Thursday, November 25, 2010

Don't Give Up

Peter Gabriel wrote this song. It is one of my favorite inspirational ones, a piece of storytelling reportedly inspired by a Dorothea Lange photograph of people fleeing from the Dust Bowl. A few days ago I found a new video of it from Herbie Hancock’s CD The Imagine Project, sung by John Legend and Pink. I like it about as much as the first video done by Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush that is one long hug.

There are many other versions out there. I am less impressed by the Willie Nelson and Sinead O’Connor duet which sounds a bit rushed, or the Shannon Noll and Natalie Bassingthwaigthe version which also has gobs of strings.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Do you enunciate clearly?

Do you enunciate clearly when you speak, or do you just mumble?

When I think of mumbling, I recall Dustin Hoffman as Mumbles, one of the henchmen in the 1990 movie Dick Tracy. This brief video clip shows how he complained a lot but literally didn’t say anything. In Mike Judge’s long-running animated comedy series, King of the Hill, he voiced Jeff Boomhauer, who also was almost incomprehensible.

Last year Lisa B. Marshall had an excellent podcast on diction. James Feudo and Angelas DeFinis also have blogged about how to avoid mumbling.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Remembering how to do Table Topics

In a previous blog post on September 22nd I mentioned "Handi-speech," using the fingers on your left hand as a simple way to keep track of your progress while doing an impromptu speech.

At my Toastmasters club meeting on Wednesday one of our members presented the Impromptu Speaking program from the Better Speaker series. It also suggests following a five-step procedure for a Table Topics speech (which you also can do using your fingers):

1. Listen (to the question)
2. Pause (to collect your thoughts)
3. Confirm (by restating the question)
4. Tell (by responding to the question)
5. End (summarize your main point)

You can view a PowerPoint presentation that explains these steps and some strategies in more detail.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wordle for making tag clouds

A tag cloud is a visual representation of the words on a web site (or in a document). Their relative size is used to show
how frequently they appear. Sometimes they are shown alphabetically. A bar chart also could show frequency, but a cloud is a less clumsy visual aid.

In his All About Presentations blog Vivek Singh recently discussed how to Create Free Tag Clouds with Wordle. I tried playing with Wordle by putting the address for my blog into the box on the Create page. There are lots of options you can apply later to change how the cloud looks.

You can make it vertical with a light background (I rotated this one and then made the background light green with Photoshop Elements):

You also can make it horizontal with a dark background:

You can just use the text from a single po
st, like my one shown above about the Four Minute Men.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Should you keep your audience in the dark?

That is, should you quote a from an article you disapprove without identifying the author and source? Back in college not crediting your source was considered plagiarism. Out in the real world you might instead get sued for libel or defamation when you stand up and name names.

Last Thursday Lisa Braithwaite posted on the topic Do You Make Your Audience Feel Stupid?. She quoted from an article without identifying its author. The passages she quoted are pure CEOspeak, lingo slinging I have previously derided as corporate Whipped Topping. One sentence had 42 words! That kind of writing is intended to impress rather than to inform.

I won’t identify the author, but know he’s a big gun professional speaker who has written books and should really know better. He doesn’t speak like that, so he shouldn’t write like that.

In a blog you have at least three options for handling quotes:

1. Name the author, and then let him respond via a comment.

2. Put the idea into your own words - paraphrase it.
3. Hold your tongue so you don’t seem Mean.

Writing (or speaking) clearly is not simple. It takes much more effort than spewing jargon. You can try first explaining ideas to your grandmother or granddaughter. You also might run your text through the Lexile Analyzer to quantify its degree of difficulty.

I had to put much more thought into writing three articles for insurance adjusters in Claims magazine than for others in technical journals like Metallurgical Transactions or the Journal of Failure Analysis and Prevention.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Making web articles like sausage

There is an old saying about legislation that laws are like sausages, so it is better not to see them being made. I feel much the same about brief web articles covering how to reduce fear of public speaking. Are the writers being paid just $7, the price for a jumbo package of cheap sausages?

My Google Alert recently turned up a pair from Jeff Longley that reveal just how it is done, and it is not pretty. One is titled Great suggestions to overcome the fear of public talking, and the other is Excellent guidelines to beat the dread of general public talking. Word choices for the first four paragraphs can be summarized as follows:

“(Nearly everybody, Practically everyone) has that sense of (anxiety, concern) with (general public talking, community speaking) and what (far better approach, superior method) to address it than to (know numerous suggestions, understand many guidelines) to (overcome the fear, beat the worry) of (general public speaking, community talking).

It is not a surprise to (know, understand) that the (dread of community talking, fear of public speaking) is (really a typical issue, a prevalent difficulty) that hounds a (great deal of people, lot of individuals) all over the world and (many will not be, numerous are not usually) aware about how they (might very, may possibly) easily get (through, via) with such fears and lay it all to rest.

Here are some (prevalent hints, frequent tips) that (1, one particular) can apply and to (aid overcome, support conquer) the (anxiety, fear) of (community talking, public speaking).

(In case, If you) come (ready, prepared) to speak (just before, earlier than) a group, make it a point to (usually, constantly) come ready.”

Does anyone actually read this stuff?


December 10, 2010 Update

I just saw an article called Appreciating Technical about proofreading. It was posted including a whole series of word choices, like I had reconstructed above. For example:

If {you are|you’re|you might be|that you are} {considering|thinking about|contemplating|taking into consideration} technical writing as a {career|profession} you {might|may|could|may possibly|may well|could possibly} {want to|wish to|need to|desire to|would like to} read the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2009 Edition."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

“All speaking is public speaking,” or “there is no such thing as public speaking”?

Two popular phrases among speakers and coaches are that “all speaking is public speaking,” or “there is no such thing as public speaking.” Both phrases are intended to reduce anxiety by pointing out that public speaking is not really that different from just having a conversation with a person or two.

One version attributed to Patricia Fripp is:

“Outside of the privacy of your own home, all speaking is ‘public speaking.’ There is no such thing as ‘private speaking.’”

Decades earlier on page 200 of his 1960 book, The Magic Power of Emotional Appeal, Roy Garn said:

“All speaking is ‘public speaking’ - even when you have but one listener!”

The second phrase turned up in a blog post last week by by Gary Genard, and in another by Sarah Gershman in September.

It also was proposed as the title for two different books. The first one out the door in 2007 was There’s No Such Thing As Public Speaking by Jeanette and Roy Henderson, although Matthew Cossolotto also planned to use it (and mentioned it in a press release on November 29, 2005). Then his book was retitled All The World’s A Podium. There are YouTube videos of both Jeanette Henderson and Matthew Cossolotto.

I have read the Hendersons book and found it contains lots of useful information. On this blog I mentioned their advice to turn the entire body when you switch sides between teleprompter screens. (If you just turn your head, your audience may decide you are watching an invisible tennis game). However, their unusual terminology of Presenter and Reactor rather than Speaker and Listener was irritating. All 100 times I saw the word Reactor I mentally preceded it with Nukular.

Back when I was looking for a title for this blog I first considered The Joy of Speaking (in analogy with that classic cookbook The Joy of Cooking), but found that Mr. Cossolotto already was using that name for a course. So, my title became Joyful Public Speaking.

Are both these phrases a modern insight from the age of the International Space Station, or just an “old whine in a new bottle?” I did some digging with Google and both magazine and newspaper databases. It turns out that the basic idea, of public speaking just being an enlarged conversation, goes back to very early in the 20th century.

Page 131 of Edwin Du Bois Shurter’s 1903 book, Public Speaking: a treatise on delivery states that:

“In the opening chapter it was shown that the basis of the best speaking lies in the best conversation; that the act of speaking is only the enlarged conversation that comes from speaking to a collection of individuals; that the most effective public speaking comes from talking to the audience. Now, if the student can from the outset be persuaded to take this attitude toward any audience he may address, he has gained more than he could from a year’s study and practice of the technique of delivery.”

James Albert Winans said it more clearly in 1915, in a story which opens Chapter 1 of his book Public Speaking, Principles and Practice:

“Imagine all memory of speech-making to be blotted out, so that there is no person in the world who remembers that he has ever made a speech, or heard a speech. Imagine too, all speeches and all references to speeches in literature, to be blotted out; so there is left no clue to this art. Is this the end of speech-making. Here comes a man who has seen a great race, or has been in a great battle, or is on fire with enthusiasm for a cause. He begins to talk with a friend he meets on the street; others gather, twenty, fifty, a hundred. Interest grows intense; he lifts his voice that all may hear. But the crowd wishes to hear and see the speaker better. ‘Get up on this cart!’ they cry; and he goes on with his story or plea.

A private conversation has become a public speech; but under the circumstances imagined it is thought of only as a conversation, as an enlarged conversation. It does not seem abnormal, but quite the natural thing. When does the talker or converser become a speech-maker? When ten persons gather? Fifty? Or is it when he gets on the cart? Is there any real change in the nature or the spirit of the act? Is it not essentially the same throughout, a conversation adapted as the talker proceeds to the growing number of his hearers? There may be a change of course, if he becomes self-conscious; but assuming that interest in story or argument remains the dominant emotion, there is no essential change in his speaking. It is probable that with the increasing importance of his position and the increasing tension of feeling that comes with numbers, he gradually modifies his tone and his diction, and permits himself to launch into a bolder strain and a wider range of ideas and feelings than in ordinary conversation; but the change is in degree and not in kind. He is conversing with an audience.”

Mr. Winans also told a version of that story to open his briefer 1911 book, Notes on Public Speaking: for the classes on public speaking, Cornell University.

In 1919 Harry Collins Spillman made it explicit on page 123 of his book on Personality: Studies in Personal Development:

“...Every person in public life should acquire some art in public speaking, not in the sense of oratory or declamation, but he must be effective in speaking because all speaking is public. The salesman addressing a single customer is a public speaker. The secretary interpreting the orders of her superior to a half dozen department heads is getting valuable training in oral expression. One’s first lesson in public speaking should be like the proverbial first lesson in swimming.

The most indispensable requisite of effective speaking lies in the anxiety of the speaker to speak. He must have something to say that he very much desires to say, otherwise the address is sure to lack force and appear as a belabored effort against time. A good speech is never made altogether by the speaker. The audience catches the first force of the speaker and in reacting unconsciously inspires and reinforces the speaker.”

An article on How to Talk by Percy H. Whiting (managing director of the Dale Carnegie Institute) in the September 1946 issue of The Rotarian revealed:

“Well, to get to the point quickly: Public speaking is merely bigger and better and brighter conversation.”

In a talk on Effective Speech delivered on December 28, 1950 and published the March, 1951 issue of Vital Speeches of the Day, Professor Horace G. Rahskopf (head of the speech department at the University of Washington) complained that:

“Somewhere in the literature of our field I have seen the statement ‘all speaking is public speaking.’ Now the obvious truth intended is that all speaking is social in nature. Nevertheless, many a student and many a citizen who looks at the material in our field will be puzzled and confused by the statement, especially if he has taken the trouble to observe that speech occurs not only as public speaking but also in such forms as conversation, discussion, reading aloud, and acting.”

What about the second phrase? A Google Books search turns up snippet views for magazine references (possibly to ads for courses) in both Time and Newsweek from 1968 that seem to attribute it to Dale Carnegie. Both say that:

“As a matter of fact, there is no such thing as "public" speaking. There is only private speaking— from one mouth to one ear at a time.”

Mr. Carnegie died back in 1955. I did not find that phrase associated with his name in earlier newspaper articles. Also,I could not find the ads in the bound volumes for either magazine at local libraries. However, those ads might not have been in the regional editions that included Boise, Idaho.

The common modern lament that too often:

“The difference between ordinary conversation and public speaking is, that in the former men are natural and earnest, whereas in the latter they are too frequently boring and dull.”

also turns out to be very old. It was quoted by Grenville Kleiser back in 1916 on page 407 of his Complete Book of Public Speaking, as having come from page 81 of an anonymous book, The Public Speaker, circa 1860!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

But, umm

That pause filler phrase was part of the plot for the Jenkins episode of the TV comedy How I Met Your Mother that first aired in January. You can watch a brief video clip here.

I’ve never heard anyone but Robin say “but, umm.” Other common two-word fillers are “I mean”, “you know”, and “well, basically.”

Robin Scherbatsky is from Canada. She has a serious career as a TV reporter, but had a secret past as a teenage pop singer, Robin Sparkles. Perhaps the “but, um” filler replaced her former “eh”.

Robin meets some fans of her 4:00 AM cable TV talk show at a college bar. One of her friend Ted's students, Scotty, comes over to say that he's a big fan. She interrupts Ted's class to loudly announce that she is the host of the show. After she leaves, the class explains that they are fans only because her show comes on as their night of drinking is ending. Her "" is the basis for a drinking game. Whenever she says it the students have to down a shot of liquor.

Ted and Barney try the game, and both get thoroughly drunk. After Robin continues to brag about having admirers, Ted explains the drinking game to her. That night, his class invites him out to join their game. Robin decides to fix them by repeating the phrase excessively. During the class the next day Robin startles the hungover students by shouting “but, um” through a megaphone.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Lessons from the world of failure analysis

Last Wednesday was not a good day. In the morning I spilled a whole mug full of Cranberry Apple Zinger herbal tea on the wireless keyboard for my iMac. After I sponged it up I went over to my Toastmasters club meeting. When I got back the M, N, and period keys all had quit working.

At dinner I bit into a sandwich, and one of my teeth began to hurt immediately. Thursday morning my dentist examined it. He told me that it had split and would have to be extracted. In the afternoon an oral surgeon pulled it out.

After any component, product, or system fails, people ask what can be done to keep that problem from happening again. There is a well-known safety hierarchy that, in order of decreasing effectiveness, goes:

1. Design out the hazard.

2. Guard to reduce the hazard.

3. Warn the user to be careful, because not everybody knows.

A fully immersible keyboard would be an expensive redesign, but there are spill-resistant silicone cover skins for guarding a keyboard. I even found one on eBay and had it on my watch list of things to buy eventually. That skin would have cost $5, with free shipping. Instead a replacement wired keyboard was $53. I ordered a $15 silicone skin, and it arrived today. My only consolation is that the wired keyboard includes a numeric keypad and some more function keys.

Lee Potts has a blog about presentations called Breaking Murphy’s Law. He has discussed ways to avoid presentation disasters. One topic is how to make sure that your PowerPoint file arrives and can be loaded successfully.

Now, I usually bring along my vintage laptop so I can do a practice run. A USB thumb drive gets used to transfer the file from my desktop. That thumb drive lives on my keychain along with my house and car keys, so I won’t ever leave home without it. Also, I always wait for confirmation that it’s safe to remove the drive before I yank it out of the laptop.

Another backup gets burned on a CD and packed into a plastic jewel case (not just a paper sleeve) in the laptop case. Others suggest keeping another copy somewhere on the web like at

When I need to load my presentation on another computer the USB thumb drive is easier to use than a CD. However, in a June post about Promiscuous Sticks Lee mentioned how they can get infected by viruses. Maybe I should just stick with the write-only CD?

Dave Paradi has an excellent mobile Troubleshooting Guide that you can access for help if you get stumped. I keep an MS Word download of it on my laptop, right in the directory where my PowerPoint presentations are stored.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Do you like stealth raisins?

I like oatmeal-raisin cookies, but my significant other doesn’t like raisins. She leaves them out when she bakes oatmeal cookies. However, the last time I bought plain oatmeal cookies for us at the supermarket I was surprised to find that they tasted almost exactly like oatmeal-raisin cookies.

I found out why when I read the list of ingredients on the package. Raisin paste was on the list. It is made by pushing raisins through a fine mesh screen (extrusion). When you look up some popular brands of oatmeal cookies at LabelWatch you will find raisin paste on the list of ingredients for:

Archway Classic Oatmeal Cookies
Mother’s Iced Oatmeal Cookies
Pepperidge Farm Oatmeal Soft Baked Cookies

Those raisins are there, but you can’t see them. They’re little purple ninjas, like a strange cross between the California Raisins and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

I like to clearly see what I’m getting, so I don’t like stealth raisins. Similarly I don’t like that the new rules for the election game lets unknown advocacy groups with curious names like Americans for Prosperity, Apple Pie, and Pickup Trucks pour mass quantities of money into campaigns.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Where’s the pony?

The latest round of elections finally are over. During the preceding campaigns there has been even more metaphorical manure slinging than usual, which reminds me of a humorous story. There is a long version, but the short version is that:

“It was Reagan’s favorite joke. Worried that their son was too optimistic, the parents of a little boy took him to a psychiatrist. Trying to dampen the boy’s spirits, the psychiatrist showed him into a room piled high with nothing but horse manure. Yet instead of displaying distaste, the little boy clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to all fours, and began digging.

‘What do you think you’re doing?’ the psychiatrist asked.

‘With all this manure,’ the little boy replied, beaming, ‘there must be a pony in here somewhere.’”

The title of this post summarizes it. This pointed question is one we should not forget to ask the latest winners before the next election in 2012.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Are impromptu talks really the most frightening type of public speaking?

For a post in the Leadership Institute blog on October 30th Rick Highsmith began by stating:

“Public speaking is recognized as the Number 1 fear of adults in The Book of Lists. Assuming that’s true where would impromptu public speaking rank? Even when we have prepared thoroughly, speaking to an audience provokes anxiety. So what is the factor of increase in anxiety when we have to speak with little or no preparation?”

I am not sure whether he was asking if impromptu speaking makes more people anxious, or if it makes people more anxious. Two published surveys have looked at whether more people are anxious about one type of impromptu speaking, and found that they were not. I already discussed both of them last year.

In a US survey “public speaking/performance” was feared by 21.2%, while “speaking up in a meeting/class” was feared by 19.5%. In a Canadian survey “giving a speech or speaking in public” was feared by 15.1%, while “taking part or speaking in a meeting or class” was feared by 14.4%.

While impromptu speaking is different than doing a prepared speech, it does not make more people anxious.