Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays!

I’ve blogged enough about public speaking and presentations for this year. Next year I’ll be back, starting with a post about trying to photograph the recent lunar eclipse.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

This pie chart needs two kinds of help!

Yesterday on the Business Presentation Clinic blog I saw a post titled This Pie Chart Needs Rescue with a chart similar to the one shown above. One of the problems with this chart is that it displays nine different categories, while a pie chart is only effective for up to about five categories.

However, what struck me first was that the numerical labels on the chart shown above don’t match with their wedge angles. The largest category, Presentations, is labeled as being 24%, so that angle should be slightly less than 90 degrees. Instead it is much greater, more than 120 degrees. When you add up the nine numbers shown on the labels, you get a total of only 88%. The first kind of rescue that this chart needs is a look at the original data table to find the correct percentages that add to 100%. When you label the percentages correctly you get the following bar chart:

They went on to fix the problem of having too many categories with a revised pie chart (their Chart A) showing just the three largest categories, and grouping the other six into a fourth category marked Other (and then detailed in a table to the right of the pie chart).

They also displayed the data in three other ways: a stacked bar chart (Chart B), a bar chart (Chart C), and a column (vertical bar) chart (Chart D). I think that the bar chart is the best way for displaying all the data while emphasizing what is most important. All of the bars start from a common origin, so it is easy to compare their magnitudes. For the stacked bar chart they also added an table detailing the Other category. The column chart is unsatisfactory for presenting on a screen because the labels are vertical. You shouldn’t have to rotate your head to read. I really liked that all their revisions had headlines stating that The Majority of Our Employees Need Presentation Skills Training rather than Training Needs from Global Employees.

In a previous post I said that Pie charts do not speak clearly; they just mumble. In that post I referred to a 14-page newsletter article by Stephen Few from 2007 about why you should just Save the Pies for Dessert. He points out that:

“Because the pie chart was difficult to read, we added values so we wouldn’t have to compare the sizes of the slices and we added direct (company) labels so we wouldn’t have to rely on a legend. We turned the pie chart into an awkwardly arranged equivalent of a table of labels and values.”

When the bar chart can stand by itself, why bother with using a pie chart with labels (or a stacked bar chart plus a table)? Why not use either a chart or a table, and avoid straying somewhere in-between?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Heritage interpretation and public speaking

One of the topics that overlaps with public speaking is heritage interpretation. Interpreters are people who who explain natural or cultural resources for visitors at places like parks, nature centers, museums, zoos, botanical gardens, aquariums, and tour companies. Interpretation also includes writing and graphic design of exhibits and signs.

The National Park Service does interpretation as part of their mission, like the snowshoe nature walk through Yosemite shown above. They have a very useful publication on the Foundations of Interpretation. In their discussion of its history they mention a book by Larry Beck and Ted Cable, Interpretation for the 21st Century: fifteen guiding principles for interpreting nature and culture. Those fifteen principles (which apply equally well to inspirational or motivational speaking) are:

"1. To spark an interest, interpreters must relate the subject to the lives of visitors.

2. The purpose of interpretation goes beyond providing information to reveal deeper meaning and truth.

3. The interpretive presentation - as a work of art - should be designed as a story that informs, entertains, and enlightens.

4. The purpose of the interpretive story is to inspire and to provoke people to broaden their horizons.

5. Interpretation should present a complete theme or thesis and address the whole person.

6. Interpretation for children, teenagers, and seniors - when these comprise uniform groups - should follow fundamentally different approaches.

7. Every place has a history. Interpreters can bring the past alive to make the present more enjoyable and the future more meaningful.

8. High technology can reveal the world in exciting new ways. However, incorporating this technology into the interpretive program must be done with foresight and care.

9. Interpreters must concern themselves with the quantity and quality (selection and accuracy) of information presented. Focused, well-researched interpretation will be more powerful than a longer discourse.

10. Before applying the arts in interpretation, the interpreter must be familiar with basic communications techniques. Quality interpretation depends on the interpreter’s knowledge and skills, which should be developed continuously.

11. Interpretive writing should address what readers would like to know, with the authority of wisdom and the humility and care that comes with it.

12. The overall interpretive program must be capable of attracting support - financial, volunteer, political, administrative - whatever support is needed for the program to flourish.

13. Interpretation should instill in people the ability, and the desire to sense the beauty in their surroundings - to provide spiritual uplift and to encourage resource preservation.

14. Interpreters can promote optimal experiences through intentional and thoughtful program and facility design.

15. Passion is the essential ingredient for powerful and effective interpretation - passion for the resource and for those people who come to be inspired by the same."

There is a National Association for Interpretation which also has a blog on Interpretation by Design (graphic design basics for heritage interpreters).

I learned about interpretation when I heard Jane Rohling speak on Sharing Nature and Culture in Words & Pictures at the October meeting of the Boise Nonfiction Writers group.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I don’t want to buy a doorbuster

I don’t need a doorbuster, so I don’t care if you advertise in the newspaper that they are on sale today. You’ve been trying to sell me one ever since Black Friday. I didn’t ever want to buy a blowout either.

Also, forget about selling me a red tag. Please get some new marketing jargon.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Speaking Ass: the worst blog title of the year

One of the many surprises I found using a Google Alert on the phrase "public speaking" is a recent Wordpress blog named Speaking Ass and subtitled “how to speaking ass?” A jackass is a male donkey. The title could refer to an arrogant communicator, rude noises, or even the speaking ass in the Bible (Numbers, Chapter 22).

That title seems to be a spelling error with an extra s on the end of “as” or just a yakwirm (you all know what I really meant). As you might suspect the owner is in China. English may not be his or her first language. Some blog posts are fairly incoherent too.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The joy of speaking: Marshall Goldsmith on Mojo

Recently I found Marshall Goldsmith’s book Mojo: how to get it, how to keep it, how to get it back if you lose it at my local public library. He defines it in this brief video.

The first chapter opens with a story about watching his friend’s daughter, Chrissy, play in a high school basketball game. Her team had a bad first half, but then they bounced back and won. Marshall says that:

“To some degree, we're all familiar with Mojo. If you've ever given a speech-and done it well-you know the feeling. I realize that public speaking is one of people's greatest fears; many people would rather crawl through a snake-filled swamp than talk in front of a crowd. But if you're a remotely successful adult, chances are you've had to speak in public at some point. It might be a sales pitch to a customer. It might be an internal presentation where you defend your work to your bosses and peers. It might be a eulogy at a loved one's funeral, or a toast at your daughter's wedding. Whatever the occasion, if you've done it well-if the audience hangs on every word, nods in agreement, laughs at your jokes, and applauds at the end-you've created the same feeling that was spreading across Chrissy's high school gymnasium. You're firing on all cylinders and everyone in the room senses it. That is the essence of Mojo.”

You can read a longer excerpt from Chapter 1 here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Half of employers surveyed think recent college grads lack communications skills

Every fall the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), conducts a survey of employers. In a press release on January 21, 2010 they noted that:

“Employers taking part
in NACE’s Job Outlook 2010 survey, ranked communication skills at the top of the skills they seek in potential employees. Rounding out the top five were analytical skills, the ability to work in a team, technical skills, and a strong work ethic.”

When I looked further I found that communications skills has topped the list for the past decade.
Heather R. Huhfman mentioned and then discussed all five skills in a Wall Street Journal blog post on why you should Graduate with Skills, Not Just a Degree.

That is what they wanted, but what did they get? An article in the Fall 2010 issue of Eye on Psi Chi by Paul Hettich titled What We've Got Here is a Failure to Communicate noted that:

“When National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) asked its employer members to rate the importance of key skills and qualities that job candidates should possess, the 10 skills receivi
ng the highest ratings from respondents (N = 201) were, in rank order: Communication skills, strong work ethic, initiative, interpersonal skills, problem-solving skills, teamwork skills, analytical skills, flexibility/adaptability, computer skills, and detail-oriented.

"....When the same NACE respondents were asked where job applicants fall short, communication skills led the list of deficiencies (as it has for years); teamwork skills ranked fifth.”

Dr. Hettich concluded by advising students to consider seven ways to improve their communications skills. His article got me wondering whether lack of communications skills was perceived as a problem by lots of employers or relatively few.

I went looking for more details about the NACE survey. It was done in 2009. Employers were asked to rate the importance of twenty candidate skills/qualities on a scale that originally ran from 1 to 5, and you can find those results (Figure 34) here. I’ve changed it to run from 10 to 50 where:

10 = not important,

20 = not very important,
30 = somewhat important,

40 = very important,
50 = extremely important.

They also were asked to pick the top five skills, which are shown in the following chart via blue bars. (Click on the chart for a larger, clearer version). Communications skills topped the list with a 47.

Employers also were asked
what skills or qualities they find new college graduates to be lacking, I found the whole survey posted on the web site for Eastern Connecticut State University. Those percentages (Figure 36) are shown via the red bars. We would hope that there would only be small red bars to go with the blue bars at the top of the list. Unfortunately, communication skills also topped that list, and half (49.7%) of employers said new grads lacked that skill. The percentages lacking analytical or technical skills were much smaller.

The following chart reports detailed results for all twenty categories from Figures 34 and 36. Click on it for a larger versio
n. The top ten skills lacking were communication, flexibility/adaptability, tactfulness, initiative, teamwork, organizational, strong work ethic, self confidence, problem solving, and detail oriented. No survey data was tabulated for the percent lacking interpersonal skills.

The chart provides a picture o
f both what employers seek and what they perceive they are not getting from recent grads. If you now are looking for a job you should consider what these results say about your younger competition. Also, you should consider joining an organization like Toastmasters to improve your communication skills.

The image of college grads came from Kit.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Do something surprising!

It’s very easy to get into a rut and use the same cliches everyone else does. Why not do something surprising and go off in an entirely different direction?

Louis L’Amour wrote 89 novels, almost all of which were Westerns. I once read that the supply boats for offshore oil rigs on the Gulf coast used to deliver and swap them by the boxful.

Mr. L’Amour also tried turning that genre inside out. His novel Last of the Breed is an Eastern in which a Native American test pilot had been shot down over the Soviet Union, and then escapes from a prison in Siberia. He flees to the east toward the Bering Strait, pursued by a Yakut trapper.

The image of a fork in the Oxbottom Road is from Nigel Freeman.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Good brief advice from the text book publisher, Allyn & Bacon

Allyn & Bacon has an excellent Public Speaking web site that contains supplemental materials for a basic college course.It contains the following six topics and sub-topics. You can find their hyperlinked Table of Contents here.

1. Assess Your Speechmaking Situation
a. Find a topic
b. Clarify your speaking goal
c. Develop your central idea or thesis

2. Analyze Your Audience
a. Determine characteristics of your audience
b. Consider cultural considerations
c. Interact with your audience during your talk
d. Get feedback following your talk

3. Research Your Topic
a. Develop your expertise
b. Work with other experts to boost your credibility
c. Assess the credibility of resources
d. Work with reference librarians
e. Find evidence to back up your claims

4. Organize and Write Your Speech
a. Choosing a pattern of organization
b. Starting your talk
c. Ending your talk
d. Developing visual aids
e. Using PowerPoint

5. Deliver Your Presentation
a. Select a mode of delivery
b. Demonstrate dynamism
c. Manage your nervousness
d. Interact with your audience
e. Use visual aids
f. Dress for success

6. Discern Other Talks
a. Analyze other talks
b. Give feedback to other speakers
c. Learn from expert speakers
d. Work with public speaking support groups

e. Volunteer to speak
f. Consider a career in public speaking

For each sub-topic there is is a thoughtful paragraph with a few links. For example, under Deliver Your Presentation the paragraph on Manage your nervousness mentions taking the Personal Report of Public Speaking Anxiety, which I have mentioned in a previous post about how to tell if you really have a high level of anxiety.

Under Discern Other Talks the paragraph on Work with public speaking support groups mentions Toastmasters, Powertalk International (ITC), Speaking Circles International, and the Association for Women in Communications.

The home page for the website has links to other sites for six public speaking textbooks with even more information.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

More places for digging up books about public speaking

The most obvious ways to buy books about public speaking are to check the shelves at your local bookstore, or to go online and look at Amazon. There are four other less obvious places where you can dig up books, and be your own Santa Claus.

One is remainder stores like Edward R. Hamilton, Bookseller. They are over 40 years old, and still have the same cranky Yankee business model. You can get a printed catalog or look on their web site. Then you write down or print your order on a form, attach a check or money order including just $3.50 for shipping and handling, and mail it to a post office box in Connecticut. They send your books (or CDs, or DVDs) via media mail. Right now they have Scott S. Smith’s, The Everything Public Speaking Book for $6 instead of the $12 at Amazon shown in my previous post. Last decade Hamilton finally got less cranky and also started another web site where you can order with a credit card.

A second is eBay, the online auction site which, among other things, is a worldwide garage sale. There are both new and used books on eBay, and some are “Buy It Now” with fixed prices. Some charity thrift stores also are on eBay. Goodwill in Seattle had a used copy of Timothy Koegel’s, The Exceptional Presenter for $7 (with free shipping) rather than the $15 new at Amazon.

A third is used book stores shown on Two of my local thrift stores, Idaho Youth Ranch and Goodwill (Easter Seals, Meridian) even are there via ABE Books.

A fourth is book swapping sites like I listed some books I no longer needed, and then earned credits for paying to send them out to other members. Then I requested several fairly recent public speaking textbooks from other members.

The Wikimedia Commons photo of a laborer is from David Goehring.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Book suggestions for the holidays

If you are serious about public speaking, then you will want Santa to bring you some good books rather than just games or toys. Here are seven suggestions with current prices at Amazon. I have read or skimmed these at my friendly local public library:

1. Kristin Arnold, Boring to Bravo, 2010, $17

2. James S. O’Rourke, The Truth About Confident Presenting, 2010 $15

3. Scott S. Smith, The Everything Public Speaking Book, 2008, $12

4. Richard Zeoli, The 7 Principles of Public Speaking, 2008, $10

5. Timothy Koegel, The Exceptional Presenter, 2007 $15.

6. Marathe Mandar, The Successful Speaker, 2007 $27

7. Cyndi Maxey and Kevin O’Conner, Present Like a Pro, 2006, $10

Check the shelves at your local bookstore, either an independent or a chain (perhaps Barnes and Noble, Borders, etc). Another was is to go online and look at Amazon. You can use the Look Inside feature at Amazon, or search Google Books to examine the table of contents and sample some pages before you buy.

Don’t just assume that Amazon will have the lowest price! When comparing prices it is useful to try Bookfinder, which has a default setting that lists total prices including shipping. There are other less obvious ways to buy books, but that’s another story.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Rehearse your speech in front of a pre-recorded audience

Back in late August a web site created by John Capps called SpeechFocus went online. The main feature is four videos of university student audiences (minus sound so far).

All were recorded at a state university in New Jersey, and they look appropriately bored. There is one with 12 people in a U-shaped layout, one with a small audience of 16, and there are two with a large audience of 30.

Without sound it’s a pretty rough simulation of a public speaking class. But, it is a novel alternative to practicing in front of your pets or some stuffed animals.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Punctuation and vocal variety

One advantage of speaking over writing is that we can convey tone via inflection and gestures. We even can use paired fingers to make “quotation marks” in the air when explaining an evil plan. In writing we just have to use punctuation marks or emoticons.

For example, a percontation point (like a backward question mark, as shown above) can be used at the end of a rhetorical question.

Chess has a vocabulary with six punctuation combinations for commenting on moves:

!! = Brilliant Move
! = Good Move
!? = Interesting Move
?! = Dubious Move
? = Mistake
?? = Blunder

In his Sheldon cartoons Dave Kellett occasionally has lamented that we need more punctuation marks to address everyday situations. Some of his are existing symbols with reassigned meanings like:

% = Only a tiny part of me could be considered glad.

//// = I build huge mental walls to block awkward truths.

Others are brand new symbols for:

Your ravings make no sense. I highly suspect you’ve been breathing paint fumes.

Don’t particularly want to know the answer.

To the Car! Quickly!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

When should you give an overview presentation?

Is it better to give a broad (wide) or a deep (narrow) presentation? Should you try to cover a lot of material (overview) without much detail, or just one topic in excruciating detail? I think the answer depends both on the audience and the presenter.

On October 29th in her Speaking About Presenting blog Olivia Mitchell discussed
6 Reasons You Shouldn’t Give an Overview Presentation, which were:

1. It’s not memorable

2. Nothing will stand out

3. Positions you as a generalist
4. It’s uninspiring

5. It’s boring
6. It’s not efficient

She referred to a 2008 post by Garr Reynolds, Deep or wide? You decide. Mr. Reynolds in turn referred to Michael Ally’s book, The Craft of Scientific Presentations. Both posts showed graphics like the left and center boxes shown above. Olivia also referred to a November 2009 post by Jon Thomas, The Advantage of Depth Instead of Width in a Presentation.

On page 63 of The Craft of Scientific Presentations Michael Alley says that:

“Just because giving a ‘broad-scope’ presentation is difficult does not mean that one should avoid giving such presentations. Rather, giving a broad-scope presentation means that the challenge is greater and the speaker has to think long and hard about the presentation’s structure.”

An old psychology (or philosophy) joke says that the whole world is divided into two types of people: those who divide things into two groups, and those who don’t. I am one of the second type of people. I think it is possible to give an “L-shaped” presentation that starts by explaining one key point in depth, and then continues more broadly (as shown above at the right).

For example, back in January at the SIEO-NACE Sun Valley Symposium I gave a 45-minute presentation that was an Introduction to Stainless Steels and Corrosion. It was divided into three sections:

1. Passive Film and Processing (21 slides)
2. Types and Typical Compositions (10 slides)

3. Corrosion - Pitting, Crevice, and Stress Corrosion Cracking (16 slides)

My first section had the key point, how stainless steels work. The surface of a stainless steel reacts with oxygen to form an extremely thin, self-healing, chromium-rich passive film which stops further corrosion. This process is called passivation, and the invisible film is only 10 to 100 atoms thick. When you understand how thin the film is, then you can understand why the surface must be processed meticulously to remove contaminants from fabrication. I spent over 40% of my time on that first section. The slide sequence I used was discussed in a January 12th blog post on How Thin is Extremely Thin?

I think you can and should give an overview presentation when you really know both your audience and your topic. It is not easy, but it is rewarding. Previously I had attended two other Sun Valley symposia, so I knew that an in-depth presentation would not really be appropriate. Another speaker had cancelled in mid-December. I had just three weeks to prepare as a fill-in. The talk was a celebration of my 30th anniversary as a NACE member. By the way, I'm sure I read Jon Thomas's post before I started planning.