Saturday, May 28, 2011

How will you be remembered?

On Saturday afternoon I walked around Morris Hill Cemetery. Some of the military graves in the Silent Camp already had flags and flowers for Memorial Day.

What I noticed was that a few graves, like the ones shown above, thoughtfully included a bench or seat for visitors to sit and think. Some famous people, like J. R. Simplot, are buried in that cemetery. His grave includes two benches.

Even if you don’t plan something thoughtful like a bench, the last name on your grave may still inadvertently make visitors chuckle.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Blimp knots, and being prepared for problems

F Minus

The F Minus cartoon by Tony Carrillo from May 7th shown above (click to see the whole thing) and a blog post by Dave Paradi on May 10 - Prepare for problems so you respond, not react both addressed the same topic. Planning in advance for things that possibly could go wrong helps you keep a positive attitude.

Back in February I blogged about using checklists: Is your speech ready for takeoff? Are you sure? Then I discussed mistake-proofing your presentation outfit, and locking out what you don’t want to happen.

By the way, blimps don’t really have a knot on the back end like a toy balloon - but it would be funny if they did.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ten great posts from 2010 that you might have missed

Last month when I was writing about the ten most popular posts on this blog I noticed that only four of them were from 2010. Since there were 149 posts in 2010, there were many more great posts, from which I’ve selected these ten:

1. How thin is “extremely thin”? discusses clearly explaining something very small that is responsible for making stainless steels work.

2. Add visual interest to your public speaking presentation with balloons, and other inflatable props describes how useful these items can be. It is an example of how you always can add your unique perspective to a topic. Tom Antion had two posts long ago about balloons, and mentioned that he’d owned an entertainment and balloon delivery company.

3. Why less is more - or even less talked about how that minimalist aphorism is a half-truth.

4. Boring subject, or just a boring speaker highlighted Shirley Schwartz, whose brilliant writing made the topic of motor oil fascinating.

5. What stories are you carrying in your pocket? discussed how the contents of your wallet or purse held numerous impromptu speech topics.

6. Would you buy a used car from these men? cautioned that first impressions may be completely wrong.

7. Web search: 10 strategies for various occasions outlined ways to find information online.

8. Small and large props that will improve your presentation can be found in numerous places.

9. What should we really be afraid of for Halloween? discussed the diseases and other events that most likely will cause our demise.

10 “All Speaking is public speaking,” or “there is no such thing as public speaking”? used Google Books to trace the idea that public speaking is an enlarged conversation back to a century ago.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

What does it mean to win a Toastmasters speech contest at the district level?

Back on March 1st I blogged about being in my first Toastmasters International Speech Contest. The president of Capitol Club, Mike Thornton, won that club contest on February 16th. Then in March and April he won both the Area B1 contest and the Division B contest. On May 14th he competed in the District 15 contest in Ogden, Utah. Unfortunately Mike didn’t win the District contest.

District 15 includes all of Utah, southern Idaho, and some adjacent areas of Nevada (Elko), Oregon (Ontario), and Wyoming (Jackson). The District includes the medium-sized state capitol cities of Boise and Salt Lake City, which guarantees a mix of extremely competent speakers from business and government.

Roughly how many Toastmasters are in those parts of the organization? There are about 25 people in a club, four clubs in an area, 4 areas in a division, and 5 divisions in the district. The Table shown above displays what you get when you multiply those numbers.

Winning at the Division level meant that Mike was the best speaker out of about 400 people, or in the top 0.25%. That’s already pretty impressive! The District winner was the best out of about 2000 people, or the top 0.05%.

Friday, May 20, 2011

How one e-Book is marketed

When I Googled the phrase “public speaking” ten days ago, the 10th item on the results list was an e-Book on Surviving Speaking Disasters, written by Martin Ng. (If you click on the preceding link, a box pops up and then you have to click on OK to leave the page). 

The ad copy says that it normally sells for $97, but it’s on special for only $47 including three more bonus e-Books (valued at $241). There was a line marked UPDATE indicating that only 63 copies were left, both ten days ago and today.     

Then I looked around on the web site (using Google) and found his affiliate information indicating that you could earn a commission of $21.25 for each regular sale. There also are four Signatures, two Sample Emails, two Sample Ezines, and two Blog Reviews, etc.

Last month Nick Morgan told a wonderful story about how not rehearsing can lead to a disaster.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

America’s Number One Fear: Public Speaking - that 1993 Bruskin-Goldring Survey

Three years ago I bought a copy of Lilyan Wilder’s 1999 book, 7 Steps to Fearless Speaking. The Introduction on page 1 began by stating:

“Fear of public speaking consistently tops every list of human fears.

In an oft-cited 1993 study done by the polling firm Bruskin-Goldring, 45 percent of those surveyed said they feared public speaking. Thirty percent said they feared death.”

I’d always been curious about the detailed results from that survey, titled “America’s number one fear: Public speaking,” since an earlier version of the Bruskin organization also had been responsible for the 1973 survey reported in the 1977 Book of Lists and then cited ad nauseum. The data from the 1993 survey were reported again last year by Sherwyn P. Morreale in Table 3.3 on page 53 of her book The Competent Public Speaker, and I found them over at Google Books. I’ve plotted then above in a bar chart, which you can click on to enlarge.

Table 3.3 also reported results for women (pink) and men (blue), which I’ve charted using a traditional sexist color scheme. Note that actually more men feared financial problems (38%) than public speaking (34%). There are large gender differences for many fears.

It’s also interesting to compare the results from the 1993 survey with those from the 1973 survey. In 1993 the fears of financial problems, deep water, death, and sickness all were much larger than they were in 1973. The 2001 Gallup poll is more recent than the 1993 Bruskin survey, but it says Snakes Top List of Americans’ Fears. Only the Bruskin surveys let us compare public speaking and death.

UPDATE  October 10, 2016

At the bottom of page 53 of The Competent Public Speaker the detailed reference is to:

Bruskin/Goldring Research Report (Feb. 1993). America’s number 1 fear: Public speaking, Bruskin/Goldring Research, Inc., page 4

How did she find out about that report? She was Associate Director of the National Communication Association. There was a magazine article by Sherywn P. Morreale, Michael M. Osborn, Judy C. Pearson titled Why Communication is Important: A Rationale for the Centrality of the Study of Communication that was published in the Journal of the Association for Communication Administration V 29, 2000 pages 1 to 25. It refers to that Bruskin-Goldring report on page 5.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What does a $40,000 speech sound like?

You can find out by listening to one here. It was given by well-known author Neil Gaiman at the Junior High School in Stillwater, Minnesota back on May 27, 2010. Among other things Gaiman wrote the 2002 fantasy/horror novella Coraline that was made into a movie in 2009.

When I think of junior high school, I also think of the Boy Scouts, and the following joke:

What’s the difference between the State Legislature and the Boy Scouts? The Boy Scouts have adult leadership!

His speech was part of the Club Book program organized by the public libraries in the Minneapolis - St. Paul metro area and paid for with state Legacy Fund money. You might ask how I found out about that speech. Well, this May the Republican Majority Leader in the state House of Representatives, Matt Dean, took violent exception to Mr. Gaiman’s fee, and called him a:

“pencil-necked little weasel who stole $45,000 from the State of Minnesota.”

Mr. Dean’s mommy told him to apologize, so he did, just like back in junior high school. Press coverage of the resulting spat has included both the local Minnesota Star Tribune and Minnesota Post, and both the New York Times and the Guardian (UK).

Mr. Gaiman defended himself in his journal both last year and this year, and on Twitter. Mr. Dean got his 15 minutes of fame, but probably made a bunch of new enemies, some not old enough to vote - yet.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Is arachibutyrophobia for real?

On page 55 of the 2005 book, The Everything Health Guide to Controlling Anxiety, Diane Peter Mayer claims that:

“Arachibutyrophobia is the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of one’s mouth! Though this fear sounds absurd, people with this phobia can become distressed in the same way that someone with the fear of spiders does. Though seemingly unique, for this phobia to be named, a number of people have had to report the fear as a problem.”

I don’t think this phobia is real. First, the word is an incomplete description with arachi (ground nut) and butyro (butter) but not palate (roof of the mouth). Second, when I tried looking it up in three databases over at Boise State University: Health Source:Nursing/Academic Edition, Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection, and PsychINFO I couldn’t find anything. There were hundreds of references for claustrophobia, but none for arachibutyrophobia.

The word also never shows up in PubMed, the huge online medical abstract database from the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Conversely, “peanut allergy” is real and serious; it shows up 428 times in Pubmed. So, I think arachibutyrophobia is even less useful than glossophobia, the alleged term for fear of public speaking.

Where did it come from? When I looked up the word arachibutyrophobia in Google Books, I found it in two books from 1979: The Psychology of Being Human, by Zick Rubin and Elton B. McNeil - where it was preceded by the phrase “would you believe” and the novel Dance Time by by Beverly Jablons.

In the November 1981 Saturday Evening Post it showed up on page 18 - in the caption of a comic about Scrabble. In May 1982 it showed up in a Peanuts comic, where Sally Brown first defined it and then proclaimed that it:

“...may be a beautiful excuse for not going to school some day.”

The word also showed up in 1982 on a poster for an American Library Association public relations campaign:

“What is arachybutyrophobia? Have a question? Call your library!”

William F. Buckley, jr. was well known for using erudite language. In his Notes and Asides column in the February 13, 1987 issue of National Review he pontificated that:

“...The point here raised - When is it okay to use an unfamiliar word? When is it not okay? - is endlessly argued, yet even so, fresh insights are occasionally minted. One of these, I think, was Dwight Macdonald’s distinction, made in his marvelous survey of Webster’s Third for the New Yorker (March 10, 1962), between unusual words (okay), and words that ‘belong in the zoo section of the dictionary’ (not okay). I should think most people would agree, for instance, that ‘arachibutyrophobia’ would be an example of the latter...”

The cover story for the April 2, 2001 issue of Time magazine was Fear Not. It mentioned how online lists of phobias were growing absurdly and griped that:

“It's one thing to invent a word like arachibutyrophobia, another thing to find someone who's really afraid of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth.”

So far the only people I’ve found who seem to be serious about providing therapy for arachibutyrophobia are at Change That’s Right Now. For $147 they’ll sell you a home study program, and for $2,497 they’ll provide a customized program with a specialist.

If you really are troubled by arachibutyrophobia there is a much less expensive solution. Put a layer of pickle slices on top of the peanut butter layer in your sandwich. Either bread and butter pickles or dill pickles will work. If you’re also phobic about pickles, then try banana slices.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Do you suffer from the heartbreak of robophobia?

I was musing about how there are two very different phobias on the Wikipedia list of them - a real one we don’t talk about, and a phony one that we do talk about.

The real one, robophobia, is the irrational fear of robots It also is known by the pseudo-clinical term of Grimwade’s syndrome. Robophobia has been with us for a long time, but so far I haven’t found any statistics about how prevalent the fear is. It’s the metaphorical clanking, metal “elephant in the room.”

Robophobia has been portrayed in science fiction stories, in movies, and on television for at least the last sixty years. Nothing else can give us the willies like an eight-foot tall, seamless metal monster with a brief name like Gnut or Gort. The blockbuster series of Terminator movies has made a huge pile of money by scaring us silly. There’s an “uncanny valley” where robots that look close enough like humans seriously creep us out.

Robophobia also has been the title for a recent Doctor Who audio play, a novel by Richard Evans, and a song by Electric President.

However, movie executives also have tried to tone things down for kids with kinder, gentler robots like Robby, WALL-E and The Iron Giant. That’s about as silly as putting a fuzzy pink sweater on a great white shark!

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale

The Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale (LSAS) is a test for assessing how anxious people are about social situations. Often it is used by psychologists or psychiatrists doing research on social anxiety. But, who developed it?

A) Jackson Liebowitz, a character played by Tony Curtis in the 1963 movie Captain Newman, MD.

B) Fawn Liebowitz, a co-ed from Emily Dickinson College mentioned in the 1978 movie Animal House.

C) Dr. Michael R. Liebowitz, a psychiatrist at Columbia University, who wrote the 1983 book The Chemistry of Love.  

D) Fran Liebowitz, the essayist described in the 2010 documentary movie Public Speaking.

The correct answer is C. D was a trick question - Fran spells her name without an i before the e.

The LSAS consists of a list of 24 statements, each describing a situation. You are read them (or in another version you can read them yourself). You rank each them by how anxious or fearful you are on a scale from 0 to 3 where:

0 = None
1 = Mild
2 = Moderate
3 = Severe
Also, you rank them by how badly you would avoid them on a scale from 0 to 3 where:

0 = Never
1 = Occasionally
2 = Often
3 = Usually

You can find a do-it-yourself version of the LSAS on the web here. Three of the situations are about speaking in public. Situation #6 is “Acting, performing, or speaking in front of an audience.” Situation #20 is “Giving a prepared talk to a group”, presumably a smaller audience than in #6. Situation #16 is “Speaking up at a meeting.”

Psychiatrists also refer to tests like the LSAS as “instruments.” Every time I see that jargon I get a mental image of a tuba. They also describe the do-it yourself version of the LSAS as the “self-report” scale.

The image of a scale is from AntonyB.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

PRESTO: the 200 second presentation with 10 slides, for 20 seconds each

Recently I found out that there was an even briefer slide presentation format than either  Pecha Kucha or Ignite. Pecha Kucha uses 20 slides shown for 20 seconds each (while Ignite uses 15 seconds). PRESTO, which means to PRESent your TOpic, uses just 10 slides (or half the time for Pecha Kucha).

Jeane Trojan also has blogged about this format being called a Mashup, and given six tips for using it. Five Mashup events have been held at the Hub in Prague. I’m not sure which name really came first, PRESTO or Mashup.

The 200-second presentation time (3-1/3 minutes) is curiously close to the typical length of a 45-rpm single record from Top 40 (Contemporary hit) radio.

If you have heard about Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 rule for venture capital presentations, then you know he suggests using 10 PowerPoint (or Keynote) slides in 20 minutes (or less). The PRESTO format calls for presenting slides at 6 times the rate he suggests.  

Before you construct a PRESTO you also need to know your speaking rate. Suppose that it is 120 words per minute, or 2 words per second. If you spoke without pausing, then you only could expect to say 40 words while each slide was being shown. This means that visuals will be used rather than text.

There also could be an even briefer format with 150 seconds, at 15 seconds per slide (and only about 30 words per slide). That might be called a half-Ignited presentation, but  it deserves a more clever name.

The image of magician Zan Zig is from an 1899 poster.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Is your message too complicated?

If so, it may need to be simplified. Consider the following brief exchange written by Douglas Adams for the Pirate Planet episode of the Doctor Who science fiction television series. Only the first 33 seconds are shown correctly in the video clip.

“Mr. Fibuli: ‘Captain, Sir.’

Nurse (interrupting) ‘Yes.’

Pirate Captain: ‘Speak, Mr. Fiibuli.’

Mr. Fibuli: ‘The pyschic interference transmitter, Sir. There seems to be something counter jamming it.’

Pirate Captain: ‘What! We dematerialize in three minutes. (Speaks on public address system) All guards on alert. Someone is using a counter jamming frequency projector. Find it, and destroy it immediately.’

Mr. Fibuli: ‘Captain, do you suppose any of the guards know what a counter jamming frequency projector looks like?’

Pirate Captain: (speaks on public address system, again) ‘Destroy everything!’ ”

In his memoir, Adventures of a Bystander, Peter Drucker tells the following business story about his working in London for Ernest Freedberg:

“I came in with an elaborate proposal to acquire majority control of an ailing company and reorganize it. ‘Very interesting,’ said Freedberg. ‘Let’s call in Lewis and try your proposal on him.’ ‘But, Mr. Freedberg,’ I said, ‘Lewis is the youngest clerk in bookkeeping and, as you observed only a few days ago, a near-moron.’ ‘Exactly,’ said Freedberg. ‘If he can understand your proposal, we’ll do it. If he doesn’t, it’s too complicated to work. Everything has to be moron-proof, for work is always in the end done by morons.’”

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Top ten lists and nice round numbers

Back in December 2009 I blogged about how Almost Nobody Wants to See Your Top 15 List, and said that you should use a Top 10 or Top 20 list instead. In that post I displayed the popularity graph for Top-n lists shown above.

I decided to try the Google Books Ngram Viewer on Top N (and top n) from 5 to 30 at intervals of 5, and got the results shown above. Just like before, lists of 10 are more popular than lists of 20, and lists of 15 are relatively unpopular.  

Then I decided to look at Top-N lists with N from 2 to 12 (and Two to Twelve, and two to twelve). The only surprise was how popular a a top two list was.

As I found in 2009, we have a preference for nice round numbers (divisible by ten or five).  On May 3rd Wiley Miler had a Non Sequitur cartoon claiming that Moses was responsible for the first Top Ten List.

I got started on using the Ngram Viewer after seeing Bit Lit, an article by Brian Hayes in the May-June 2011 issue of American Scientist. Brian writes their Computing Science column. He did some other analysis on the Google book-scan data, and came up with the graph shown here. He’s described even more on his bit-player web site.     

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Do hype cycles show up in books?

About fifteen years ago Jackie Fenn, an analyst at Gartner, came up with the idea of a hype cycle (shown above) to interpret how technology gets adopted. You can read their brief description and look at their emerging technologies version for 2010. 

In his Virtual Travelog blog on April 20th John R. Harris took a look at that idea using the Ngram viewer. He decided that it was:

 “the information technology equivalent of snake oil.”

I decided to look at some new and old transportation technologies with the Google Books Ngram Viewer to see if they followed the hype cycle. The above graphs show the flying wing, airship (and Zeppelin), electric car, steamboat, and canal boat. Only the flying wing really fits a hype cycle. Others have more complicated shapes. History is messy!

Then, since I’m a materials guy, I decided to also look at one type of material. Hype for it is well known from the following dialogue in the 1967 romantic-comedy movie, The Graduate:

"Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.

Benjamin: Yes, sir.

Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?

Benjamin: Yes, I am.

Mr. McGuire: Plastics."

In this case the hype cycle also seems oversimplified.There are three smaller humps after the first big one.

I don’t think the hype cycle really is any more useful than the idea of a business cycle. By the way, Gartner has also talked about Cycles, Waves, and Multiple Peaks.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Looking at words differently using the Google Books Ngram Viewer

Last December Google released a new software tool called the Ngram Viewer. An n-gram is a phrase with one to five words. The viewer lets you look at the relative frequency of a word or phrase over the time period from before 1800 to 2000. Data for the viewer come from a huge sample of five million books from the collection that Google has scanned and digitized. You can read a tutorial here. There’s a longer article about this new topic of culturomics.   

Back in February I blogged about What are you standing on (or behind)? I mentioned the words rostrum, lectern, and podium. A graph for the word rostrum is shown above. Click on it to view a larger version. Frequency of use for rostrum peaked back in 1890, then fluctuated, and has been declining steadily since 1970.

We can see more by comparing the words rostrum, lectern, and podium. Starting in 1980 podium became a more popular term than rostrum. Also, back in 1950 podium became more popular than lectern.

Vacuum tubes were replaced by transistors, and integrated circuits came later. Then why is the word transistors showing up between back in 1900 and 1910? It’s an error where the optical character recognition software just misread the word translators. I had to check in the Google Books database to find that little glitch.

When we compare five words, things get even more interesting. Look at the comparison between different types of engineers, that start at different times but fluctuate similarly.

Also, look at what happens to the names of the Intermountain states.