Thursday, February 24, 2011

Is it bigger than a breadbox? Can I hold it in my hand?

Back when I was a child there was a panel game show on television called What’s My Line? Panelists asked the guest a series of questions, like the two above, to determine his or her occupation.

When you use an image in a presentation, the audience also is asking those questions about scale. One way to answer them is to place a calibrated scale (or ruler) in the image. You also could print out a page of graph paper with a 0.1-inch or a 1.0-mm grid to use as a background for showing a small object. Or, if you know a quilter, you might borrow a 14" square Cut for the Cure ruler or a 15" square Omnigrid ruler from them.

The set of six-inch (150 mm) vinyl rulers shown above are a simple way to show scale. One can be selected and placed next to an object. A pattern of alternating dark and light rectangles makes it easy to read the inch or centimeter markings even if the image accidentally was very over or under exposed.

This little gray two-inch (50 mm) scale is for close-up photography. The backing has an adhesive like a Post-It note so it can stick on most surfaces. They also come with white or black backgrounds. Another type has orange print on a white background, but the printing is fluorescent so it glows brightly under an ultraviolet lamp.

These L-shaped mm and inch scales for field or lab use are even more clever. They include gray patches with 18% reflectance for exposure control. The left mm one is the infamous ABFO No. 2 scale developed for taking images of bite marks by the American Board of Forensic Odontology. If you watch the CSI television shows about crime labs, you will see this kind of scale appear frequently.

An oblique view of the dovetail edges on a foam puzzle mat is shown with an L-shaped inch scale. You could easily measure the edges in either direction.

I’m a metallurgist, so I often take images of steel products and components. These scales backed with flexible magnetic material that stick to steel are very useful to me.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Return of the Table Topics Bunny

No, the title isn’t from a Hollywood cartoon movie sequel. Every year on February 22nd the Table Topics Bunny (TTB) hops by and leaves me a basket full of questions. Table Topics is the impromptu speaking portion of  a Toastmasters club meeting. The bunny visits to commemorate the birthday of the founder of Toastmasters, Dr. Ralph C. Smedley.

If the Bunny didn’t visit you, then you have to make up the questions from scratch. There’s an art to doing this. Questions shouldn’t be too hard.

I had an easy time making up the questions for the February 2nd meeting of The Capitol Club. Sonya Harris was Toastmaster and her theme was Pets: Past and Present. Most people can recall stories about pets. I just needed to ask for them by categories: largest or smallest, best or worst, oldest or youngest, etc. On February 1st Kathy McIntosh had blogged about how she both loved and hated answering Table Topics questions. She won as best Table Topics Speaker for a story about the time her daughter put a live pet rat into the freezer.

My favorite pet story is about back when I had a two-story condo and Finster, a curious little black kitten. One late-spring day I opened windows for the upstairs master bedroom (front) and bathroom (rear) for cross ventilation. Then I left to run errands for a couple hours. When I returned and opened the front door, I found a mound of toilet paper on the landing. The trail led all the way up the stairs, and into the bathroom. Finster obviously had jumped on the windowsill to look out. As he jumped back down he had brushed the toilet paper roll in the holder on the back wall, and it began to rotate and unroll. Once he got it started he just kept unrolling it and playing. I turned the roll around to feed out underhand rather than overhand, and I never had that problem again.

February 22nd also actually is George Washington’s birthday, but we always instead celebrate that holiday as President’s Day. That’s held on the third Monday in February (which floats around between February 15th and February 21st). 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Finding images that show what you really mean

For a post on February 16th in his Presentation Dynamics blog titled Give me hammers hammering Russ Howser discussed a frustrating problem that I’ve also faced. He was searching for a stock image to illustrate how a conclusion should drive home your main point, like the final hammer blow that buries the head of a nail into a board. Instead of the dynamic image he desired, he mostly found hammers just lying there (catalog photos), or being held by themselves without any indication of motion. That’s really no better than the over 150-year old portrait of a carpenter from the US Library of Congress shown above.

As is shown above, for this particular case there are three images from the US Navy on Wikimedia Commons that can be cropped to produce something close to what he asked for. Their resolution might be OK for PowerPoint, but likely isn’t good enough for printed materials.

Showing motion in still photographs isn’t straightforward. One way is to slow the shutter speed down to where some blur is apparent at the hammer head. Typically this requires having the camera on a tripod rather than hand held, closing the aperture  way down, and perhaps also adding a neutral density filter over the lens. Another way is to shoot indoors in a darkened room, open the shutter for a time exposure, and light via a sequence of flashes. Hammering in the dark like that is not recommended though.      

On many occasions I’ve been unable to find a stock image even remotely close to what I had imagined. I’ve tried several approaches to make what I wanted.

When I wanted a photo to show a canned speech I got out a can of water chestnuts, relabeled it, propped it up on my copy stand, and photographed it with my digital camera. That approach produced a more realistic image than I would have gotten if I had started with an image from the Open Clip Art library

In a previous post on raised eyebrows and furrowed foreheads I paused YouTube videos and took screen shots to get images like the one of Kevin Trudeau shown above.  

Another time I wanted to show how with practice the speech anxiety monster gets smaller and more manageable. For that post I used a closeup of a finger puppet for the “before” image, and a wider angle view of it in my hand for the “after” image.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Effort and an asymptote

One of the blogs I enjoy reading is John Zimmer’s Manner of Speaking. On February 13th he blogged about how Perfect Public Speaking is an Asymptote. An asymptote is a line that a curve approaches as a limit. With continued effort the quality of your speaking will approach perfection, yet never achieve it. That’s a powerful idea.

Unfortunately John used the entire Wikimedia image of a hyperbola to illustrate that idea. That’s the graph for y = 1/x, and it doesn’t quite work as an illustration. It is what Russ Howser a month earlier called the Almost Right Image. Russ applied the same Mark Twain quote that John had used earlier about words. I’ve used it too. 

The graph shown above was created by taking the lower left branch from that hyperbola, flipping it over, and labeling the axes and the perfection asymptote. Now the image really fits the concept.

I suspect that John was influenced by one of Seth Godin’s blog posts that talked about effort but didn’t explicitly mention an asymptote. Previously I blogged about how the labeling he used for three stages of expertise in that one didn’t quite fit. Those stages can be added to the illustration as shown above. Seth’s point was that you should become an expert rather than stop at the middle, journeyman level.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Pearls Before Swine cartoon about billboards & pigs & PowerPoint

Pearls Before Swine

On February 8th there was yet another hilarious Pearls Before Swine Cartoon. Click on the image to glimpse the last frame. You can’t read all the words on that billboard unless you look at the enlarged image here on his blog. There are at least 230 words!

There obviously is a limit to how many words will be legible. For a PowerPoint image you can find different authorities telling you to use a maximum of N lines with N words, where N is four, five, six, or seven.

To tell a story you always can avoid being a pig and build a series of images, like the Burma Shave road signs shown above that began to appear back in 1925.

My favorite space age version is the series of signs created by Sidney Harris for a 1975 cartoon that first appeared in American Scientist magazine.

Friday, February 18, 2011

More on mistake-proofing: lock out what you don’t want to happen

The Epson projector I use for PowerPoint presentations has two VGA connectors on the back. The left (output) one is black and labeled Monitor Out. The right one (input) is blue and labeled Computer (Component Video).

The VGA video output connector on my laptop computer also is blue, and the connecting cable I use is blue and has blue ends. Even so, while in a hurry, I once hooked the video signal from the computer to the black Monitor Out connection on the projector. Then I spent a few anxious minutes puzzling over why nothing was being projected.

Recently I blanked out that connector with a cover of white plastic sheet, since I never meant to use it. Black electrical tape or masking tape also would have worked. The cover was one more form of mistake proofing my outfit.

Covering that unwanted connector also was a crude version of an important safety concept called Lockout /Tagout (LOTO). During maintenance you need to insure that electrical power (and other forms of hazardous energy) are positively shut off, and that others know what is going on so they don’t accidentally turn them back on. Locks are used for shut off, and tags are used for identification.

If more than one person, department, or contractor is working on a piece of equipment, then a hasp with multiple locks will be used. There are standards specified by the government for how to do this. In the US they are OSHA under 29 CFR 1910.147.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

When does fear of public speaking start?

Psychologists and psychiatrists long have pondered the question of when (and how and why) the fear of public speaking begins. Coaches have claimed that fear begins way back in early childhood, based on experiences of rejection in school or by parents. Nancy Daniels told an anecdote about a psychiatrist named Frances (or Francis) who feared speaking based on an incident at age seven with her abusive father.

The latest report from a prolonged study of a group of  3021 young people finally provides a good answer to this question. It is a paper published last month by Knappe et al on "Social fears and social phobia types among community youth: differential clinical features and vulnerability factors." That paper, which I blogged about yesterday, includes a graph showing the cumulative distribution for “age of onset” of several fears, including the isolated fear of public speaking. I have replotted it below.

According to these results only about 5% of the people reported that the fear already had began by age 7. The mean age of onset (50%) was at about age 13. It was not until around age 20 that 90% percent had that fear. So, more typically a fear of public speaking rears its ugly head in early adolescence, but sometimes it does not show up until early adulthood.    

The only other discussion about age of onset I could find was a 1996 paper by Stein, Walker, and Forde on "Public Speaking Fears in a Community Sample" (in Canada). They reported just three points rather than a curve: 50% at age 13, 75% at age 17, and 90% at age 20. Their results agree with those of Knappe et al.

Monday, February 14, 2011

More adolescents and young adults still feared tests than feared public speaking

Back in October 2009 I blogged about a survey of 3021 young people (ages 14 to 24) in Munich, Germany that was reported back in 1999. That sample was followed-up for another decade.

Results were reported in a paper by Knappe et al. published last month in the Journal of Psychiatric Research (Volume 45, No. 1, pages 111 - 120). The paper was titled: "Social fears and social phobia types among community youth: differential clinical features and vulnerability factors." You can find the abstract here.

Like in the previous paper, more young people feared tests than feared public speaking. This time 28.1% feared taking tests or exams, while 24.8% (a quarter) feared public speaking. Last time 18.2% had feared tests and 13.1% feared public speaking.

They also reported the frequencies of social fears for both genders. Females had higher percentages for all fears than males. They analyzed the survey data in many other ways.

They also reported the frequencies of social fears for the subgroup of 209 people with a diagnosis of DSM-IV social phobia. This subgroup reported much higher frequencies of fears than the total sample.

In a follow-up post I will discuss another interesting result that they found.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

What are you standing on (or behind)?

In the theater they simply call that elevated platform you stand on the stage. In public speaking a very small one might just be called a soapbox. A larger one might more grandly be called a podium. (As I have discussed previously, in modern usage podium also describes what you stand behind).

Those enamored with history might even refer to a more complicated stage as a rostrum. The Romans had one decorated with six bronze battering ram prows (rostra) from captured warships. Rostrum also is the name of both an Australian association of public speaking clubs, and an American magazine.

In the U.S. Capitol building the House of Representatives has an elegant three-tiered rostrum where the Speaker presides during the session. The lower tiers are occupied by other staff.

Originally a lectern simply was a wooden (or perhaps metal) stand for holding a speaker’s script or notes.

Now there is a more complicated taxonomy of floor or tabletop models, and either plain or with built-in sound systems. Other options include lights, and casters. Some office supply catalogs even call them presentation stations, since they also may have shelves for holding laptop computers.

There are carts for auctioneers that are a stage plus lectern with a battery-powered sound system. I once attended an industrial auction in an aircraft plant. They pushed the auctioneer around all morning. He just kept talking for miles - like the Energizer bunny.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

How many stages of speaker development are there?

On February 5th Olivia Mitchell blogged about the first five stages of speaker development. She described them as being:

1. It’s all about the words.

2. I can talk.

3. Hello audience.

4. It’s all about the audience.

5. Storytelling mastery.

She suggested there might really be eight stages, but that she’d let us know when she got there. I was pleasantly surprised that she told a story about her personal progress.

Typically people just drag out a 2 x 2 matrix and enumerate all four possibilities shown above, as I previously did in a post about knowledge and consciousness (and curses). The only real insight here is that there actually is a Stage Zero of unconscious incompetence (being both ignorant and unaware of it), which is what Donald Rumsfeld also has redundantly termed Unknown Unknowns.

Even worse are the communications professors who can glibly dredge up Aristotle’s three-way classification of ethos, pathos, and logos as being the pillars of speaking and enumerate the eight stages shown above. They deserve to hear the following brief comic dialogue:

Professor: "Today we’re going to talk about Ethos, Pathos, and Logos!"

Student: "Great! I just love the Three Musketeers, or was that the Three Stooges?"

Olivia's graphic of a person first stuck inside a box (rather than standing on one) reminded me of the stunning video for the Tori Amos song Silent All These Years.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Mistake-proofing your presentation outfit

If you do a lot of traveling to give presentations, then you might consider setting up a “go bag” to visually organize what you take along. In my February 1st post I discussed the use of checklists. They are one aspect of a more general topic in quality called mistake-proofing, which is the use of process or design features to prevent errors. 

A couple decades ago I set up a very complete 35-mm camera outfit in a big Pelican case similar to the camera case shown above. The precut “pick and pluck” foam had places for all my usual equipment and consumables. Before I headed out the door all I had to do was to lift the lid and look inside to confirm that I had: both my camera bodies, all three lenses, both flashes, and both four rolls of color film and eight AA spare batteries for my flashes. Any empty cavity in the foam reminded me that something important was missing.

The clear package for these four dry-erase markers reminds me to check that I have all of them, both before and after a presentation. A case with foam inserts and plastic bags, boxes, and other packages can be used to organize equipment like a laptop computer, projector, and all their accessories.

When choosing a case you need to consider its appearance to others. A person I knew put his camera system in a very ostentatious Zero Halliburton aluminum case. After only one plane trip he realized that to strangers (and thieves) in the airport it had screamed that “I’m expensive, please steal me!” He reluctantly changed to a more humble black plastic pistol case.

Long ago I read a magazine article in Shutterbug describing the different types of travel containers photographers preferred. One liked Igloo picnic coolers with wheels, another used a diaper bag, and a third used a beat-up old suitcase from a thrift store. I’m going to put my digital camera system into a black plastic, vintage attache case.

John Grout wrote a very detailed 166-page free ebook on Mistake-Proofing the Design of Health Care Processes.

The camera case image is from Skymast.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Fears of superiors and public speaking in Hong Kong

In 2009 there was an interesting paper by S. Lee, K. L. Ng, P. S. Kwok, and A. Tsang titled “Prevalence and correlates of social fears in Hong Kong” published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders (on pages 327 to 332). They did a phone survey in March 2003. People were asked whether they had experienced any of fourteen types of social fears in the past twelve months. There were 3006 respondents whose ages ranged from 15 to 45. Their results are shown in the top bar chart.(Click on the image to enlarge the chart).

The second bar chart shows the top five fears found by Ruscio et al. in the NCS-
R survey of United States residents (who were asked about lifetime fears). That US survey found public/speaking/performance to be the number one fear. Speaking up in a meeting or class was second, meeting new people was third, and talking to people in authority was fourth. An important exams/interview was fifth.

Lee et al. found that for Hong Kong talking to people in authority (talking to a super-ordinate or a person of higher status) was the number one fear. Public performance (which would include speaking) was second, and talking in a meeting or class was third.

For social fears there are some distinct cultural differences between the US and Hong Kong. Most people would say boss instead of super-ordinate to describe a superior or a person in authority. But superordinate is a logical term for the opposite of a subordinate, and it does appear in the Oxford English Dictionary (without the hyphen).

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Do Toastmasters sound alike?

On January 21st Nancy Daniels posted an article at and elsewhere titled The Pros and Cons of Toastmasters. It should have been titled Toastmasters: Pros and a Con because she was mostly positive, but eventually did some by damning with faint praise. She said that:

“....There is one thing you should take into consideration, however, if you choose to go this route. Often, those who have been in Toastmasters begin to sound alike. What I mean by this is that individuality often suffers at the hands of those who judge.

As one who has taught public speaking at the college and graduate school levels and works with corporations and group workshops as well, I can spot a Toastmaster every time they present. I call it the Toastmaster sound.

What I find lacking with Toastmasters is the marvelous individuality that one should always keep in public speaking. Too often its members, in striving to deliver a better speech or presentation, imitate the style of its other members. What makes for great public speaking are those who treat their audience as if in conversation and are, first and foremost, themselves.”

That is offensive stereotyping. I believe it’s about 90% bogus. You wouldn’t say that all Blacks or Orientals sound (or look) alike, would you? So, why pick on Toastmasters? They certainly are not some sort of a collective mind like the Borg, those creepy Star Trek villains boxed into cubical spaceships whose favorite catch phrases are:

“You will be assimilated” and “Resistance is futile.”

There is nothing like that in the Toastmasters Promise. In the April 2008 issue of Toastmaster magazine there even was an article discussing how you should Dare to Be Different.

Toastmasters in my club (and district) certainly don’t sound alike. They have distinctly different styles which reflect their backgrounds. Mike Thornton sounds more like he’s selling than Bill Kearley, who sounds like a veterinarian teaching. Lindsay Woolman is understated, while Ruth Romero is very animated.

I suspect that Nancy Daniels may have gotten her largely mistaken impression from watching motivational speakers who cribbed their style from International Contest speeches. Last May Russ Howser commented that:

“ occurred to me, while watching the other speakers, that a Toastmasters Speech has its own unique style. It is part performance art, part motivational appeal and part moralistic sermon. There’s no rule saying it has to be that way, but winning speeches generally contain a moral lesson or message of some sort and tend to be physically demonstrative and emotional in tone.”

Recently Rich Hopkins also has discussed why International Contest speeches tend to only have inspirational topics.

Other types of contest speeches like Humorous or Tall Tales are much more individual. There are many hilarious examples on YouTube. Watch Alex Wu discuss Flushing to Enlightenment, John Zimmer implore us to Pay Attention, and Darren LaCroix describe Toastmasters Anonymous.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Pearls Before Swine cartoon about a nervous speaker

Pearls Before Swine

I think Pig should have taken a break after snapping the second microphone stand. Click on the image to see the third frame of today's cartoon. In a previous post I gave some Advice on Overcoming Anxiety. If the embed doesn’t show on your browser, you also can find the cartoon here.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

How to Speak: a great video with Patrick Henry Winston

Recently on Research Explainer I found a link to a wonderful 46-minute talk by Patrick Henry Winston on How to Speak. He’s been a professor at MIT for over forty years, and his subject is academic lecturing. However, much of what he relates applies to all public speaking. The talk is on YouTube, and it is arranged in 13 manageable segments that you can view either in sequence or individually.

Their titles are:

1. Prelude

2. Introduction

3. How to Start

4. The Big 4: heuristics

5. Time and Place

6. The Blackboard

7. Overheads

8. Props

9. Style

10. How to Stop

11. Questions: part 1

12. Questions: part 2

13. Postlude

He discusses overhead projectors by hilariously showing what not to do (and why not). Then he discusses props using the example of Ibsen’s play, Hedda Gabbler.

I also enjoyed his discussion of style. He tells an anecdote about Ingemar Stenmark, the famous Swedish skier. When Stenmark was asked if he had an idol who he copied, he said no. Instead he looked at everybody who was excellent, and then adapted what he could to create his own unique style. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Is your speech ready for takeoff? Are you sure?

Lack of attention to details can cause a speech to crash. Checklists are one good way to avoid catastrophes, like forgetting to bring or do something critical beforehand. Checklists are broader than packing lists that only describe what to bring.

Long ago I was a student glider pilot, so I knew that pilots routinely go through a preflight checklist before takeoff. Until I began reading Atul Gawande’s recent book, The Checklist Manifesto, I didn’t know when or how preflight lists began to be used.

Back in 1935 a very experienced Army Air Corps pilot evaluating a Boeing prototype that became the B-17 Flying Fortress bomber stalled and crashed it just after takeoff. The plane burned, and he died. What went wrong?

Investigation revealed he had forgotten a crucial detail - removing the gust lock that prevented the control surfaces from moving while the plane was parked. You can read reviews of Gawande’s book here and here. He learned about checklists from Boeing.

The solution for flying the B-17 was having a written checklist covering what needed to be done before takeoff. Otherwise the pilot might get so wrapped up in getting four engines running smoothly that he skipped another crucial detail.

Many speakers have discussed the use of checklists. Scott Berkun just blogged about one. Last year Fred E. Miller had one, and John Zimmer had one with an addendumIn 2009 Nick Morgan and Denise Graveline posted theirs. Even earlier Tom Antion and Dave Paradi published theirs. There is a Checklist for Checklists that can be used to develop one of your own.

Consumables like batteries for a presentation remote and a laser pointer are important items to check before you head out. Those items and their batteries live in the plastic file box that holds my projector. So does the VGA cable for connecting the laptop, and an extension cord with a three-plug adapter for the projector and laptop. There also is a small piece of 2x4” lumber for tilting the projector upwards. (You can’t depend on finding a handy ashtray anymore!) If I had a Mac laptop rather than a PC, then I also would carry an adapter cable for VGA. Similarly, if I was headed for a historical building (like an old church) I would be sure to carry a 2-prong adapter so I could plug my extension cord into a vintage electrical outlet.