Saturday, April 30, 2011
Last week I ran across a web site called Public Speaking Cheat that will sell you a $99 eBook (on special for only $27) with details describing:
“The best kept secret to becoming a great public speaker”
You can overcome your fear of public speaking in just ten minutes! You’ve probably already guessed that it involves taking drugs. The author said that before doing that:
“I tried all the traditional stuff, Cognitive Based Therapy (CBT), public speaking courses, Hypnotherapy, heck – I even went to a Toastmasters session (man those guys are weird!).”
Now, I don’t think that Toastmasters are WEIRD. I think that’s a typographical error, and he meant to say that we are WIRED. We are feverishly excited about learning, and we still have an intense, childlike curiosity regarding public speaking.
The drug advice was to take either beta blockers or benzodiazepines. I’ve heard of beta blockers being used, but would avoid benzodiazepines. An Australian web site about social anxiety briefly describes the side effects of these and other medications.
If you want to be scared away from benzodiazepines, just check out the PubMed web page about Alprazolam (brand names like Xanax and Niravarn). Side effects include the following symptoms:
“drowsiness, light-headedness, headache, tiredness, dizziness, irritability, talkativeness, difficulty concentrating, dry mouth, increased salivation, changes in sex drive or ability, nausea, constipation, changes in appetite, weight changes, difficulty urinating, and joint pain.”
Other less common symptoms include:
“shortness of breath, seizures, seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist (hallucinating), severe skin rash, yellowing of the skin or eyes, depression, memory problems, confusion, problems with speech, unusual changes in behavior or mood, thinking about harming or killing yourself or trying to do so, and problems with coordination or balance.”
I think I’ll pass on taking something that might reduce my anxiety, but replace it with unspecified other “problems of speech!”
The image of the wide eyed little girl is from the Library of Congress, and the staring eyes are from Andrew Bossi.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
A few weeks ago I was listening to a guest on the late-night Coast to Coast AM radio show respond to questions from listeners about his amazing new book. He never began a reply with a simple yes. Instead it was always either ABSOLUTELY or EXACTLY.
It didn’t take long for that overblown language to become a Major Disaster. He sounded like a self-righteous comic book character. I don’t think he realized he was stuck on those two words.
In a recent article Fred Haley discussed three types of phrases and comments that you should avoid - because they are just hot air. These were:
Incredibles - “absolutely perfect”
Excusables - “I’m not really an expert, but”
Conditionals - “In my opinion” or “At this point in time”
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
When we first start watching videos of ourselves rehearsing or speaking, we are likely to be very disappointed by how we sound. For example, Lily Iatridis said:
“For my first few years in teaching, I couldn’t stand to watch recordings of myself. I always felt my speaking voice was far too high-pitched, and I thought I sounded like a child.”
Why does the voice sound so different? What we hear in our heads is partly via bone conduction, while other people hear us only through the air.
If it really bothers you, then you can get a speech therapist or a voice coach to help you change. However, it probably shouldn’t be at the top of your list of public speaking things to work on.
The graphic shown above was inspired by a Doghouse Diaries cartoon from April 11th.
On April 27th Denise Graveline blogged about how last week’s Diane Rehm Show on NPR radio was all about Improving the Sound of Your Voice.
Monday, April 25, 2011
Almost two months ago, on February 28th, Jeanne Trojan blogged about having Three Reasons I’m Not a Toastmaster and also posted a slide show - both there and over on Slideshare. There was some discussion of it on Slideshare and John Goalby’s World Champion Evaluator blog, but I think it still deserves some more detailed discussion.
She just could have said that I’m not a Toastmaster because I already belong to the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), and they cover my interests in business presentations better than Toastmasters would.
Instead she began her slide show by claiming that Toastmasters isn’t about business presentations. That obviously is not completely true because the Toastmasters International web site has a page specifically on Business Presentations. Toastmasters even has an advanced manual specifically about Technical Presentations. There is another on Persuasive Speaking (formerly called the Professional Salesperson). All fifteen advanced manuals are briefly described here.
Jeanne’s three reasons were that:
1. Toastmasters is about making speeches, NOT presentations.
2. Toastmasters places too little emphasis on the content of a speech.
3. Toastmasters are too nice (they are not allowed to criticize).
She first said that Toastmasters is about making speeches, not business presentations. Next she stated that business presentations are aimed at a specific audience, and their content thus is based on their needs and expectations. That Toastmasters web page on Business Presentations links to two other pages, one about Proposals and Pitches, and another about Technical Briefings. The one about proposals and pitches specifically mentions that you should:
“Analyze your audience and determine its needs.”
The other one about technical briefings says to:
“Know your audience in advance so that you use appropriate levels of technical material and jargon. You don’t want to waste anyone’s time by being too difficult to understand or too boring.”
What she says and what Toastmasters says about audiences are really not very different.
Her second reason is that Toastmasters supposedly places too little emphasis on the content of a speech. I suspect that she got that impression from seeing some speeches for training, particularly the projects from the Toastmasters basic Competent Communication manual. They do emphasize various delivery skills over content. Elsewhere in her blog Jeanne states the following five presentation review criteria, each of which she rates on a scale from 1 to 5 (where 1 = outstanding and 5 = sucks):
Is the core message of the presentation clear, simple and memorable?
Is all of the information necessary and connected to the core message?
Is there a logical structure?
Does the presenter get our attention from the start and keep it throughout?
Is there a strong impression at the end?
Do the slides catch our attention and create curiosity?
Do they make us want to listen to the speaker to get more information or are they a distraction and too much the focus of the presentation?
Is the speaker clearly enthusiastic about their topic?
Does their presentation presence convey confidence and credibility?
The Toastmasters equivalent to her criteria is the Judge’s Guide for their International Speech Contest:
Speech Development - 20% (structure, organization, support material)
Effectiveness - 15% (achievement of purpose, interest, reception)
Speech Value - 15% (ideas, logic, original thought)
Physical - 10% (appearance, body language, speaking area)
Voice - 10% (flexibility, volume)
Manner - 10% (directness, assurance, enthusiasm)
Appropriateness - 10% (to speech purpose and audience)
Correctness - 10% (grammar, pronunciation, word selection)
Her third reason is that Toastmasters are “too nice.” She quotes the following brief passage from the beginning of an article in the November 2007 Toastmaster magazine by David Hobson titled The 3Rs of Evaluating: Review, Reward and Respond:
‘… there should be no use of the “C” word – Toastmaster evaluators do not criticize – ever!’
She incorrectly interprets this tongue-in-cheek statement as meaning that evaluators are forbidden from giving real honest feedback about what needs improvement. Later in the article Mr. Hobson states (my italics added) that:
“By far the most important aspect for you as an evaluator is to inform the speaker of the elements which, in your opinion, need to be worked on for the next assignment. You should also offer suggestions and provide examples as to how these changes can be made. At least one third of your speaking time should be devoted to dealing with the points for improvement. Failing to do so effectively negates your evaluation; you will not have met your own evaluating objectives. It is your duty to help and encourage the speaker by not only praising his good points, but also by indicating the aspects that did not work quite so well, in your opinion, and offering suggestions for ways to overcome the situation in the future.”
In February 2007 there was another magazine article titled Learning to (almost) Like Criticism. Every Toastmaster also gets a manual about Effective Evaluation. The unpaid volunteer evaluator has to tread more carefully than a paid coach. There is a natural tendency to listen carefully to advice you have paid for.
In summary, points #1 and #3 of Jeanne’s presentation clearly missed what Toastmasters is about. Using her own scale I’d rate it as a 4 (below average). Her slides are pretty, but the content is mostly junk (her second point).
Saturday, April 23, 2011
I have been reading the book Tell to Win by Peter Guber. One of the great stories in it (on page 148) was told to him by Jack Warner, the president of Warner Brothers studio, back when Peter was running the studios at Columbia Pictures. At a dinner he complained to Warner that he was getting frazzled from being swamped. Everybody came in and just dumped their problems on him. Then:
“Warner said, ‘Let me tell you a story. Don’t be confused. You’re only renting that office. You don’t own it. It’s a zoo. You’re the zookeeper, and every single person that comes in the office comes with a monkey.
That monkey is their problem. They’re trying to leave it with you. Your job is to discover where the monkey is. They’ll hide it, or dress it up, but remember you’re the zookeeper. You’ve got to keep the place clean. So make sure when you walk them to the door, they’ve got their monkey by the hand.
Don’t let them leave without it. Don’t let them come back until it’s trained and they have solutions to their problem. Otherwise at the end of the day, you’ll have an office full of screaming, jumping animals and monkey sh*t all over the floor.’
Then he said, ‘Think of that visually. Make them take all their monkey problems away and come back with a solution.’ ”
That’s a great metaphor for what a chief executive needs, but how can he make it happen? Well, there’s a famous old memo describing the concept of Completed Staff Work that an executive can send to his team. I was given a copy about 25 years ago, but it actually dates to some time during World War II. You can read one version here. Another version is reprinted in the Summer 2001 issue of the Canadian Army Journal, as a guest editorial titled Words From the Past.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
On April 11th Leon Hale, a columnist for the Houston Chronicle, blogged about a speech he gave fifty years ago. It was at a Chamber of Commerce banquet dinner in Eagle Lake, Texas. That’s about sixty miles west from downtown Houston, and back then would have been rather rural.
Leon will be ninety next month. He enjoys writing but strongly dislikes speaking. Leon claims that he’s never heard any sound come out of his mouth that he enjoyed.
But they had offered to pay him $100, and he needed the money, so he went. Then he apparently got so nervous he was seriously sick right before he was supposed to get up and speak. He wanted to just leave:
“But it was too late, because somebody was already at the mike, introducing me. I heard him calling my name, and I felt that if I stood up, I would vomit into the arrangement of flowers on the head table. Or maybe I'd simply faint, which would be better.
What saved me was an opening remark that was not my own. It did come out of my mouth, but I didn't think it up. I don't know where it came from.
The only explanation I can imagine is that an angel was hovering about and noticed that the food had run out and that part of the audience was hungry and in a bad humor. And the angel rescued me, the way heavenly spirits can perform miraculous deeds.
When I managed to stand, I grabbed a roll from my dinner plate and held it up and spoke into the mike the words that the angel gave me. They made up the strangest opening remark ever uttered at a Chamber of Commerce banquet:
‘I have here half of a beef sandwich I'd like to auction off at Table 3.’
In all my speech-making years, I never said anything that got a laugh as loud and as long. The response somehow gave me time to recover, at least enough to stumble on through.
Some Eagle Lake residents might recall that talk as the weakest and shortest they ever heard. Well, now they know why.
For me the cost of that experience was far greater than the hundred bucks. I wouldn't go through it again for 10 grand.”
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Personal computer manufacturers proudly quote clock speeds for the microprocessors they use in units of gigahertz (GHz). A Hertz is one cycle per second, and we can visualize that by the tick of a pendulum clock. Then we just roll our eyes in disbelief when someone tells us that a gigahertz is a billion (1,000,000,000) Hertz. Another way of thinking about that speed is to say instead there is only a nanosecond between ticks. How can we visualize that tiny time interval?
In a blog post yesterday Nick Morgan reminded us of how it was done brilliantly by Grace Hopper, the computer pioneer. In her lectures she used to describe a nanosecond by how far an electrical signal could travel down an insulated wire, at almost the speed of light in a vacuum. That distance is 11.3 inches. There is a video from a 1982 Sixty Minutes TV interview with her handing out lengths of thin hookup wire. Dr. Morgan say he still has one of those simple, inexpensive props from almost three decades ago. Right now you could go to a Radio Shack store and buy a fifty-foot roll of 30AWG wire for less than $5.
Your audience couldn’t clearly see that small diameter wire when you held it up on stage. They could easily see a larger diameter object, like a piece cut from a plastic coat hanger. (You also could get a piece of wire the size of the jumper cables you carry on your car or truck).
How much has changing technology reduced the time between ticks? The first computer I remember seeing up close was the Bendix G-21 at Carnegie Tech back in 1962. It went 6000 nanoseconds between ticks. The first computer I owned was an Apple II Plus, with 1000 nanoseconds between ticks. I’m writing this post on an Apple iMac with only 0.33 nanoseconds between ticks (a 3.06 GHz clock speed). In that time interval a signal travels just 3.73 inches, or slightly more than the 3-1/2" width of a business card.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Back in 2009 and early 2010 Tim “Gonzo” Gordon and Roger Pike of Communication Steroids in Salem, Oregon did a series of blog posts on the topic of making public speaking fun. Then they collected them into a free 48-page ebook and posted them both here and here.
There are are suggestions from about sixty people. They include wearing costumes, singing, doing magic tricks, using other props, and handing out toys, food, etc.
If you are not enjoying yourself, then your audience also probably is not enjoying themselves. Sometimes we can forget that rule number one is just to have fun.
Friday, April 15, 2011
Introductory music can either fit in with, or conflict with the following presentation. Depending on the circumstances you may wish either to calm down or to wake up the audience.
When I was growing up in Pittsburgh, I remember how the Buhl Planetarium used to play Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings to get their audience quieted down. On the other hand, the late night Coast-to-Coast AM radio talk show opens with The Chase, Giorgio Moroder’s rousing synthesizer theme from the movie Midnight Express.
Coast-to-Coast also is noted for clever use of the instrumental openings of pop songs as bumper music between a series of commercials and when their guest resumes talking about his new book. Their web site even provides a playlist for each show. Some other shows are considerably less brilliant.
Here in Boise the early morning Kevin Miller show on KIDO-AM sometimes uses rock music that conflicts hilariously with his stated conservative agenda. For example, during a sanctimonious rant about marriage he played the opening to Prince’s Raspberry Beret. The subject of that song is a young man’s first, and obviously premarital, sexual experience in a horse barn during a thunderstorm!
Mr. Miller also has played the opening to Billy Idol’s White Wedding, a song about a shotgun union. It was promoted by an infamous video shown on MTV, featuring a motorcyclist crashing through a stained glass window in a church.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
One of the biggest differences between audiences is why they are there. A captive audience is required to be there - for a class that will result in a grade or certificate. A noncaptive audience just is there for fun. Don’t ever confuse them when planning, because they call for completely different approaches.
There is a big difference between being a teacher or trainer, and being an interpreter. In a previous post I discussed how interpreters are people who who explain natural or cultural resources for visitors at places like parks, nature centers, museums, zoos, botanical gardens, aquariums, and tour companies.
The table shown above was paraphrased from Figure 1-2 of Sam H. Ham’s wonderful 1992 book Environmental Interpretation: A Practical Guide for People with Big Ideas and Small Budgets. You can buy a used copy at Amazon, read the text online at Google Books, or you can download a pdf file of Part 1 here. Sam Ham is professor of communication psychology at the University of Idaho.
Monday, April 11, 2011
Yes, to some extent it can. A stopwatch function can help you keep track of time during a presentation, and reduce your stress or level of anxiety. Having a familiar wrist alarm to wake you up reliably in a hotel room is far better than depending on an unfamiliar alarm clock.
But there are grander claims made for some watches, like those from the Philip Stein Company. According to their video and web page they are supposed to expose frequencies and information to the human biofield, which regulates the body’s functions, and tells the body to relax. The watches are very pretty and expensive, and have appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s show about her Favorite Things. On the community page at the Philip Stein web site there are publicity photos of many other smiling celebrities, including the Chinese National Badminton Team.
There are other press releases on the web site that describe favorable results from a clinical study of sleep, but don’t bother to link to the final magazine article about it (or mention their their Sleep Natural Frequency Technology). The article appeared in Sleep Diagnosis and Therapy. It has the grand title of A Randomized, Double Blind, Placebo Controlled, Crossover Evaluation of Natural Frequency Technology and Sleep Natural Frequency Technology on Sleep in Normal Subjects with Un-refreshing Sleep. However, the article concludes that there was no statistically significant difference between the placebo devices and ones with their Natural Frequency Technology. Harriet Hall pointed this out in a blog post about Frequencies and Their Kindred Delusions. As I have said before about Bach Rescue Remedy, you should always look at the magazine article rather than trusting what you read in a press release.
Back in 2003, an article in Wired discussed their earlier watch design using Teslar technology as being just A Watch Powered by Snake Oil. The Teslar web site describes that technology. It also notes that a clinical study of whether the watch reduces stress also had negative results. The Skeptic’s Dictionary refers to the watches as a type of placebo jewelry. Last year there also was an interview with Ilonka Harezi about her and Teslar.
By the way, there is not actually a human being named Philip Stein at the Philip Stein Company. The owners are Will and Rina Stein. Since they are a Goliath at marketing, the company instead should have been named Phil I. Stine.
Sunday, April 10, 2011
Yesterday I noticed that my post was number 399. This one is number 400! It’s a good place to stop and look back at the ten most popular ones so far.
#1 on the list, with 1930 page views is The power of brief speeches: World War I and the Four Minute Men. Its popularity probably is due to a mention on Scott Berkun’s web site. I started corresponding with him when he’d asked who originated the silly business of imagining your audience naked. He’d asked that when he was writing Confessions of a Public Speaker. I have ranked the other top nine posts relative to this one at 100%.
#2 is a post on The 14 Worst Human Fears in the 1977 Book of Lists: where did this data really come from? There are much better surveys about what people fear, but this one has gotten stuck in the popular imagination for so long that it has become a worn out cliche. The subtitle of this blog is from fear to joy, so this takes care of the fear part.
#3 is a post on Finding topics for speeches. #4 is one on Two types of speech outlines: speaking and preparation. #5 is one on Introducing a speaker. These three are straightforward educational posts.
#6 is a post on Herbal remedies for anxiety, in which I noted that there is little if any evidence that these substances are effective.
#7 is a post with a Pearls Before Swine comic strip on rehearsing. It poked fun at the silly advice to practice your speech in front of a mirror. This one (and #10) take care of the joy part of my blog subtitle.
#8 is a post repeating advice to Do some jumping jacks before you rehearse your speech. My 300th post about How ideas can fly noted that this advice about warm-up exercises had bounced around the world via the Web.
#9 is a post on why you should Add your unique perspective to a topic. It discussed using some images from Wikimedia Commons to update and personalize a canned educational presentation. Originally it had a few bullet-pointed PowerPoint slides that descended from ancient overhead projector transparencies.
#10 is another post about a cartoon, a Dilbert one concerning PowerPoint induced coma.
Probably the most bizarre thing about this list is that 3 of the top 10 posts (including #1) all came from just one month - August 2010.
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Alejandro Anastasio was the guest speaker at our Capitol Club Toastmasters meeting in Boise on April 6th. He talked for thirty minutes about his life, emphasizing clarity, courage, and compassion.
Alejandro was born without a left hand, but that hasn’t slowed him down much. He is a motivational speaker, an illustrator for the Bureau of Reclamation, a martial artist, a storyteller, etc.
Back in high school he wasn’t expected to excel at anything. Then his pottery teacher told him that he could make it as an artist. Boise Weekly has published two articles about Alejandro: One Man’s One-Hand Show and Just Tying My Shoes for Kids can Change Their Lives.
There is a podcast of his July 19, 2010 Story, Story Night tale about bicycling from Seattle to Chicago.
The image shows Alfred Tibor’s sculpture of Hope outside of the James Cancer Center in Columbus, Ohio. She is releasing three birds that represent freedom, flight, and happiness, or man, woman, and child.
Monday, April 4, 2011
Like folk music, country music has its share of great singer-songwriters. Hank Williams is the first one I think of, particularly his I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry. He also wrote Move It On Over, Honky Tonkin’, Cold, Cold Heart, and many more.
Johnny Cash is the second one I think of, for his songs like Folsom Prison Blues, and I Walk the Line. His daughter, Rosanne, eventually sang his Tennessee Flat Top Box.
Rosanne Cash started with conventional country songs like Seven Year Ache, and What We Really Want, and gradually evolved to a more folk style like in The Wheel and Will You Remember Me. Johnny sang on her song September When It Comes.
Rosanne’s first husband was Rodney Crowell. Rodney wrote I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried, and After All This Time. He and Rosanne sang It’s Such a Small World. Rodney also had the audacity to write I Walk the Line (Revisited), and then got Johnny Cash to sing on it.
Mary Chapin Carpenter also started with conventional country songs like Down at the Twist and Shout, I Take My Chances, and Why Walk When You Can Fly. Later she wrote longer songs like John Doe No. 24, On and On It Goes, and Houston.
One of the funniest country songs has a last verse that contains almost every possible cliche. David Allen Coe had the hit version of You Never Even Called Me By My Name. Writers Steve Goodman and John Prine tell their own versions.
The lap steel guitar image is from here.
UPDATE - September 6, 2011
On August 30, 2011 Ty Bennett blogged about What Country Music Taught Me About Public Speaking.
Sunday, April 3, 2011
In a previous post I mentioned that if you were in a rut and wanted to change how you tell a story you could, in order of increasing difficulty, either:
1. Make your story into a poem (become a poet)
2. Add music and make it a song (become a singer-songwriter)
3. Sing that song a capella
4. Make a music video of that song
The best songs are “instant oldies.” After you hear them once or twice they seem to have always just been there. We now have YouTube and other video repositories where we can find both studio and concert performances of songs. Here are three folk singer-songwriters.
Josh Ritter grew up in northern Idaho. In the chorus of Wings he says:
“...Well, it’s my home. Last night I dreamt that I grew wings.
I found a place where they could hear me when I sing.”
Early in his career Josh played in Ireland, and you can find three of his songs in clips from the video Other Voices: The Other Side, Me and Jiggs, and Come and Find Me.
Since there is a Blarney Stone in Ireland, there also should be a Bone of Song. Josh sings about it accompanied by the classical violinist, Hilary Hahn.
Two of Josh’s other recent songs are Long Shadows and Folk Bloodbath.
Quaker singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer describes a whole soap opera worth of the regulars and refugees who eat at Betty’s Diner. The chorus says:
“...Here we are, all in one place
The wants and wounds of the human race
Despair and hope sit face to face
When you come in from the cold...”
Her twelfth album is Before and After, which along with the title song contains the song Stones in the River. I heard her play in Boise when she was working on her previous one, The Geography of Light. It contains both Geodes and the hilarious e-mail lament, Don’t Push Send.
In his most blatantly bipolar song To Live is To Fly, Townes Van Zandt said:
“...Well to live is to fly, all low and high,
So shake the dust off of your wings,
and the sleep out of your eyes.”
Four of his other songs (with lyrics) are: I’ll Be Here in the Morning, Like a Summer Thursday, She Came and She Touched Me, and the heartbreaking Tecumseh Valley.
The image of an acoustic guitar came from here.
Friday, April 1, 2011
When I walk to my Toastmasters club meetings along Crescent Rim Drive in Boise, I pass something embedded in the concrete curb (north of where Peasley Street ends) that most people will miss. It is a Reference Mark, or survey marker, from the National Geodetic Survey (a convex brass disk). This is a secondary mark, so it has an arrow pointing back towards the primary one in that set.
Your speech should take your audience on a journey. But, first you need to find where they are starting from. Then you can meet them there, and bring them along with you. One rubric that lists eight public speaking competencies begins with:
“Chooses and narrows a topic appropriately for the audience & occasion.”
There was a recent post on Ten Things Leaders Need to Know About Audience Analysis. You also can find brief discussions of how to analyze your audience in blog posts by Tom Antion, Ian McKenzie, and Ron Kurtus.
The ACA Open Knowledge Online Guide has a very detailed article on this topic. You can either look on the list of Interactive Modules and click on Audience Analysis, or the Modules in PDF Format and download a 14-page printable version, entitled The Significance of Audience Analysis: Strategically Considering Your Target Populace. It discusses five different layers of audience analysis:
Situational (Why are they here?)
Demographic (Who are they?: age, gender, education, ethnicity, relifgion, etc.)
Psychological (attitudes, beliefs, and values)
Multicultural (How many distinct groups?)
Topic interest and prior knowledge
Two other textbooks also have downloadable sample chapters about audience analysis: The Public Speaking Handbook (by Steven and Susan Beebe) and The Speaker: The Tradition and Practice of Public Speaking (by Joseph M. Valenzano and Stephen Braden).
Most people will miss seeing that survey marker because they are looking north at the landscape shown above, with the eastern edge of Ann Morrison Park in the foreground, and then the Boise River Greenbelt, downtown, and the snow-covered Boise Foothills.