Thursday, June 30, 2011

Celebrate Freedom from Fear of Public Speaking Week, or Day, or Month

Once again (July 1st to 7th) it’s time to celebrate this extremely obscure event. I’d blogged about it both in 2009 and 2010, but it hasn’t exactly gone viral.

So, this year I dropped the modified Uncle Sam poster and replaced it with a photo of Josh Lee (Joshua Bryan Lee), who exemplifies lack of fear of public speaking.

Mr. Lee was head of the Public Speaking department at the University of Oklahoma for fifteen years, from 1919 to 1934. Then he talked his way into the U.S. Congress and served a term each as Representative and Senator. His book on How to Hold an Audience Without a Rope was published in 1947.

In 2008 Beverly Beurmann-King proposed July 2nd as Freedom From Fear of Public Speaking Day. Then she changed it to a week. Two other web sites have claimed the event is a whole month.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Like tire runs, speech contests are useful exercises

Although speech contests aren’t like typical business presentations they still are very useful exercises. Russ Howser explained it brilliantly in one of his Presentation Dynamics blog posts last year:

“....there are no tires on an American football field. Yet football players often train by running through rows of tires. It would seem a pointless exercise, training for something that will never happen in a game situation, but of course, that’s not why they do it.

They run through the tires because it trains them to stay balanced, to place their feet precisely and to lift their feet when they run. It trains them in the type of skills that ARE directly applicable to successfully running through the jumble of flying limbs and falling bodies that litter the field during the average play.

That’s what Toastmasters does too. It trains speakers to speak with power, flexibility and precision....”

I was glad to see that Presentation Dynamics now appears on Alltop Speaking.

Monday, June 27, 2011

2011 World Championship of Public Speaking

Last Tuesday Toastmasters issued a press release about how In the World's Largest Speech Contest, 82 Toastmasters Advance to the Semifinals. As shown above, those 82 at the District level are the latest step of a process that began with 30,000 participants. Then nine will be selected as finalists, and one will be named as the World Champion. Many of the champions have careers either as professional speakers or as speech coaches.

In 1970 Stephen D. Boyd was the World Champion. He was only 26. The next year he finished a Ph.D. in Speech Communication at the University of Illinois and became a professor. He’s written books, and continues to produce a stream of readable magazine articles like:

Toss the Gum Before You Speak (Agency Sales, July 2009)

Get Rapt Attention from Your Audience: nine strategies for organizing your presentation
(SuperVision, December 2009)

Speak So Your Students Can Speak (Techniques, January 2008)

Effectively Integrating Statistics into Sales Presentations (Agency Sales, December 2004)

The Presentation After the Presentation (Techniques, March 2004)

The Presentation Before the Presentation (Agency Sales, June 2002)

If you were looking for who won the 2011 contest, then go here.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Telling your own stories

Earlier this week I finished reading Donald D. Davis’s excellent 1993 book on Telling Your Own Stories (for family and classroom storytelling, public speaking, and personal journaling). It’s only 128 pages, and you can find a preview of it at Google Books.

Mr. Davis was a Methodist minister in North Carolina for twenty years before he became a full-time storyteller. He has written many other books of stories. The most recent one is Tales From a Free-Range Childhood.

On pages 36 and 37 he discusses the story form format shown above, which also is described on this web page about honing your story. We meet the main character who is headed for trouble. He goes through a crisis, and survives it via a new insight. The story often ends with an affirmation. Mr. Davis also mentions using five languages, as discussed on another web page. A third web page describes his rubric with five Ps: People, Places, Problem, Progress, and Point. (You also can draw a Picture!)

On pages 40 through 49 there are prompts for helping recall events to start making stories, like #14 on page 45:

“Can you remember a time when you learned something from a child?”

When he discusses family stories, he mentions the technique of drawing a series of parallel time lines showing the birth and death of family members. With this kind of diagram (rather than a family tree) you may be reminded of other living relatives who can provide information about the departed ones.

I found a brief video of Donald Davis opening a story by describing how:

“On the day that you turn 16, what do you do if you live in North Carolina? You go to the Division of Motor Vehicles, and you turn in your brain, and they give you a driver’s license!”

The first image is from a painting by Bessie Pease Gutmann. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Making a Storytelling Connection

The June issue of the Communication Currents web magazine from the National Communication Association has an interesting article by Trudy Hanson on Making the Storytelling Connection. It includes many links.

One link discusses the five languages of storytelling, which also apply to public speaking.

That issue also contains other articles about Communicating about Sex Education Through Stories and Is Technology Killing Storytellers?

The century-old photo shows children at a library listening to a legend.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Public speaking fears in Winnipeg

Back in 1993 three researchers (Murray F. Stein, John R. Walker, and David R. Forde) at the University of Manitoba did a telephone poll about fear of public speaking. It was done as part of an annual community survey using a sample of about 500 people in Winnipeg. Results were reported in a 1996  article, “Public Speaking Fears in a Community Sample - Prevalence, Impact on Functioning, and Diagnostic Classification” published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. You can read the abstract here.

167 of the 499 people said they were much more nervous (or uncomfortable) than other people about speaking to a large audience. These 34% were considered to have a substantial fear of public speaking.  Another 24% of the 499 said they were somewhat more nervous than other people. (Only 59 of the 167, or 12% of the overall sample, rated themselves as that nervous when instead speaking to a small group of familiar people).

Those with a substantial fear of public speaking reported having the percentages of five anxious thoughts (cognitions) shown above.

People with a substantial fear of public speaking also reported it having the serious impacts shown above.

They also tried to describe when the fear of speaking started, and found that 50% had it by age 13, 75% by age 17, and 90% by age 20. I’d previously mentioned those results agree with more recent ones using a larger sample.  

In 2003 a press release and a report from Emory University (in Atlanta) about using virtual reality therapy for fear of public speaking mentioned data from that survey as background information:

“The fear of public speaking is common in up to 88 percent of individuals with social phobia, and 34 percent of people in the general population.”

More recently on eHow that result was restated as:

“In 2003, Emory University reported that 34 percent of people panic at the thought of speaking in public...”

Finally, on May 31st at Woman’sDay that result was described as:

“According to research from Emory University, the fear of public speaking is prevalent in up to 34 percent of the general population.”

That’s not just a horse of a different color - it’s completely mythical. By now it’s lost when, where, and who was responsible for the survey. (I emailed Professor Rothbaum at Emory to check if they had done a survey there, and they hadn’t). The Woman’sDay quote already was repeated on June 14th by Bill Burniece. The moral is to check the source before spreading a fictitious statistic.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Public speaking isn’t opera

Last week I saw a blog post by Allison Shapira about how public speaking is not opera. She pointed out two of the biggest differences. First, in public speaking you typically are responsible for creating your material. In opera you are interpreting words and music written by someone else. Second, a speech is like an enlarged conversation, while an opera is a performance. An opera singer seeks perfection, not just excellence. He or she is often is helped by a hidden prompter. Many aspects of public speaking are similar to opera though, as shown in the following table.

Therefore you can learn a lot about speaking from watching and listening to someone who has sung opera. When I joined Capitol Club Toastmasters I encountered Jim Poston, who had a Masters in Opera Performance from the Boston Conservatory.  He had been a TV news anchorman both in Laredo, Texas and Boise, Idaho. Jim told us some amazing Midwestern tall tales, including one about getting away with murder.

He’s a graduate student in Department of Communication at Boise State University, where he’s working on his second masters degree. Jim also is on the adjunct faculty of the department of Communication at the College of Western Idaho. This summer he’s teaching Fundamentals of Oral Communication.

The image of an opera singer is from here.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Is your speech freshly ground or stale from a jar?

Freshly ground peanut butter is great when compared with the staler, sugary stuff that comes out of a jar. (I get mine at the bulk food section in the WinCo Foods supermarket downtown). Similarly, a freshly prepared speech with your own content, tailored for a specific audience, is far better than a stale one borrowed from other sources.

On Tuesday I gave an Introduction to Stainless Steels and Corrosion at the NACE Intermountain Section meeting in Salt Lake City. I’d previously spoken to their Sun Valley Symposium in January 2010. Only 6 people in the audience (mostly officers) of 30 had heard my presentation before.

I had updated my discussion of service environments to include the drinking water for the Salt Lake City metro area. Their surface water sources are mountain streams and melted snow, but during the summer they also depend on ground water from wells. Each stainless steel can tolerate a certain chloride content (depending on temperature) before crevice or pitting corrosion becomes a problem.

Professor Stephen Boyd has discussed several ways for keeping your speech material fresh.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Learn to ignore these audience behaviors

Yesterday Gideon Rachman’s blog at the Financial Times discussed The art of public speaking. He previously spent 15 years at The Economist, and now also writes a weekly column on foreign affairs. Gideon discussed how some people do unnerving things that you should learn to ignore:

“....When speaking about the future of Europe at St.Antony’s College, Oxford, a couple of months ago, I was hugely disconcerted to see a woman, sitting near the front, who kept screwing up her face in disagreement and contempt, as I droned on. I became convinced that she was a professor of economics, appalled by my ignorance. Later, I made inquiries and I discovered that she was actually a former graduate student from the 1960s, with pronounced left-wing views and a very mobile face, who comes to almost all public events at St.Antony’s.”

“When I gave a lecture at the London School of Economics, also this year, a member of the audience fell asleep and began to snore noisily. I caught the eye of his wife, who was sitting next to him, and she shrugged and looked embarrassed. Every now and then she would nudge him and he would fall silent – only to start up again a few minutes later. It really is quite difficult to rise above this sort of thing.”

On Tuesday I spoke at the NACE Intermountain Section meeting in Salt Lake City. My topic was an introduction to stainless steels and corrosion. I’d given basically the same presentation at their Sun Valley Symposium in January 2010. Before I began I asked the audience to raise their hands if they had attended the other meeting. About 6 of 30 did, and I told them it was OK to go to sleep, but not to snore.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A river full of business information

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) magazine hosts a blog called The Conversation that provides a constant stream of excellent business information on many topics like communication, presentations, managing yourself, personal effectiveness, etc. I look at it the whole river via Google Reader.  

Yesterday they had a story by Nick Morgan on Why You Must Rehearse. It’s a cautionary tale that’s both hilarious and pathetic. There also was a post by Dorie Clark on How to Recover from a Blunder.

The day before they had a post by Jerry Weissman on how Misdirection is for Magicians, Not Presenters. He gave advice about when to look at your slides. In May Jerry posted A Presenter’s Guide to Remembering What to Say.

There also have been posts by Whitney Johnson on The Essence of a Great Presentation, Ellen Galinsky on Getting Beyond Fear, and J. D. Schramm on How to Overcome Communication Fears.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture...

What were you doing on the evening of September 16, 1963? My siblings and I were sitting on the sofa in the family room. We were watching the premier episode of a new science fiction television show. The picture on our 1950 black and white set had lost horizontal and vertical hold, so as usual it needed to be very carefully adjusted back to normal. My younger brother Tom got up and began walking over to the TV. He froze when he heard an eerie, echoing, Control Voice solemnly intone:

“There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity.

For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to... The Outer Limits.”

You can watch a YouTube video of that opening here.

I wonder how many other people whose TV sets really needed adjustment were petrified the first time they heard that eerie voice at the opening for The Outer Limits

What have you tried as a compelling opening for your speech?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Prop hats from a felt donut: Chapeaugraphy or Tabarin

One old but still very amusing routine uses a simple felt donut that can be twisted and clipped to make many different prop hats, as shown above. I first saw Chapeaugraphy mentioned in a blog post by Tom Antion. British public speaker Nick R. Thomas mentions in his blog that he has done it.

Chapeaugraphy apparently goes back to a 17th century French street performer, who called himself Tabarin. You can find descriptions for making 25 hats in a 1902 book, New ideas in magic: Illusions, spiritualistic effects, etc. by William Henry James Shaw. Search in Google Books with the phrase “New ideas in magic”, and then look inside, starting on page 67 or search inside under the word chapeaugraphy.  

You also can always do something surprising with that felt donut, like in this other YouTube video, where it first becomes a steering wheel, a rap record, and a porthole on the sinking Titanic.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How many hats do you wear?

In life we all fill many roles, or metaphorically wear many hats that can be incorporated into speeches as props, as mentioned by Tom Antion. Hats fill needs at many levels, as shown by this Indexed cartoon about where your head is.

We also may literally wear many hats. When the top of my head began to go bald (around age 30), I became especially conscious of hats. In the winter I keep my head warm by wearing knitted watch caps, also known as tuques. In the summer I avoid sunburn by wearing Army surplus boonie hats.

A TV comedy show called Whose Line Is It Anyway? used to feature a game about hats where two teams got to use a box of them as props for the world’s worst dating service video.

The most unusual hat I own is a South Pole Station baseball cap. It was a gift from my sister Ellen, who got to spend two weeks there in 2005 (including Thanksgiving). I used it as a prop for a Toastmasters speech titled “Of course the turkey is frozen - a very southern Thanksgiving.” Her husband Antony Stark designed a small radio telescope called AST/RO that was located in the Dark Sector - about a kilometer from the main station. Tony and his colleagues ran it for 11 years. Ellen got to help him dismantle it to make room for its larger successor, the South Pole Telescope.

Monday, June 6, 2011

How to recognize a fictitious statistic

Recently a Google search led me to this startling statement on page 109 of Brian Tracy’s 2011 book No Excuses!: The Power of Self Discipline:

“According to the book of lists, 54 percent of adults rate the fear of public speaking ahead of the fear of death.”

The same statement also appeared (minus that second the) on page 42 of his 2008 book, Speak to Win: How to Present with Power in Any Situation.

Rex Stout once said that:

“There are two kinds of statistics, the kind you look up and the kind you make up.”

Mr. Tracy’s statement is the second kind of statistic. The Book of Lists from 1977 really doesn’t have anything on page 469 to support that quote. The biggest percent shown is 41%.

How can you recognize a fictitious statistic?

First, it’s very impressive, but doesn’t really add up. It looks like the mythical ManBearPig shown above and featured in an episode of South Park. He was half man, half bear, and half pig, and therefore 50% too much.

Second, when you look for where it might have come from there’s almost no written history behind it. The only other book that mentions that 54 percent is Daryl D. Green’s Awakening the Talents Within: A Guide for the Next Generation of Leaders (200) which says more vaguely that:

“According to one survey, 54 percent of people rank fear of public speaking higher than fear of death.”

The ManBearPig graphic was cobbled together from images of a Brown Bear and background, the head of a Neaderthal Man and clip art of a Pig.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Like talking to a brick wall

Gene Weingarten writes a lifestyle column in the Washington Post. Yesterday he  described his worst speaking engagement. Gene was keynote speaker at a gala event honoring an animal rescue organization.

Before his speech there was an open bar, so much of the audience was inebriated and noisy. He might as well have been talking to a brick wall. The only reason he kept going was that the text of his speech was going to appear in the newspaper (and had been printed in advance).

Then he discussed another speech that went much better - even though he was ”dying.”

Friday, June 3, 2011

Technology by the lectern

David Pogue writes and speaks about computers. He wrote the Missing Manual books about both Windows 7 and Mac OS X Snow Leopard. On May 26th he blogged at the New York Times about Technology or lack thereof at the podium.

David described how audiovisual (A/V) technicians at various venues managed to get the job done, sometimes in surprising ways. He always carries an adapter (dongle) for connecting the video output from his MacBook to the VGA input on a projector.

David pointed out that it’s important to show up early so any A/V problems can be sorted out. He mentioned how he likes to use the Presenter View to see his notes and a preview of the next image. If you’re not familiar with this feature of PowerPoint, read a recent blog post by Adam Vero.

David also mentioned using a printout of the slides and notes at the lectern to get around his MacBook having to be off stage. (I usually print my slides at 9 per page on a handout and keep that summary on the lectern).

Your laptop might wind up on a cardboard box atop a chair or stool, as shown above. When possible I prefer to use my own laptop and remote. The last times I spoke at a university and a junior high school I used my simple remote with their desktop computer and ceiling-mounted projector. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Employers consider verbal communication and many other skills very important, but are only somewhat satisfied by their newly hired college graduates

Every year the National Association of Colleges and Employers (also known just as NACE) conducts a Job Outlook Survey. Last December I discussed their 2010 survey. Data for the 2011 survey was collected between July and October of 2010.

Among other things, they asked employers to rate the importance of 21 skills/qualities on a five-point scale where:

1 = Not important
2 = Not very important
3 = Somewhat important
4 = Very important
5 = Extremely important

They also asked them to rate their satisfaction in those skills/qualities of their new college hires on a five-point scale where:

1 = Not at all satisfied
2 = Not very satisfied
3 = Somewhat satisfied
4 = Very satisfied
5 = Extremely satisfied

Last December NACE put out a brief press release mostly about the top five skills. Southern Connecticut State University once again leaked the whole survey on their career services web site. (Google search the phrase “NACE Job Outlook 2011” and you will see it under I downloaded the survey and have analyzed their results reported in Figures 38, 39, and 40 as weighted average ratings.

The bar chart shows results for both importance (blue) and satisfaction (red). Click on it to see a larger version. 14 out of 21 skills were rated as very important (above 4.0). If everything was perfect, then those skills considered very important would have satisfaction ratings (in red) that would match (or even exceed) the blue ones. Instead there’s both good news and bad news.

First the good news. Some of the red bars exceeded the blue ones, but mainly for the three lowest-ranked qualities: sense of humor, entrepreneurial skills/risk/taker, and strategic planning skills. (That also was true for friendly/outgoing personality).

The bad news is that verbal communication skills, which were ranked most important at 4.65, lagged behind in satisfaction at 3.86. So did written communication skills, and many other skills (including the entire top ten). Last year they just listed communications skills, but didn't separate written and verbal.

These results indicate that college new hires are not really meeting their employers expectations. If you are still in college, then you should consider what courses you need to improve your skills. For suggestions about verbal communications, read this article by Paul Hettich.

If you are a recent graduate, then you could join a Toastmasters International club to improve your verbal communications skills.

A bar chart is much better tool to compare rankings for the importance, satisfaction, and differences between them than the three separate tables presented in the NACE survey. Those tables were organized from largest to smallest, so Communication skills (verbal) was in the top row under importance, in the eighth row under satisfaction, and in the fourth row under difference.

Ibagli posted the image showing a university graduation.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Overcoming public speaking anxiety - free videos from a university course

Back in January the University of California at Davis had a graduate-level course (GEO 298) on Overcoming Public Speaking Anxiety with nine lectures.  They posted their  unedited video files on YouTube:

Lecture 1: Class introduction (41 minutes)

Lecture 2: An overview of anxiety with Sharon Sausto Lasser (61 minutes)

Lecture 3: Reducing public speaking anxiety, with Michael Motley (58 minutes)

Lecture 4: Methods and resources for reducing anxiety (53 minutes)

Lecture 5: How to organize your presentation (35 minutes)

Lecture 6: Organizing your presentation and audience analysis (9 minutes)
Lecture 7: Effective use of presentation aids (49 minutes)

Lecture 8: Computer visual aids; the good, the bad, and the ugly (48 minutes)

Lecture 9: Speaking to non-academics (45 minutes)

They also posted the video files as free downloads on the Apple iTunes store. These are large files, about 1Gb each, so think before you try putting them onto an iPod or other portable device.

It’s nice to find some serious university level stuff on YouTube, along with clips of humorous animal tricks, etc.