Thursday, July 28, 2011

Fussbudgets and Toastmasters

In his Peanuts cartoon strip Charles Schultz popularized the word fussbudget via the character Lucy Van Pelt. She always was offering advice, either for a fee or for free. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines a fussbudget as:

“one who fusses or is fussy especially about trifles.”

Toastmasters International has two roles in their meetings that are particularly suited for and desired by fussbudgets: the Ah-Counter (helping members off their crutches) and the Grammarian (the syntax sentinel). Some clubs combine them into an Ah-Grammarian role, which can be like a handing a young boy a double-barreled shotgun. There’s a good chance that eventually someone is going to get wounded.

In a blog post with the tongue-in-cheek title of What I Hate About Toastmasters James Feudo mentioned one member who took the Ah-Counter role outside of a meeting, and gave unrequested feedback to a professional speaker. It didn’t end well.

I began moderating comments on this blog after another Toastmaster nitpicked me with A Visit from the Lectern/Podium Police Patrol. Later he didn’t have anything useful to add about fear of public speaking. He just likes criticizing other people via negative blog comments.

Update: Also see So You're mad about something on the Internet...

The image of Lucy's booth is from Allen Timothy Chang.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A useful online directory of speech evaluation forms

In a press release issued on July 12th a new company in Los Altos, California called Rate Speeches announced they have compiled a directory of public speaking evaluation forms. They provide an interactive multimedia tool called the Speech Evaluator, so indexing and linking to the older technology is a useful way for them to get attention.

Their web site was launched on April 27th. It includes very recent interviews with Joseph DeVito, Steven Brydon, and Jerry Weissman.

Last year I blogged about Rubrics and Figuring Out Where You Are. The rubric from Tusculum College that I linked to then was in the Rate Speeches directory, but another from the University of Alaska Southeast was not.

Some other tools for assessing or evaluating can be found on the Opened Practices web site by clicking on Oral communication in the menu under AAC&U Essential Learning Outcomes. AAC&U is the American Association of Colleges and Universities, which has another web page on Oral Communication Assessment.

The Rolodex image comes from here on Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Great brief podcast series by Nick Morgan based on his book Give Your Speech, Change the World

Back in May on his blog Nick Morgan did a series of nine excellent podcasts about public speaking based on his book Give Your Speech, Change the World. In case you missed them, here are the links:

May 2nd: The Only Reason to Give a Speech is to Change the World (4 minutes)

May 5th: Why Is Most Public Speaking So Awful (4 minutes)

May 10th: 10 Quick Tips to Make Your Next Presentation Wildly Successful (7 minutes)

May 12th: The One Thing You Must Do Before Preparing A Speech (3 minutes)

May 17th: The First Two Steps to Crafting a Great Presentation (5 minutes)

May 19th: The Secret of Good Storytelling (7 minutes)

May 23rd: How to Get a Standing Ovation (8 minutes)

May 25th: Your Secret Speaking Weapon - Involving the Audience (8 minutes)

May 31st: Rehearse Away Your Fear (7 minutes)

You can listen to them all in less than an hour. If you’d rather read than listen, take a look at his similar ChangeThis manifesto - Before You Open Your Mouth: The Keys to Great Public Speaking. Of course, you could also read the whole book.

On July 20th Nick started posting another series of podcasts from his more recent book, Trust Me: Four Steps to Authenticity and Charisma. That reminded me I’d meant to post about his earlier series. Enjoy!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Putting the fears puzzle pieces together: social and specific fears in the National Comorbdity Survey

Back in 2008 Bill Tancer wrote a book called Click: What Millions of People Are Doing Online and Why It Matters. Chapter 6 was titled “What are you afraid of and other telling questions.” An excerpt from it was published in USA Today and by ABC News. The first page of the chapter contained a curious list of the top nine groups of fears (allegedly from the National Comorbidity Survey), which are as follows. 

1. Bugs, mice, snakes, and bats
2. Heights
3. Water
4. Public transportation
5. Storms
6. Closed spaces
7. Tunnels and bridges
8. Crowds
9. Speaking in Public

Mr. Tancer says (Ref. #15 in his Notes section) that they came from an article titled “Social Phobia Subtypes in the National Comorbidity Survey,” by Kessler, Stein and Berglund that appeared in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 1998. If you look at the full text for that article you only will find the ninth fear, public speaking, listed or discussed. How come a book about research didn’t check its references? Where did Mr. Tancer really get that list? I don’t know, but suspect it might be from the ECA survey done a decade earlier. Later, I found out that it was.

Mr. Tancer’s list came up again this month in a blog post by Dennis Yeomans, who’d also used it last year. When I asked him in a comment where it came from, he referred to the Kessler, Stein and Berglund paper, which I’d discussed in a blog post back in November 2008.

The National Comorbidity Survey (NCS), is a large mental health survey with data on 8098 people collected from September 1990 to March 1992. That data has been analyzed and discussed in many articles by different teams of psychiatrists. Social fears include topics like public speaking, and talking with others. Other specific fears like heights, flying, small spaces, and water aren’t discussed in the same article that covered social fears. However, a comprehensive survey like the NCS actually does covers both sets of fears (and many other topics), so we can try to put the pieces together ourselves in order to get the big picture.

Table 1 of the Kessler, Stein and Berglund article lists the lifetime prevalence for six social fears. Results are shown above as a bar chart (Click on it for a larger, clearer version).

Another article on “Specific Fears and Phobias: epidemiology and classification,” by Curtis, Magee, Eaton, Wittchen, and Kessler appeared in the British Journal of Psychiatry, also in 1998. You can read the abstract here. In their Table 1 they show the lifetime prevalence for eight specific “unreasonably strong fears.” Their results are added to those on social fears in a second bar chart, shown above. That chart shows the results for 14 fears, just like those from the 1973 Bruskin survey and the 1993 Bruskin-Goldring survey. Note that this list is very different from Mr. Tancer’s, with public speaking at the top rather than the bottom.

It is interesting to compare results from the NCS with those for the same five fears from the 1993 Bruskin-Goldring Survey (in orange), as shown above in a third bar chart. The Bruskin-Goldring results are much higher than those in the NCS. They cannot be rationalized by rescaling (multiplying by the same constant). For public speaking fear their percent is 1.5 times the NCS result, while for height it is twice the NCS. For flying it’s 1.7 times the NCS, for water it’s 3.5 times the NCS, and for being alone it’s 3.2 times the NCS. I think the NCS results probably are closer to the truth.    

It’s best to look it up before you speak up. Sometimes that’s relatively easy, like finding the full text and .pdf for the Stein, Kessler, and Berglund article for free online. The other Curtis et al article was not that easy. To see it I had to go over to the Boise State University library, get a guest pass, find which of their databases had that magazine, and read it.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Anti-PowerPoint Party wants us to go back to using flip charts!

On July 1st Matthais Poehm, a Swiss public speaking trainer from near Zurich, spit out a press release announcing his formation of the Anti-PowerPoint-Party (APPP) which advocates the banning of that product and similar presentation software. PC World discussed how that Swiss Party Makes Dislike of PowerPoint a Political Issue, and noted that Poehm admitted the APPP was a tool to promote his book, The PowerPoint Fallacy. What is his alternative? Go back to the flip chart, which he claims is almost always better.

So far John Zimmer hasn’t discussed the APPP in his Manner of Speaking blog. Perhaps he’s still laughing too much to compose a reply.

There is an important exception to Mr. Poehm’s claim that flip charts are better than presentation software. Imagine trying to draw what you see under the microscope on a flip chart. By the time you create a realistic image, your audience likely will have fallen asleep. Do we really want doctors and other health professionals trained in that way?  

A simple example from materials science is lamellar pearlite in steels. This mixture with alternating layers of iron and iron carbide (cementite) resembles the licorice allsorts candies shown above.

When seen in the scanning electron microscope it actually looks like this on a polished and etched cross section. In three dimensions pearlite has a branching tree-like structure. That’s simple to show with a series of images.  

Mr. Poehm doesn’t say why he stopped going back in time at flip charts. After all, they require using paper. A greener alternative would be to go back further, and just use chalk to draw on blackboards like in around 1899. But, why stop there? We might as well go back even further - to painting on rocks or the walls of caves!

Monday, July 18, 2011

What makes a leader different?

On Saturday morning I attended the semi-annual Toastmasters Leadership Institute (TLI) for Divisions A and B of District 15. It was held at the First United Methodist Church in Nampa, which is south of downtown and east of Lake Lowell.

In Toastmasters the fiscal year starts on July 1st. The primary purpose for a TLI is to provide training for incoming club officers filling the roles of President, Vice President- Education, Vice President – Public Relations, Vice President – Membership, Secretary, Treasurer, and Sergeant at Arms.

There also was a general session, a group discussion on leadership led by Michael Rusnack. Michael was Governor for District 15 in 2007-2008. He began with a handout, which included the following sage advice:

“What are the actions and attributes of a leader? 

What is it that makes him/her different from others?

1) A leader is always full of praise.

2) A leader learns to use the phrases ‘thank you’ and ‘please’ on his way to the top.

3) A leader is always growing.

4) A leader is possessed with his dreams.

5) A leader launches forth before success is certain.

6) A leader is not afraid of confrontation.

7) A leader talks about his own mistakes before talking about someone else’s.

8) A leader is a person of honesty and integrity.

9) A leader has a good name.

10) A leader makes others better.

11) A leader is quick to praise and encourage the smallest amount of improvement.

12) A leader is genuinely interested in others.

13) A leader looks for opportunities to find someone doing something right.

14) A leader takes others up with him.

15) A leader responds to his own failures and acknowledges them before others have to discover and reveal them.

16) A leader never allows murmuring - from himself or others.

17) A leader is specific in what he expects.

18) A leader holds accountable those who work with him.

19) A leader does what is right rather than what is popular.

20) A leader is a servant.”

The image of geese is from David Hawgood via Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Use a blank slide, not a black slide in your PowerPoint presentation

On Monday Joe Pops blogged about how you can hit the pause button by inserting a black slide into your PowerPoint presentation rather than just using your remote to blank the screen. Getting the audience to focus on what you are saying rather than your  irrelevant last slide is an excellent idea. 

I commented that you should avoid using black when your presentation outfit includes a black coat or dress. You might blend into that background like a ninja, and unnerve your audience with a disembodied head - almost like the poster for the magician Harry Kellar shown above. 

Watch this YouTube video and see how Steve Farber’s black turtleneck turns him into a floating head. There is a simple cure that only takes a few seconds. Use a blank slide, not a black one. If you started with black, then change the background color to one that contrasts with your outfit.

Friday, July 15, 2011

What can we say about a really big hole in the ground?

When I was visiting the Salt Lake City metro area last month I didn’t have time to see the amazingly large Bingham Canyon Copper Mine. People have been digging there for over a century, and now it is 2.5 miles wide by 0.7 mile deep. It’s a National Historic Landmark that even is visible from earth orbit. There is a visitors center where you can look at the mine, and even see them blasting. That mine is a good example for examining how we can clearly describe something really big in a presentation.

Kennecott Utah Copper has a six-minute From Ore to More video about it. Each day they mine 500,000 tons of ore, which is described as being 10,000 50-ton humpback whales. Most of us don’t see humpback whales in everyday life. They could equally well convert the 500,000 tons to a billion pounds per day.

The video also mentions that each giant truck they use for ore hauling has a capacity of 320 tons. How does that compare with a railroad hopper car or a semi-trailer truck? A ore hopper car holds 110 tons, so it would take three of them to equal a giant truck. A semi-trailer rig can only carry about 25 tons, so it would take 13 of them to equal one giant truck.

If we divide 500,000 tons by 320 we see that they fill 1563 giant trucks per day. There are 1440 minutes in a day, so if we waited by the rock crusher we would see slightly more (1.085) than a truck per minute drive up and dump. That's quite a procession!

They also said that their crusher has a capacity of 10,000 tons per hour. I think that is low by a factor of two. It would mean they only could crush 240,000 tons of ore per day. If they mine 500,000 tons per day, then half of it would just pile up beside the crusher.

How much volume is 500,000 tons per day? The ore probably is about 2.8 times as dense as water, which weighs 62 pounds per cubic foot. Then the volume per day is 5, 760,000 cubic feet. If we dumped that into a mold like a giant ice cube, it would be 179 feet on a side.

A football field is 300 feet long by 160 feet wide. If we could pile that ore up into a big block covering just the field, then it would be 120 feet high. We really couldn’t do that because the pile would keep sliding out into the stands and form a gigantic cone. It eventually would bury a college or pro football stadium. Pick your favorite, and then estimate how many days that would take.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Will anyone swallow July being named Freedom from Fear of Public Speaking Month?

In 2008 Beverly Beurmann-King proposed July 2nd as Freedom from Fear of Public Speaking Day. For 2009 she changed it to a week. Two other web sites have claimed the event is a whole month. I blogged about its history on June 30th.

There also is a Freedom from Fear of Speaking version listed in Chase's Calendar of Events (check in Google Books) that is:

"dedicated to stamping out the fear monster of public speaking"

although it doesn't mention the word public in the name. In the 2004 edition it is just a day. The 2009 version has a week, and both the 2010 and 2011 editions have a whole month. It is attributed to Priscilla Richardson, who curiously does not mention it anywhere on her own web site.  

Last week two public speaking coaches on opposite coasts, Diane DiResta and Carma Spence, blogged about the longest version(s). (Carma also blogged about it on July 1st). Will this event go anywhere? I doubt it.

I don’t think that a topic involving fear about what comes out of our mouths has much chance for popularity in July. This month already is blanketed by other topics on stuffing pleasant things into our mouths, as shown above. It is National Hot Dog Month, National Baked Bean Month, National Ice Cream Month, and National July Belongs to Blueberries Month. (It’s also National Grilling Month, which goes with making those hot dogs especially tasty).

What about another month? March merely is the food month for Caffeine Awareness, Celery, Flour, Frozen Food, Noodles, Nutrition, Peanuts, and Sauce.

Do we really need a whole month set aside? Wouldn’t  just one memorable day, like March 4th, be enough. (That already is National Pound Cake Day). March 4, 1933 was  the date of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inauguration, in which he proclaimed at 2:50 that:

"...the only thing we have to fear is fear itself...”

What would it take to get a day noticed? An official proclamation might help, but it really will take some attention by someone with a large audience. How about a comedian like Jeff Foxworthy or Lewis Black?

The humor columnist Dave Barry was responsible for making International Talk Like a Pirate Day into a significant event. There’s even a YouTube “training” video. The Toyota Yaris might have been named based on common use of the word yar in pirate talk. Is there any other reasonable explanation for that choice?

Images of baked beans, ice cream and blueberries all came from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Ten high anxiety social situations

Back on December 18, 1984 Daniel Goleman wrote an article in the New York Times titled “Social Anxiety: New Focus Leads to Insights and Therapy.” You can read the text here. That article also contained an inset box with the same information as the bar chart  shown above (click on it for a larger version), accompanied by the following caption:

Situations Causing the Most Anxiety

In surveys of several hundred men and women, these situations were reported as producing the most anxiety. 

The research was done by Warren Jones at the University of Tulsa and Dan Russell at the University of Ohio College of Medicine.”

A party with strangers produced the most anxiety, 74%, while giving a speech was second with 70%. And death wasn’t even on the list - being asked personal questions in public was third, at 65%.

I found an Acrobat file showing the entire article on the ProQuest Historical Newspapers database over at Boise State University. Dan Russell probably really was at the University of Iowa, since his information doesn’t show him as having worked in Ohio. So far I haven’t found a magazine article by Jones and Russell with any more details.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

What can you learn about public speaking from a garbageman in a cartoon strip?

(Click on each Dilbert cartoon to see the third frame with the punch line). Important things like:

First impressions of others (speaker or audience) may be wildly wrong.

Your technology may not really be state-of-the art.

Wisdom can come from unexpected sources.

At an Air Force Reserve summer camp back in the mid-seventies, I noticed that everyone, including the hospital commander (a colonel), seemed to defer to one female tech sergeant. She apparently was just a medic like me.

When I asked someone why, they told me that during the week she was the nurse supervising the entire emergency room at the Ohio State University hospital! She’d met her husband while on active duty, and then later gone on to nursing school for her RN. By then she’d been too old to get a commission as a reserve officer.

This blog was inspired by a recent blog post about a tattoo artist.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Joan of Arc theory: your fear of public speaking comes from how a past life ended badly

On page 126 of his book The Instruction, the psychic Ainslie MacLeod claimed that:

“For almost every person who suffers from stage fright, a fear of public speaking, or who goes to pieces when forced to sit an exam, the root cause is a life in which judgment has led to death.”

In an interview he explained it in more detail:

“.... If you get a kind of panic, that really kind of strong, phobic reaction, it’s pretty much guaranteed to come from a past life. The most common one that I come across as a phobic fear is what they call a ‘phobia of judgment’ and that is the one that results in a fear of public speaking, which is apparently the biggest fear in America. And because it is a past-life fear, you get that huge overreaction. What’s happening is that the soul is being taken back to a time when you were judged and that judgment lead to your death.”

I don’t think much of this theory, and have blogged about how this fear mostly seems to show up around adolescence in this life. What do you think?

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Competent Communication manual is just the beginning of learning about public speaking in Toastmasters International

The fun really starts after you finish the ten projects in that basic Competent Communication manual. Then you get to go in any of fifteen directions and choose which of the Advanced Communication Series manuals to try next. Each of them contains five different speech projects of increasing complexity.

Unfortunately the catalog on the Toastmasters website only says a few words describing each project. Web sites for districts and clubs provide some more details: titles, times and one-sentence descriptions. 

The Speaking to Inform manual is a good first choice, and includes these projects:

1) The Speech to Inform:  5 to 7 min.
2) Resources for Informing:  5 to 7 min.
3) The Demonstration Talk: 5 to 7 min.
4) A Fact-Finding Report: 5 to 7 min. + 2 to 3 min. Q & A.
5) The Abstract Concept: 6 to 8 min. 

Other good choices about business are Persuasive Speaking (sales), Speeches by Management, Public Relations, and Technical Presentations. 

I’ve heard that some companies only pay for their employees to finish the Competent Communication manual. That’s short-sighted, considering that by then you’ve probably only improved all the way up to mediocre.

After you complete two Advanced Communication manuals you will be recognized by the award of Advanced Communicator Bronze (ACB). Then after two more manuals (and some other requirements) you will receive your Advanced Communicator Silver (ACS). Finally, after two more manuals (and even more requirements) you will receive your Advanced Communicator Gold (ACG). Details are on the Toastmasters web site here.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Larry Crowne doesn’t give public speaking the royal treatment

This new romantic comedy movie doesn’t have public speaking at its center, like The King’s Speech did. Thankfully it doesn’t try to be The King’s Speech II. I saw it over the weekend.

Larry Crowne has Julia Roberts teaching Speech 217, with Tom Hanks in the title role as her student. Both are slightly befuddled as they react to how their lives have unraveled.

Kenneth Turan’s review in the LA Times should have said it was like a frosted donut rather than grandly calling it:

“ inside-out movie, acceptable around the edges but hollow and shockingly unconvincing at its core.”

Another review by Rene Rodriguez was closer to the mark. Also, I enjoyed seeing George Takei as an economics professor who laughs inappropriately during his lectures, as you can see at the thirty-second mark in another trailer.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Public speaking and chalk art are ephemeral

Speaking and chalk art are ephemeral, yet they have the ability both to entertain and to inspire. Once a speech is over it really is gone. A video recording just is a pale imitation of that event. A rainstorm washes chalk art down the nearest storm drain.

In the early afternoon on July 4th I walked down to Ann Morrison Park to look at the Idaho Statesman Chalk Art Festival. Some of the artists were done while others were still busy creating their drawings.

Later I looked up the topic of street painting or chalk art. Although it has a long history, artists like Kurt Wenner and Julian Beever are still redefining it. In the US there are festivals in cities like Sarasota and Santa Barbara.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Three types of questioners

In a June 27th blog post partly on ten things he’d learned about making presentations Harold described three types of people who will ask questions after a presentation, and then gave advice on how you should respond:

"A) The guy who wasn't paying attention, but should have been. You will know him by his asking you something you went over in detail five minutes earlier. Answer his question.

B) The guy who wants to look smarter than you. You will know him by his asking you a barely related, highly technical and rather esoteric question. He does not care about your presentation. Tell him that you do not know the answer to his question, but that you will look it up and get back to him about it. You will never hear from him again regarding the matter.

C) The guy who has a legitimate question. You will know him by his asking a question that can be answered quickly. It's very rare that his question will necessitate a response that will last for more than fifteen seconds."

His blog is titled Intellectual Dandyism, and it includes footnotes. (Item 9 on his list of things is the well known fictional Litany Against Fear, but that’s a story for another day).

In a previous post on June 27th, I mentioned that Stephen Boyd had advice on answering questions, The Presentation After the Presentation. You also can find more good advice from Nick Morgan and Andrew Dlugan.

The image came from here on Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

More Americans fear public speaking than getting fat, and death tied for third

Back in October 1997 American Demographics magazine published a single-page article called "Scaredy Cats" containing a brief bar chart showing twelve fears. (Point and click on it to see a larger version). Fear of public speaking was first (56%), followed by fear of getting fat (45%). Death (41%) tied for third - with both going to the dentist and going out alone at night. The article mentioned that the low level of fear they asked about just was:

“....afraid of or bothered slightly by.”

That survey was done in 1996 by Roper Reports. You can find the article text (but not the chart) here. The magazine article was published twenty years after the Book of Lists, but it is almost never mentioned. I thought it was time to bring it up. As this cartoon shows, men and women have very different notions about getting fat. So, have a great Fourth of July, but try not to eat too much pie.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The ugly side of criticism

On July 1st Joel Heffner blogged about what he termed The Ugly Side of Toastmasters. He began by praising them for being:

“...the best to help you to overcome your fear of public speaking.”

But, then he started sniping about how a speech evaluator might not know enough, and thus miss key points. Then he proclaimed that, instead:

“If you want to become a proficient speaker, find someone who knows how to speak who will help you.”

Well, Toastmasters already does that. Like the Prego sauce slogan says, it’s in there. Each new member is assigned a more experienced member as a mentor by the club’s Vice President Education (see page 16 of When You are the Vice President Education). The mentor provides evaluation feedback to help a speaker improve. Toastmaster magazine repeatedly has discussed this in articles like The Joy of Mentoring, The Magic of Mentoring, and Leadership - the ultimate mentor.

Also, you’d expect an experienced teacher to proofread his copy before posting. There still were a pair of typos (corrections in CAPS):

“After you make ten speeches, you have (ARE) given the title of Competent Communicator.”

“Too often the evaluator simple (SIMPLY) goes by the guidelines set forth by Toastmasters, in their manuals.”