone, and called the Garden City police for help.

When he and the policeman drove over to the lot, two dark-clad men ran from the scene. Both men were handcuffed and arrested, because the buyer also was a law enforcement officer and was armed.

The buyer was Gary Raney, who is the Sheriff of Ada County. He runs a 600 man department. That includes the 1200-bed county jail, which is where both the seller and his accomplice wound up. They previously had advertised an iPad and robbed the buyer.

Once I read about an even dumber armed robber. He drove into a small town just after midnight and tried to holdup the first open business he saw, which was the local diner. One of the patrons calmly told him to please put that gun away, because you are completely outgunned. The diner was right next door to the county sheriff’s station, and a half dozen deputies had stopped there (as usual) after finishing their shifts.