Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Don’t be a public speaking ninja!

In many action-adventure movies you will will find ninjas or commandos dressed in black from head-to-toe stealthily slinking around in the dark, accompanied by menacing background music. For example, watch this trailer from the 1990 film Navy Seals.

When you speak you shouldn't blend into your background, like both Kevin Trudeau and his sidekick do in the images shown above. Instead you should plan to wear clothing that provides contrast with your surroundings.

Standing in front of a whiteboard wearing a white shirt or blouse will turn you into a “snow ninja!” A portrait photographer can show what solid colors will work well for you.

If you are going to be on television or videotaped, then you should avoid wearing clothes with fine patterns. For example, I have a light-blue check shirt with a 17 lines-per-inch blue “graph-paper” pattern that would make distracting shimmering moire patterns. You also should be aware of other possible stage distractions like unwanted backlighting from wall sconces directly behind you.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Social fears of Swedish adolescents in junior high school

In 2009, results from a survey of marked fears in 2,128 Swedish adolescents were published (see above bar chart). Click the image to enlarge it. Their data were collected from students in grades 6 to 8 (aged 12 to 14) back in 2005. Students came from five different municipalities, and there were 1136 girls and 992 boys. The detailed reference is: T. Furmark, M. Tillfors, P.-O. Everz, I. Marteinsdottir, O. Gefvert, M. Frederikson, “Social phobia in Swedish adolescents, ”Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, V44, pages 441 to 447, 2009. You can find an abstract here. It notes that this age group is in the at-risk period for developing social phobia.

Only 6.8% of the students reported a marked fear of speaking in front of the class. This was larger than any of the other 7 specific categories. Making a phone call to someone unfamiliar was second, feared by 4.8%. A marked fear of at least one social situation was reported by 13.8% of the group.

It is interesting to compare these results with those from the 1999 survey of the Swedish general public that I discussed in my previous post. For both making a phone call to someone unfamilar and initiating a conversation with someone unfamilar the percentages are almost a perfect match. But, while 24% of adults feared speaking (or performing) in front of a group of people, only 6.2% of the adolescents feared speaking in front of the class.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Almost 1 in 4 Swedes fears public speaking

In 1999, results from a postal survey of 1,202 people of social fears in the general Swedish population were published. Results are shown above. Click the image to enlarge the bar chart. (The detailed reference is: T. Furmark, M. Tillfors, P.-O. Everz, I. Marteinsdottir, O. Gefvert, M. Frederikson, “Social phobia in the general population: prevalence and sociodemographic profile,”Soc. Psychiatry Psychiatr. Epidemol., V34, pages 416 to 424, 1999.) You can find an abstract here. Their data were collected from both urban Stockholm and rural Gotland.

Almost one in four people, or 24.0% reported a fear of public speaking, which was larger than any of the other 13 specific categories. Speaking was feared almost four times a much as being in the audience (being addressed in a group of people, 6.1%).

Fear of using public toilets came in second, at 11.1%. That fear ranks relatively much higher than in surveys of Americans or Canadians. It is not clear whether this fear is is a real cultural difference. Perhaps it is logical and just due to low temperatures in restrooms in winter. I’ve never been to Sweden, so I’m not sure why.  

Dealing with authority figures was feared by only 3% of Swedes, which is relatively much less than for people in Hong Kong (where it was even larger than fear of public speaking).

It also is interesting to compare this survey with the later one of Swedish college students. Students found both making a phone call and attending a party to be much scarier than the general public did.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Antidaephobia strikes again

Anatidaephobia is the fear that somewhere, somehow, a duck is watching you. Gary Larson dreamed it up for one of his Far Side cartoons. Until last week no one actually had it, but now life has imitated art.

Once upon a time there was an obscure insurance company called American Family Life Assurance Company (of Columbus). In 1999 they realized that their acronym of AFLAC sounded like a duck quacking, so they began making commercials featuring a duck. They insure one of four Japanese households.

For TV commercials in the United States the duck was voiced by comedian Gilbert Gottfried. In the aftermath of the tsunami, Mr. Gottfried posted some jokes on Twitter. The insurer thought his comments very were insensitive, and on March 14th AFLAC fired him.

Now Mr. Gottfried probably has anatidaephobia. The next guy selected to do the voice for the duck definitely will have it. The moral of this story is to think before you tweet about business-related matters. Someone in management might not have your sense of humor.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Speech geometry: lines, circles, forks, and combs

On February 6th John Zimmer blogged about Basic Speech Geometry. He began by noted that many people think of a speech as being something linear, as shown above.

There is no good reason why that line needs to be straight though. A speech could follow some sort of a story arc instead.

Then John continued by saying that instead:

“I believe that a speech should be circular. Not in the sense that you keep going over the same point again and again. Rather, I mean that the conclusion should somehow bring the audience back to the introduction.”

Last Thursday I blogged about how to Use a storyboard to organize your presentation. As you begin by putting note cards or sticky notes into stacks, you will notice that there also should be clear transitions between the main points.

A speech with three main points (and an opening and closing) will have a geometry that resembles a fork at this stage of planning.

A complicated speech with many points instead will look more like a comb. During planning you might unconsciously be aware of patterns like these. I think naming them works better.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

World Storytelling Day 2011

Today is World Storytelling Day. For this year the theme is water. You can see several videos here. You can also hear a Crystal special hour from North Country Public Radio here.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Marketing what isn’t there: aluminum-free baking soda

Back in early February I had a late-night bout of insomnia. I turned on the radio and listened to the Coast to Coast AM show, which often is more entertaining than informative. There was a discussion of the miracles of baking soda. One guest smugly mentioned that you should be careful to always use aluminum-free baking soda. What?

Baking powder is used to leaven quick breads. It generates carbon dioxide from chemical reactions between baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and acid salts. The simplest “single-acting” baking powder just uses cream of tartar (potassium bitartrate) as the acid salt. Fancier “double acting” baking powders add another acid salt; some use compounds like sodium aluminum sulfate, or sodium aluminum phosphate. The label on the Clabber Girl can in my pantry says it consists of cornstarch, sodium bicarbonate, sodium aluminum sulfate, and monocalcium phosphate. There is a significant amount of aluminum in there. It also says it is gluten-free. If you are worried about ingesting aluminum, or just don’t like the taste, then you can check package labels or this list and find a brand of baking powder without it.

However, baking soda is almost entirely sodium bicarbonate. I occasionally use a bit of the generic stuff for leavening a batch of Irish soda bread. There is another brand that claims to be natural and both aluminum-free and gluten-free. It costs over twice as much as the generic stuff.

I’m not exactly sure what “aluminum-free” means. I suspect it’s only a marketing ploy for scaring people, like in the Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal cartoon shown above. One Prairie Home Companion radio show even had a phony commercial for Old Folks at Home Cottage Cheese, which proudly claimed to have neither arsenic, nor formaldehyde.

Baking soda might contain small traces of other elements or compounds. When I looked on the internet I found contradictory information about whether the popular Arm and Hammer brand contained any aluminum. An obsessive Grandad from Exeter had two other brands analyzed for aluminum, and the lab found <0.01 ppm (parts per million) in one and 2.8 ppm in another. Someone else asked the Australian maker, McKenzie Bicarb Soda, who replied they have less than 0.2 ppm in theirs. If you are more used to seeing percentages, remember that 1 ppm = 0.0001 %. So, the amount of aluminum there is pretty insignificant. Maybe aluminum-free really means that you don’t get charged extra for the little bit of aluminum already in there.

Perhaps they should have taken Simon Sinek’s recent advice to Say What You Are, Not What You're Not. The image of a no-name box of baking soda is from Michael Francis McCarthy.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Use a storyboard to organize your presentation

A storyboard is a shorthand visual script. It is like a comic strip - a series of drawings with words and images that outline and illustrate the points in a presentation. We can begin to make one by listing our ideas on note cards or sticky notes, and arranging them in stacks, as shown above. It’s easy to rearrange them at this stage.

Next we lay them out in sequence and take another look to see if the order makes sense and flows. If it does, then we can go to our computer, open PowerPoint, type in the words, and add the images. For editing we will use the Slide Sorter view to see an equivalent of our storyboard.

A storyboard can begin with a series of 1-1/2 by 2-inch Post-It notes arranged in a file folder, as is shown above for my speech about the Case of the Corroded Computer, which I discussed previously.

I originally give that speech as project #8 (Get Comfortable with Visual Aids) in the Toastmasters Competent Communication manual. For that audience my PowerPoint slides were similar to those shown above. For the medical high school students I had a more detailed version that included things like the chemical reaction used to test for chloride.

Making storyboards with sticky notes was described by Marie Wallace as Picture Your Speech back in 1997. Bert Decker teaches it as the Decker Grid, using a folder with a template as shown here.

You can watch a recent video of Jon Thomas beginning the storyboard process. Nancy Duarte has described how she edited a 40 minute presentation down to an 18-minute TED talk. She discussed how you can go back to a storyboard from the Slide Sorter view in PowerPoint. Nancy noted that when you print slides as handouts with nine per page the images are 1-1/2 by 2-inches, just like those little Post-It notes.

Storyboards have a long history of use in animated cartoons and other films, as described by the following video.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The joy of listening to Ice Breaker speeches

The first Toastmasters speech project in the Competent Communication basic manual is a 4 to 6 minute long Ice Breaker. Its goal is for the new member to introduce himself or herself to the club. Listening to these speeches is a real treat, because you never know what will be in them.

Recently one from a music teacher opened with a trombone solo. Another member described how she went from growing up on a farm in Pennsylvania to working as an entomologist for the Forest Service.

In his unofficial guide to this speech Andrew Dlugan points out that:

“If you get up, say something, and sit down, you have succeeded in this project.”

However, thinking about writing this speech typically brings up some very big questions. In Babylon V, a science fiction TV series, one very ancient character named Lorien stated them as follows:

1. Who are you?

2. What do you want?

3. Why are you here?

4. Do you have anything worth living for?

5. Where are you going?

6. Who do you serve, and who do you trust?

It takes a lot of thought and editing to produce a clear answer for even one of these questions in only 5 minutes!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Joy of talking with high school students

On March 14th I spoke to the Toastmasters Youth Leadership Program at the Meridian Medical Arts Charter School. Patty Canto, the Vice President: Membership from Capitol Club, had asked for volunteers to speak.

I gave a ten-minute speech with PowerPoint slides. It was a technical mystery story called the “Case of the Corroded Computer.”

Almost twenty years ago there was a luxury car dealer who was getting ready to move into a remodeled vintage building in a state capital. Everyone was in a big hurry to get the move completed.

The last step before moving in the cars and the shop equipment was having a contractor come to clean the white tile floor for the showroom. The contractor was told it was OK for him to use hydrochloric acid on the discolored grout, so he did.

On the next day the dealer called and accused him of destroying a brand new minicomputer located in the bookkeeper’s office. The contractor said that was impossible, since his crew had not even been in the carpeted bookkeeper’s office, and the door had always been locked.

The contractor called his insurance company, and they sent a claims adjuster out. She wanted an independent technical evaluation of the damage. A chemist and I went to look at the computer. All the screws on the case were rusty brown instead of shiny silver color. Chemical tests on the motherboard revealed exposure to hydrochloric acid (HCl).

How did the acid (HCl) get there? The building had a forced air heating system. A furnace was located in the back of the showroom, just outside of the bookkeeper’s office. The cold air inlet was located just a few inches above the tile floor. The very first hot air outlet from the furnace led right into the bookkeeper’s office. Unfortunately that outlet was located on the wall directly above the computer, so it got an acid vapor bath. Oops!

After our report the insurer for the contractor bought the dealer a new computer. They got the “old” one to salvage. By hindsight the computer should not have been there yet.

Back in November 2008 I told this story to another group of younger students (4th to 6th grade). I had updated one of my slides to include the molecular weight for hydrochloric acid (36.4), and those for oxygen (32), nitrogen (28) and air (29). When I asked these high school students if hydrochloric acid vapor was lighter or heavier than air, several immediately said it was heavier because it had a larger molecular weight than air.

I forgot to mention to either set of students that the preceding story resembles a Sherlock Holmes story about murder in a locked room, called the Adventure of the Speckled Band.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Joy of teaching - internet research again

On March 8th I taught a two-hour class for Boise Community Education in the computer lab at West Junior High School. I last had presented “Surf No More: Internet Research Refined” in November 2008. This class contained a detailed PowerPoint presentation of some topics that I have discussed on this blog. Five people attended, most of them older than me. After the presentation we practiced using the internet.

One reason that research can be complicated is that there are both old forms of information like books, magazines and newspapers, and new forms like web sites, blogs, and tweets. There often are several choices for how to find and obtain any of them.

For example, there is a detailed review article about public speaking anxiety by Graham Bodie published last year. If I was in a hurry I just could find and order it for about $47 from ingentaconnect. If I wished to spend less money and more time I could go over to the Boise State University library, get a guest pass for one of their four public terminals, find it on a database, and download it myself.

Another reason is that there are several different types of information. You can picture them on a ladder going upward from concrete to abstract. Search engines like Google are excellent for finding data. For example, we can quickly find the phone number for the bagel bakery in Boise that’s near Fairview Avenue and Eagle Road. More abstract topics call for more thought and effort.

The body of my presentation was divided into three sections on where and how we should look. My discussion of search tactics included using quotation marks around phrases, using Boolean logic, and using the Google Advanced Search.

I ended my discussion of search tactics by describing the ProQuest database that the Boise Public Library uses for magazines and most newspapers. The Advanced Search in ProQuest is very powerful. You can search by subject, author, publication title, and within the full text. None of my students were familiar with using ProQuest. 

My last section was about ten search strategies, which I also have discussed briefly on this blog. Everyone got a handout with the PowerPoint slides. Later I emailed them a document with links to all the web sites I had discussed.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

When giving speeches, just wing it?

On February 18th Tony Hsieh, the CEO of had an article in the Huffington Post about how he now gives speeches. He started out by memorizing, and then switched to just “winging it.” His recipe for delivery without rehearsal might be a disaster for most of us. 

Nick Morgan has blogged about how:

“In fact, what happens when you wing it, or you don’t rehearse, is that your body language signals to the audience, “Hey, folks, I’m doing this for the first time!”  It's unconscious, but the audience picks it up subliminally right away.  Now, some people are terrified when they’re doing something for the first time, and some people are merely excited, but everyone is at least a little uncertain.”

While you might think you look like a soaring bird, you actually may appear more like the awkward gentlemen shown above. 

Similarly, Olivia Mitchell has discussed how:

“Sometimes you may come across an experienced speaker who appears to be winging it and produces a brilliant result. Before you assume that winging it is a winning strategy realise that they may have given a similar speech hundreds of times before.”

If you haven’t given a speech hundreds of times, then your attempt to wing it may result in losing your feathers and falling out of the sky like the Greek myth of Icarus.

Both Nick and Olivia’s posts talk about how to rehearse. Once you have done so you may decide to deliver your speech in one of four ways:

1. Wing it
2. Speak from notes
3. Read a script
4. Memorize everything

I’m not sure why Tony Hsieh chose to jump from #4 to #1. I think his advice at best just is another half truth.

The soaring fulmar came from Des Colhoun.


On March 24th Nick Morgan blogged about Tony Hsieh’s article. He said:

“But hang on a minute.  Tony’s not winging it.  Winging it is making it up as you go along.  But Tony already has a pretty good idea of what he’s going to say.  He’s going to choose from a finite list of stories he’s told many times, and about which he’s passionate. 

That’s not winging it, that’s giving a modular speech, a speech constructed out of familiar chunks that you’ve done many times before.”

In other words, Tony wasn’t  just playing a new, random set of cards. He’d stacked the deck with royal hearts and diamonds.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Taking the gloss off glossophobia

Back in July 2009 I quipped that, rather than a fear of public speaking, glossophobia might as well mean the fear of waxing your car to a high gloss (or possibly lip gloss). It is a compound word that is intended to amaze rather than inform. Searching using that term won’t lead you to much useful information.

The term continues to be used in press releases, often with a claim of how commonly it occurs. There was one on March 1st by Lynn Scarborough that claimed:

“The technical term for this common phobia is Glossophobia which comes from the Greek meaning fear or dread (phobos) of the tongue (glossa). Studies have shown that “tongue fear” or stage fright is shared by over 75% of the population, regardless of sex, nationally or socio-economic level.”

There was another one on February 28th touting a book Tongue-Tied America: Reviving the Art of Verbal Persuasion, by Robert Sayler and Molly Bishop Shadel:

“About 80 percent of educated adults in America suffer from some form of glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, Sayler said.”

In January 2010 professor Graham Bodie published a very detailed review article on pages 70 to 105 in volume 59 of Communication Education magazine. It was titled “A Racing Heart, Rattling Knees, and Ruminative Thoughts: Defining, Explaining and Treating Public Speaking Anxiety.” How many times did the word glossophobia appear in there? None, nil, nada!

When you look up glossophobia in online dictionaries, you will find that it does not appear in either Merriam-Webster or the Oxford English dictionary, although other “top five” phobias do.

I also tried looking up glossophobia, and the phrases “speech anxiety” and “public speaking anxiety” in nine different magazine databases. My searches were of the full-text of their articles. The results are shown above. Glossophobia showed up a lot in the general ProQuest Central database at the Boise Public Library. It did not show up at all in the more technical ProQuest Social Sciences and ProQuest Psychology databases. Glossophobia showed up very rarely in the Communication Abstrracts and Communication & Mass Media Complete databases at Boise State University (which have the most detailed technical coverage of public speaking)   

Using the word glossophobia says something - that you don’t actually know what you are talking about. It’s really just pseudo-technical terminology.

The nifty mirror image of lip gloss comes from Daniel Case.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Stuttering is a royal pain

Early last month I saw the historical drama, The King’s Speech, at The Flicks here in Boise. It is an impressive movie, particularly considering the relatively low budget (around $16 million). The plot is about King George VI overcoming his stutter (or stammer) with the help of an unorthodox speech therapist who also becomes his friend. 

Late last month I was pleasantly surprised to see it win four Academy Awards (Oscars) for:

Best Picture
Best Leading Actor (Colin Firth)
Best Director (Tom Hooper)
Best Original Screenplay (David Seidler)

The award for Best Picture was particularly surprising, because another nominee was Inception, a $160 million science-fiction action film. It starred both Leonardo DiCaprio and  Michael Caine, and seemed a much more obvious choice.

The King’s Speech was unusual for offering a sympathetic portrayal of a stutterer. More commonly in movies that problem is portrayed for comic effect, as in A Fish Called Wanda where Michael Palin played the stammering Ken Pile. Palin’s father had a stammer

You can find out more about stuttering from the National Stuttering Association and the Stuttering Foundation.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Best Special Effects in a Top-Ten List of Phobias

If there ever was an Oscar for this topic, then the obvious winner would be Gary Greenberg’s outrageous The Pop-Up Book of Phobias from back in 1999. Mere words fail to describe it. You must see it, or at least watch a video or two of the pages being turned.

The first page has a dental drill leaping out, along with an instrument tray complete with a spittoon. Then, for the fear of flying the view out the window changes from green earth to flames, the tray table dumps into your lap, and the oxygen mask drops down. Next come snakes, claustrophobia (which doesn’t open past a right angle), and a filthy toilet.

For public speaking there is a frowning audience, and then a microphone jumps up at you from the lectern. Then comes a spider, heights, scary clowns, and being buried.

Gary is a comic who did stand-up and also writes for the Jimmy Kimmel Live TV show.

If you looked inside Gary’s brain you probably would see something like this old drawing of a Professional Humorist’s Club, to which I have added color.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Being second in my first Toastmasters speech contest

On February 16th I was a contestant for the International Speech Contest at The Capitol Club. I didn’t win, and didn’t really expect to. The other contestant was our club President, Mike Thornton, who had lots more contest experience. It was an interesting experience though. Speech contests are a formal ritual conducted based on detailed rules that are updated annually. This year they are in a 19-page Speech Contest Rulebook.

I spoke on Timing Tiles (for Toastmasters club meetings), a subject that I have blogged about here before. The challenge was to explain this concept clearly within the 5 to 7 minute time limit.

My talk began by pointing out that we have the Timer signal the speaker using the 90 year-old idea of a green-yellow-red traffic light. That idea is in the contest rules. I used a 7 x 18” foamboard prop showing a traffic light. For the first four to six minute Icebreaker speech, feedback only begins with the green light at four minutes, or 2/3rds of the way through the allotted time.

Then I discussed the newer idea of a progress bar display on your computer. I flipped over my prop to show an example, with the traffic light idea also added. It provides continuous feedback on a slow operation, like defragmenting your hard drive, or downloading a large file. You always know exactly where you are.

Finally I discussed how the ideas of a traffic light and a progress bar could be simply combined using an enlarged version of the square letter tiles and holder from the game of Scrabble. My props were a wooden holder and the five-inch square foamboard tiles. I began by holding up one giant Scrabble tile with a letter W on it. Then I illustrated how three plain white tiles would go into the holder, followed by the green, yellow, and red tiles.

I pointed out that the same sequence for placing the tiles shown above for an Icebreaker speech could also apply to both the Evaluations and Table Topics section of a meeting. All that would change was the time interval between placing the tiles. Now there would be twice as much feedback, and it would begin much earlier.

I finished by noting that the Timing Tiles are like training wheels on a bicycle. Some might consider them an unnecessary crutch. However, other people need that kind of help at first. Anyone who wanted to stay with just the traffic light signals (contest style) could tell the Timer to quit providing more feedback.

One of the rule changes for 2011 was to finally explicitly give each contestant the responsibility for setting up and taking down his props. Previously this detail had been ignored in the rules, so by our local option the Sergeant-at-Arms handled the props. Our Contest Chair instructed me to follow that old rule. That update is buried in the very last section of the Rulebook near the bottom of page 19.

The cute image of a bicycle with training wheels is from David Maisel.