Saturday, December 29, 2012

Jill wants a joint a lot more than Jack does

One of the more curious gender differences about public speaking I’ve seen this year was described in a magazine article by Julia D. Buckner, José Silgado, and Norman B. Schmidt titled Marijuana Craving During a Public Speaking Challenge: Understanding Marijuana Use Vulnerability among Women and those with Social Anxiety Disorder. It appeared in the Journal of Behavioral Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 2011, Vol. 42, No. 1, on pages 104 to 110. You can read and download that article on PubMed Central. 

They studied a sample of sixty college undergraduates in the southern United States, all of who had reported using marijuana during the past one to three months. Half were given a reading task, and the other half were given a speech task. Craving for marijuana and anxiety both were rated on a scale from zero to ten.

The first task was silently reading Popular Mechanics magazine at their own pace for five minutes. This reading task was designed to not make them nervous (affect state social anxiety).

The second task was giving a five-minute speech about their most undesirable characteristic. They were informed that speech would be videotaped and evaluated by a small group of faculty and students. This speech task was designed to increase state social anxiety.   

They were asked about their anxiety level and craving for marijuana during the experiment at four times:

1. At baseline (prior to being told whether they were to be reading or speaking)
2. Immediately prior to the task (the anticipation phase)
3. 2.5 minutes into the task (the during phase)
4. Immediately after the task

Section 3.4 of the article discussed the effects of the speech on marijuana craving by gender. The graph shown above combines what was shown in Figure 1 of the article. For men the craving was relatively small and roughly constant (about 1.5), while for women it was much larger and peaked during the speech (at about 6.75). The reading task resulted in lower cravings that were roughly constant - about 3.0 for women and 0.5 for men. A similar peak also was observed for people with social anxiety disorder. Very curious! 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Soapbox Guru is a web site for posting videos of speeches or presentations and receiving evaluations

Soapbox Guru was created by two Toastmasters in Victoria, British Columbia.Evaluators have three boxes to fill in for giving a Speech Rating, describing The Good, and discussing The Path to Improvement.

This site seems friendlier than the alternative of just putting video out in the open on YouTube, where mean comments may just come from ten-year-olds who have nothing better to do.  

Critical comments and evaluations always should be taken with a grain of salt. For example, an expert on consulting, Alan Weiss, blogged on January 23, 2010 about the Help for Haiti telethon that:

“The worst voice and least talent on the stage all night: Taylor Swift. I don’t get what that’s all about, but when compared so closely with all the others, she has a weak voice and zero excitement.”

Perhaps Ms. Swift had an off night. But, a week later on January 31st she found out what the professionals in her industry thought of her. At the 2010 Grammy Awards (where she had been nominated in eight categories) she only took home four:

Album of the Year for Fearless

Best Country Album for Fearless

Best Country Song for White Horse

Best Female Country Vocal Performance for White Horse

The image of a young orator was adapted from one that once appeared in Harpers.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Learning from two kinds of articles or books: recipes or mindless rules versus methods or ratios

In July 2011 Cam Barber in Melbourne blogged about how you should Get a method! Public speaking rules stop you thinking. Rules like open with a joke won’t work generally.

There are two kinds of articles or books we can use to learn about a subject. One is for beginners in search of a pinch of knowledge, and the other is for serious students in search of wisdom.

The more common kind are like most cookbooks. Those have a bunch of detailed recipes that we can mindlessly follow without really understanding what we are doing. There might be two recipes per page, or one with photos spread over four pages. If we have all the ingredients we can blindly follow their recipe for Tuna Noodle Casserole. We can open a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, two 5 oz. cans of tuna, etc. and produce a mediocre dinner.  

The less common kind are at a higher level and are about methods or ratios. I’ve recently been reading one example - Tamar Adler’s 2011 cookbook An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. There are only 66 “recipes” in 250 pages (without pictures). The first chapter is on How to Boil Water. After 13 pages it has just one recipe - for (Italian) salsa verde. Another cookbook example is Michael Ruhlman’s 2010 Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking.

My versions of Tuna Casserole are a method rather than a recipe. It can adapt to use whatever is in the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. The oven preheats while the noodles and sauce get cooked. If I have fresh mushrooms, then they’ll go into a microwaved two-cup batch of white sauce made from milk, butter, and cornstarch. The white sauce gets cooked in an eight-cup glass measuring cup that then gets used to cook the vegetables (carrots, peas, red bell pepper) while the noodles are boiling in a pot of water on the stove. My baking dish also holds two quarts (eight cups), so that measuring cup finally gets used to mix in the right volume of noodles.  

I use a similar method to cook up my speeches, and so can you. 

The 1942 image of a woman with a cookbook and pot is from the Library of Congress

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Power of Storytelling in Medicine

“Regardless of one's profession, the better a storyteller you are, the greater your chances of succeeding by fully engaging and inspiring your listeners.” - John Maa

That quote came from a four page article by Dr. John Maa in the Summer 2012 issue of The Permanente Journal titled Solving the Emergency Care Crisis in America: The Power of the Law and Storytelling. He described how his 69 year-old mother died from inattention while being held in a hospital emergency department. Then he discussed what could be done to solve the emergency care crisis.

In that article he referred to another ten-page one from the 2010 Journal of Patient Safety titled Story Power: The Secret Weapon. You can download a pdf file using the link at the bottom of this web page. Both articles are excellent.

I was inspired to look up those articles after reading a review of Paul F. Griner’s book  The Power of Patient Stories: learning moments in medicine by Dr. Harriet Hall on the Science-Based Medicine blog. Harriet discusses several of Dr. Griner’s stories. I had a good laugh at one about looking without seeing (or listening without hearing):

“He asked a patient with fever and chills if his teeth chattered. The patient grinned and said, ‘Let’s look in the drawer and find out.’ His false teeth were in the drawer of the bedside table! Griner stresses the importance of good bedside skills of listening, observing, and examining; and deplores the increasing tendency of young doctors to pay more attention to test results than to patients. The great majority of diagnoses can be made on the basis of the patient’s history alone, and most of the rest are made on the physical examination. Tests should be used to confirm diagnoses, not to make them.”

An image of a physician taking a patient’s blood pressure came from the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Something significant will happen on December 21st

However, it won’t be the end of the world. It just will be the winter solstice. NASA has a web page that answers several questions about that bizarre prediction and others.

Yesterday on his Bad Astronomy blog Phil Plait posted that if you are Worried about the end of the world on Dec. 21? Don’t be. He pointed out that although it will be the end of the 13th b’ak’tun on the Mayan calendar the Mayans didn’t say it would be doomsday:

“The Maya also had bigger units of time, including the piktun (which was either 13 or 20 b’ak’tun), and the alautun, which was—get this—63 million years! So it doesn’t sound like they were predicting the end of the world ever, let alone by this weekend.” 

Information is Beautiful has an infographic you can view or download that summarizes opinions from both believers and skeptics.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Some thoughts on the Newtown, Connecticut massacre

I’ve been appalled by that massacre of twenty young children and six teachers last Friday at the Sandy Hook school. Last night on CSPAN I watched Governor Malloy and President Obama speak at the prayer vigil. You can read a transcript of the President’s speech. I thought he gave an adult response, in contrast with Mike Huckabee’s off-the-cuff remarks Friday. Yesterday Jay Heinrichs thoughtfully blogged that It’s not a tragedy.   

It was amazing to watch the broadcast and cable media do their saturation coverage just after that event, since it was located conveniently close to New York City.

Contrast that with media coverage of the Syrian Civil War, which has been going on for 21 months but is difficult to get near. Estimates are that at least 40,000 have been killed. Assuming 30 days per month, that’s 630 days, or a death toll averaging  at least 63 people per day. We can focus on a single horrible event, but the enormity of the toll from a continuing conflict escapes reporting.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Refuting Ken Balsely’s bogus claim that public speaking is everybody’s number one fear

Yesterday, over in Washington state, Ken Balsely blogged at Ken’s Corner & The Real News about how Public speaking is not an art.  He made some good points, that you should both know your material and your audience. Ken never got around to explicitly saying that public speaking is a craft. But, he included the totally bogus claim that it’s everyone’s number one fear:

“And yet, survey after survey, study after study has found that public speaking is the number one fear among all people. Fear of speaking in public outweighs a visit to the IRS, a trip to the dentist or a day at your mother-in-law. Everyone’s number one fear is speaking in public.”

That’s not real news, it’s real crap. The About page for his blog says:

“I have not allowed space for you to respond to the articles or to make your own comments. If you want to do that – - start your own web page.”

On October 23rd I blogged about how when you look at surveys of if more people fear or people fear more, you will find that Either way you look at it, public speaking really is not out greatest fear. A week later I blogged about another more people fear survey by Accountemps. So, for the first type, public speaking came in number one in only six of twenty surveys.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The joy of understanding: how ink works

Last week I blogged about Joy and wonder - the science behind mayonnaise and other things. Today I’ll discuss one of those things. Chapter 9 in Michel Mitov’s 2012 book Sensitive Matter tells about ink.

At its simplest, black Chinese or India ink is a suspension of small particles of soot (carbon black) in water. But that suspension is not stable for more than a few hours and a process called sedimentation occurs. The particles grow and fall to the bottom of the container.

Adding less than half a percent of gum arabic changes the behavior to produce a suspension stable for a year or more. Gum arabic contains long polymer molecules that coat the pigment particles. They act like little hairs, with one end attached to a particle surface and the other sticking into the liquid. Those particles look like little brushes. If too much gum is added, then those molecules get tangled up and form a thick gel rather than a liquid.     

Chapter 4 of the 1996 book Fragile Objects by Pierre-Gilles de Gennes and Jacques Badoz also discusses The Egyptian Scribe, Arabic Gum, and Chinese Ink. The book documents lectures that de Gennes gave to French high school students after winning the 1991 Nobel Prize in Physics. He  adds the detail that the long-chain polymer is polyhyaluronic acid. The mechanism by which it stabilzed the suspension was only explained in the mid 1980s. Dr. de Gennes adds that:

“I consider the story of Chinese ink a perfect example in more than one respect. It illustrates the properties of finely divided matter, which plays so prominent a role in our daily lives. Witness the products of the food industry (creams, margarine, mayonnaise), of the oil industry, of the cosmetic industry, and of many others. It also provides another example of the radical changes in physical properties which can be imparted by a seemingly weak action, in this case the addition of small quantities of polymers. This effect is the principal characteristic of what I have already called soft matter.

I also like the story of Chinese ink because it shows that even a product so trivial in appearance that we no longer accord it any attention has the power to amaze us by the marvelous quality of the invention which gave birth to it and by the subtlety of the physical phenomena which explain its behavior. We should be equally amazed by many of the industrial products which we use in our daily lives.”

The image from a Botticelli painting was on Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, December 10, 2012

When a physics demonstration went awry

On December 2nd the Ginger Public Speaking blog had a post about When Props Attack! How to Use Visual Aids for Good, not Evil. It reminded me of a story my mother told about a parents night at Wightman Elementary School. Mrs. Strauchler, our science teacher, did a physics demonstration. She swung a half-full bucket of water quickly over her head to demonstrate that centrifugal force would keep the contents safely inside.

The Youtube video shown above with Paul Hewitt portrays how the demonstration is supposed to work. Unfortunately Mrs. Strauchler moved too close to the first row of desks. Her bucket struck the front edge of one, and immediately dumped a gallon of cold water on her startled audience. My mother had trouble telling us the story, because she kept laughing too hard.

The bucket image came from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

In Brisbane a bloke’s biggest fear is running out of beer

In Idaho right now people already are skiing over at Sun Valley. As winter approaches, local TV news broadcasts here in Boise are including ski reports.

Meanwhile, down in the Southern hemisphere it’s almost summer. An article in the December 6th Brisbane Times proclaimed:

“It's usually spiders, heights and public speaking that rate highly as common worst nightmares, but as summer hits and the mercury hits the high 30s, Brisbane men have a new one: running out of beer.

According to shameless publicity by Great Northern Brewing Company, Brisbane men may fear running out of beer on a hot summer day worse than anything else.”

A bar chart based on that article about a survey shows the three biggest fears, which were running out of beer (33%), having no air conditioning (25%), and changing a flat tyre on the highway (23%). The article also suggested that Australian men should prepare for summer by putting an emergency beer map on the refrigerator, with a list of nearby bottle shops and pubs (and their opening and closing times). 

Another article in the next day’s Morning Bulletin mentioned two other fears: losing a marlin you reeled in and not having the television work for the Boxing Day Test. But, they didn’t cite any other percentages, or mention public speaking. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Cyberathazagoraphobia - fear of forgetting your password?

On November 26th Doug Barney blogged at that:

“Forgetting a password is a fear that ranks right up with spiders, public speaking and meeting future in-laws. That's why so many choose such weak passwords -- weak passwords are easy to remember.”

How big of a problem are weak passwords? This year Kaspersky Labs had a worldwide survey done that included asking over 11,000 users what they had used as passwords. Their disconcerting results (from page 9 of the report) are shown above. (Click to see a larger, clearer version). 17% had used their birthday, 10% had used their phone number or their middle name, 9% had used their pet’s name, 8% had used “123456” or something similar, and 5% had just used “Password”. There were sizable regional differences in the percentages that used various weak passwords - 26% in Asia and the Pacific had used their birthday.

I didn’t find a specific Latin or Greek compound word for fear of forgetting your password. The Phobia List had cyberphobia for fear of computers, and athazagoraphobia for fear of being forgotten or ignored or forgetting. So, I put them together to create the very silly Cyberathazagoraphobia.  

Using a lazy default like “Password” isn’t new behavior. In an essay titled Safecracker Meets Safecracker his book Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman, physicist Richard P. Feynman described meeting a locksmith at Los Alamos in 1945 who had just opened the safe in a captain’s office:

“....I knew that the locks come from the factory set at 25-0-25 or 50-25-50, so I thought. ‘Who knows; maybe the guy didn’t bother to change the combination,‘ and the second one worked.

....I (Feynman) went from office to office in my building, trying those two factory combinations, and I opened about one safe in five.” 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Joy and wonder - the science behind mayonnaise and other things

I have been reading a curious book on soft matter by Michel Mitov that came out earlier this year called Sensitive Matter: foams, gels, liquid crystals, and other miracles. Dr. Mitov is Director of Research at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France. It is written for non-scientists, and thus uses words and graphics to elegantly make the complex simple. 

His seven-page first chapter discusses mayonnaise. It describes how the amphiphilic lecithin molecules in egg yolk act as mediators to create a stable emulsion from oil and water based ingredients. Those molecules have a head which likes water (but not oil) and two tails which like oil (but not water).

He illustrates a lecithin molecule with a simple schematic, rather than a more detailed chemical formula (which only would be understandable to chemists). 

In the sixth chapter he describes how other amphiphilic molecules are responsible for making a stable foam - the bubbles in champagne. Lecithin also shows up in the second chapter on digestion, where bile salts make cholesterol into an emulsion. On page 14 he shows us a ternary phase diagram for bile salts, lecithin, and cholesterol.

I was surprised to see that diagram, since I’m much more familiar with seeing ternary diagrams for three elements, like the one shown above that describes the colors for alloys of very expensive gold, less expensive silver, and inexpensive copper used to make jewelry. 

The mayonnaise jar and ternary diagram images both came from Wikimedia Commons. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A 1952 magazine article surveyed fear of public speaking in U.S. university students

Sixty years ago Floyd I. Greenleaf published An Exploratory Study of Speech Fright in the Quarterly Journal of Speech (Volume 38, 1952, pages 326 to 330). You can read the abstract here. The only survey about fear of public speaking that many people know about is one reported in the 1977 Book of Lists. Greenleaf’s results were published 25 years earlier! (His Masters thesis, An Exploratory Study of Social Speech Fright, was done back in 1947). Mr. Greenleaf surveyed 789 students at the University of Iowa (664 males and 125 females) that were enrolled in the Communication Skills course. He asked them to rate their degree of fright as None, Mild, Moderate, or Severe.

Results are shown above in a bar chart. (click on it to see a larger, clearer version. 11% reported none, 32% were mild, 47% were moderate, and 11% were severe.   

Another bar chart compares the percentages for men and women, which differ by five percent or less.

Rating scales later were used to compare many fears via fear survey schedules. Most articles about fear survey schedules don’t provide this detail of percentages at each level. Forty years after Greenleaf’s article, another one by Douglas M. Klieger did. He studied 508 males and 352 females, with fears being ranked on a scale from 0 to 4.

His results for fear of speaking in public are shown above. For females the mean was 2.04, and the standard deviation was 1.20. Although the mean was very close to 2, about 30% of the sample ranked the fear at 1, and about 20% ranked it at 3. For males the mean was 1.84, and the standard deviation also was 1.20. There is a large spread in the results, similar to what Greenleaf saw.  

Klieger’s results for fear of dead people are shown in another bar chart. For females the mean was 2.25, and the standard deviation was 1.28. Although the mean was close to 2, over 20% of the sample ranked the fear at 1, 3 or 4. For males the mean was 1.91, and the standard deviation was 1.22.  

The vintage image of Nathan Straus speaking came from the Library of Congress.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Member of Scottish Parliament bought Public Speaking & Presentations for Dummies book on her expense account

The Sun had an article about how new Labour MSP Anne McTaggart spent £141 ($226)  on books - including a £10 ($16) yellow and black one with the notorious word Dummies in its title. Scots are notoriously frugal, and Bill Leckie ranted:

“Don’t know about you. But the thought crosses my mind that someone who goes for a job paying £57,521 per year and which is all about communicating ideas in a way that sways the opinions of others might already be half-decent at speaking in public.”

Ms. McTaggart retorted that that book was bought for training some of her staff. Still, that loaded word made for a very interesting headline, and a caused her a lot of unwanted notoriety for a small expenditure.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The joy of elaborate student pranks - comedian Jose Barrientos fakes an accent for an entire public speaking course

People judge us based on first impressions, like what we wear and how we speak. Those impressions may be very wrong. Yesterday ABC News had a story about how Jose told his Speech 101 class at Los Angeles City College that he was a recent immigrant, his family were piñata makers, and that he used to ride a donkey to school. For his last speech he finally revealed how he normally speaks, and got a perfect score. The video shown above tells his story. WARNING - there is lots of profane language. You can also watch him doing eight minutes of stand-up comedy without that phony accent.

How you dress also can throw people way off. Almost four decades ago, when I was in the Air Force Reserve, I was at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base for the altitude chamber course that everyone had to take before going on flying status. Three months earlier I’d come back from basic training, tech school, and on-the-job training to be a medic in an air evacuation squadron. My rank was still Airman Basic (E-1) so I still didn’t even have one stripe on the sleeves of my fatigues. The first morning was boring classroom stuff. Everyone was glad when we stopped for a coffee break.

Ahead of me in line was a man wearing an unusual blue uniform. When I asked him where he was from, he told me that he was a Wing Commander in the Royal Air Force (officer rank equivalent to a major, O-4). He was on an exchange tour, and was going to Scott Air Force Base (near St. Louis) to fly jet transport planes. I told him that I’d worked as an orderly in the hospital there for a month. Eventually our conversation turned to the topic of metal fatigue. I noticed that he was becoming very perplexed at hearing me talk like an engineer. He’d looked at my sleeves, and hadn’t seen any insignia. Then he’d looked at my collar, and cuffs, and still couldn’t find anything to identify my rank. Finally I told him that I was in the Air Force Reserve (working one weekend each month), and that during the week I was a graduate student in metallurgy at Carnegie Mellon University.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pacing infinitely

In a November 20th post at about Public Speaking Mistakes to Avoid, Naomi Robbins observes that:

“I’ve been to a number of presentations where the speaker seems to draw an imaginary line on the floor and then walk back and forth on this line throughout the talk.....Recently I heard several speakers who followed a variation of this pattern. They traversed the imaginary line, stayed at the end and talked there for a short while, then talked while they walked to the other end of the line and talked there for a while, repeating this pattern until the talk was over.”

Last August, in post about Broadcasting Complete Confidence as a Speaker, Gary Genard describes this sort of nervous behavior as:

“....pacing back and forth like a caged animal (what I call ‘the motivational speaker syndrome’)”

People who are very nervous often just stand still behind a lectern and tightly grip its edges, like they are trying to steer a bus. Less nervous people pace around, and make the audience nervous.

In an often quoted passage from a poem J.R.R. Tolkien reminds us:

“Not all those who wander are lost;”

However, most are. Their presentation would be improved by purposeful movement. A Toastmasters International web page on gestures suggests:

“For example, walk to the other side of the stage as you move to a new topic or move toward the audience as you ask a question.” 

Monday, November 26, 2012

SPEAK film review

Three months ago I blogged about SPEAK, a film about the 2008 Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking. (Don’t try to look it up on Wikipedia, which only has a page for another 2004 film titled Speak and starring Kristen Stewart). I just borrowed the DVD from my local public library and enjoyed watching it. Speak is a good film, if not a great one. Watching the finals of that contest behind the scenes is fascinating. The film may become a cult classic at Toastmasters District Conferences, as their analog to the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The synopsis on the film’s web site and back of the DVD box says that:

“SPEAK is a documentary film about the fear of public speaking, and the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking. Filmmakers Paul Galichia and Brian Weidling embarked on an almost two year journey collecting hundreds of interviews about public speaking anxiety, and capturing every stage of the tense, highly competitive World Championship of Public Speaking. It all culminates in a week of fascinating human drama in Calgary, Alberta, after which one person is crowned “World Champion of Public Speaking.” Funny, inspiring, moving, and utterly absorbing, SPEAK follows the trail of those brave souls who take on the fear of public speaking - the world’s #1 fear - and live to tell the tale.

Come find your voice.


That description is somewhat misleading. Only the first 12 minutes of this 89 minute film actually is about fear of public speaking. Most of it is about the 2008 contest, including the varied backgrounds of the finalists.

The description lists actress Caitlin Upton before the two directors. Caitlin was interviewed about her infamous brain freeze at a question-and-answer session in the 2007 Miss Teen USA beauty pageant. Readers of this blog already know that I disagree with that world’s number one fear claim. About ten minutes into the film, in a speech talking about his heart attack, Robert MacKenzie says:

“You know, we hear that the fear of public speaking - what I am doing right this moment - is greater than the fear of death. Not even close!”

 One of the surprises for me was finding that two of the finalists had previously come in third in earlier contests - Jock Elliot in 1994 and Rich Hopkins in 2006. Jock had been a finalist four times, and then won the 2011 contest with this speech. (Rich reviewed the SPEAK DVD back in January).   

I think many will enjoy this film, and seeing just how much can be packed into a roughly six-minute inspirational speech. If you like seeing contests, then put the DVD on your wish list of holiday gifts. (Toastmasters clubs definitely should consider adding it to their libraries).

Friday, November 23, 2012

Dealing with a packaging peeve - ‘wrap rage’

With the holiday shopping season underway, it’s time to discuss packaging that is difficult to open without causing injuries. On May 31st the Atlantic described how Plastic Clamshell Packaging is the Worst, and it was even the subject of a comedy sketch on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

It is a worldwide problem that made the cover of this December’s issue of Reader’s Digest Australia. There was an eight page article describing results from a survey of 500 people. About two-thirds of the people got out sharp objects, and then 75% either cut themselves, or had other injuries as shown above. (Click on these bar charts to see larger, clearer versions). You can find a .pdf file of the article by doing a Google search with the phrases "wrap rage" "Reader's Digest" "StoryCentral”.    

A variety of tools have been used to deal with clamshell packages - can openers, knives, scissors, aviation snips, etc. This Old House showed a selection of Tools to Cure Wrap Rage. A YouTube video describes the OpenIt! gizmo. I just use a combination of scissors and diagonal pliers as shown above. Scissors will cut the clear plastic parallel to the edge and inside of the weld seam. Diagonal pliers make perpendicular cuts, when the package is longer than the blade length on the scissors. That keeps the long sharp clear plastic away from my scissors hand. Diagonal pliers also can cut through plastic or wire ties inside the clamshell package. (Nail clippers would work too, but I already have this nifty Platoshear 170).  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Rehearsing and amateurs versus professionals

A presentation needs to be practiced or rehearsed - just like walking on a slackline or tightrope does. One quote I’ve seen recently says that:

"Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can't get it wrong."

But, how should you rehearse? Back in May 2012 Nick Morgan gave us some excellent advice about Seven ways to rehearse a speech.

Where did that quote come from? When I looked at Google Books there were three different answers in books from 2007. On page 103 of his book Dynamic Components of Personal Power, Jim Bouchard said it was from a commercial for the NFL network. Page 28 of a chapter by Jim Bunch on The Ultimate Coach Approach to Winning in Machlen MacDonald’s book The Power of Coaching...Engaging Excellence in Others said it was from a General Motors car commercial. Barry Gibbons book Speak Easy: Dazzle Every Audience and Leave Them Begging for More attributes it to Harold Craxton.

Barry Popik dug further. In an August 11th post on his The Big Apple blog he said that Nigel Rees’s 2002 book Mark My Words: Great quotations and the stories behind them revealed that it was quoted by Harold Craxton (a musician, composer, and professor at the Royal Academy of Music), and that it referred to musicians. Unfortunately we can’t ask Mr. Craxton where he got it, since he died four decades ago.

Trying to find the origin reminded me of those nested Russian dolls called matroshka. Similarly, in September Dave Kellett had a Sheldon cartoon about literary borrowing, with a sequence that ran from Shakespeare all the way back to classical Greece as follows:

Every writer < Shakespeare < Boccaccio < Dante < Aquinas < Augustine < Aristotle < Plato < Socrates  < Tiggles.

(Tiggles was supposed to be Socrate’s cousin).
Images of Andy Lewis and matroshka came from here and here, all on Wikimedia Commons. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Top Ten List after 700 blog posts

After just over 700 posts, it’s time once again to look back at the ten most popular posts of all time for this blog. I’m listing how they rank in percent relative to the most popular one. Also, I’m listing how they ranked last time after 600 posts. If you want to see more recent posts on a topic, just click on a label after you click on the link to one of the posts. 

At #1 (with 6084 views) is a post from October 27, 2009 that discussed The 14 Worst Fears in the 1977 Book of Lists: where did this data really come from?

At #2 (50.6%), from August 9, 2010, is The power of brief speeches: World War I and the Four Minute Men.

At #3 (50.5%), from December 11, 2009, is Does homeopathic Argentum Nitricum reduce anxiety?. After 600 posts it was ranked #4.

At #4 (31.4%), from December 29, 2011, is How can you easily draw dotted chalk lines on a blackboard? After 600 posts it was ranked #8.

At #5 (29.3%), from January 11, 2011, is Timing lights for speakers. After 600 posts it was ranked #7. This post introduced my Timing Tiles, which were also discussed here on March 1st. 

At #6 (25.8%), from August 13, 2010, is Add your unique perspective to a topic. After 600 posts it was ranked #3.

At #7 (24.9%), from July 5, 2009, is Two types of speech outlines: speaking and preparation. After 600 posts it was ranked #6.

At #8 (21.7%), from February 8, 2009, is Finding topics for speeches. After 600 posts it was ranked #5.

At #9 (11.6%), from November 5, 2010 is Do you like stealth raisins? After 600 posts it also was ranked at #9. 

At #10 (10.5%), from May 19, 2011, is America’s Number One Fear: Public Speaking - that 1993 Bruskin-Goldring Survey. It wasn’t on the top ten after 600 posts.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Slides were used as visual aids long before PowerPoint

Last Wednesday’s blog post at Duarte, Back to the Future: Slides Before PowerPoint,  by Paula Tesch took me on a trip down memory lane. She reminded us that:

“Before there was PowerPoint, there were slides. Real ones. They were tiny, and tactile, and delicate, and kind of delightful.”

Paula was describing 2x2” slides produced using 35mm film. They were one of the the dominant visual aids for about a half century, from 1955 to 2005. But, they were preceded by larger 3.5x4”  lantern slides, which were used for about a century, from 1855 to 1955. 

A Wikipedia article about slide libraries contains a timeline for both of these visual aids, and a web page at the Library of Congress web site briefly describes the history and manufacture of lantern slides.

Suppose that you were trying to describe how coal bunkers on a famous steamship like the ocean liner RMS Mauretania were being built in 1905 by riveting together steel plates. A single lantern slide, like the one shown above from the Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, was worth literally a thousand words.

Sometimes color even was added to lantern slides by hand tinting, like this 1922 view of a garden

When I was a child, my father had an Argus C3 35mm camera. I remember watching Kodachrome color slide shows of family vacations and other occasions. Later I owned a series of 35mm single lens reflex cameras (the last being a Nikon F3).

I still have a collection of binders with vinyl pages full of slides that could be held up in front of a window or lamp, and viewed with a loupe or a linen tester. Planning a presentation began with review of existing slides using a slide sorter or light box. 

Production of new 35mm slides for presentations at technical meetings was a long and painful process. Typically it began at least a month earlier. For example, the applied metallurgical research slide shown above (from two decades ago) contains a drawing (borrowed from a technical report) and three optical microscope photographs. The yellow chart area and orange background were self-adhesive plastic overlays added to the drawing. Each photograph was cut to size and then had a magnification scale marker added to it. Then the final artwork was photographed, and the slides came back from processing a week later.  

Do I miss this long, convoluted analog set of processes? Not at all! Drag and drop digital editing in PowerPoint (or Keynote) is much faster and less stressful.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Everybody thinks that I’m a fraud!

Today’s excellent Savage Chickens cartoon illustrates a common cognitive bias called the Illusion of Transparency - that others can see our mental state.

Relax! They don't really think that you are a fraud, and can't even tell if you are nervous. So, as Dave Paradi said a couple weeks ago don’t start with an apology.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Fairy tales in my blog spam folder from four turkeys

Some people will comment almost anything to try and get a link from this blog to their commercial web site. Here are some examples from the past six months. (Of course, any blog built in Google Blogger runs just fine with Internet Explorer. Why wouldn’t it?)

“Hello, neat post. There is an issue together with your web site in Internet Explorer, could check this. IE nonetheless is the market chief and a big element of folks will leave out your wonderful writing due to this problem. My web site is...”

“Hmm is anyone else having problems with the pictures on this blog loading? I’m trying to find out if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated. My web site:...”

“Hi, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues. When I look at your site in Ie it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up!...”

“Have you ever considered about adding a little bit more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is fundamental and everything. However think of if you added some great photos or video clips to give your posts more ‘pop’! Your content is excellent but with pics and videos, this site could definitely be one of the greatest in its field. Great blog! Look at my homepage...”

The sliced turkey spam and can were posted by Carol Spears on Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Three sensational claims in just one paragraph!!!

Back in April I blogged about encountering articles from content mills. Last month I found one with an amazing first paragraph. That article was written by Jay (A.) Jenkin and published on April 23, 2010. On Articlebase it was titled Speaking with confidence, while on Ezine Articles it was titled Speaking to a crowd with confidence. The first paragraph says:

“There is no doubt about it: speaking in front of people is one of our culture's biggest fears. A recent study asked a group of United States Air Force pilots, guys who can land a multi-million dollar fighter jet on an aircraft carrier at night without breaking a sweat, what their greatest fear was. Their answer? Public speaking. Another study found that most people would rather be in the coffin at a funeral than up at the pulpit giving the eulogy. All in all, only 5% of Americans are ready and willing to command the public platform.”

His first claim begins with the second sentence - there was a survey of pilots about their fears. I looked around on Google and the databases at my public library and could not find it. But, Air Force pilots don’t land fighters on aircraft carriers. Naval aviators do, as many who saw the movie Top Gun will recall. The Navy already had called the guys who took ships into ports or other confined zone pilots. To avoid confusion they called their fliers aviators. (An earlier article by Jenkin claimed the survey was on combat fighter pilots).

The fifth sentence has his second claim - that there was a study which said people would rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy. That just was a two-decade old Jerry Seinfeld comedy routine, not a study.

The last sentence has his third claim that only 5% of Americans are ready and willing to step up and speak. It’s just a restatement of the silly claim that 95% fear speaking - a pandemic of fear which I’ve debunked before. So, all three claims are bogus.

The Puck cartoon came from back in 1897!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

“Well, basically”, “As you can see” and other worn out filler phrases

Watching a video recording of your speech will help catch unintended filler phrases. A common one is opening sentences with:

“Well, basically...”

Back in 2001 Stuart Vail lamented that it had become the speech crutch of the 90s. Forty years ago there was a Monty Python comedy sketch with John Cleese portraying the chairman of the British Well Basically Club.  

On October 27th at his excellent Business School Presenting web site Professor Stanley K. Ridgely discussed A Horrid Presentation Pathology - clicking on a cluttered PowerPoint slide and then glibly proclaiming:

“As you can see”

when the audience can’t really see what the presenter had in mind at all. Sometimes the  slide contains part of an Excel spreadsheet, or even an entire barely legible spreadsheet. That presenter might have needed ten minutes to discern patterns in that data, which he now assumes his audience can recognize instantly.  

On January 24th I blogged about a list of 46 Tired old phrases to use nevermore from back in 1915. It included two common ones still used by politicians:

“I point with pride” and “We view with alarm”

Friday, November 2, 2012

Survey by Accountemps reveals most Canadian workers are afraid of making errors on the job - and public speaking came third

In my last post on Tuesday I blogged about how an Accountemps survey reveals most workers are afraid of making errors on the job - and public speaking tied for fourth.

When I looked up other posts that referred to Accountemps, I found that they also had done another survey of 277 workers in Canada that was reported on October 25th.

The bar chart shown above compares results from this survey (in red) with those for the United States (in blue). Click on it to see a larger, clearer version. For Canadians, 29% feared making errors on the job (versus 28% in the US). Dealing with difficult customers or clients was feared by 17% (versus 18% in the US). Speaking in front of a group of people came third at 16% (versus a tie for fourth at 13% in the US). Conflicts with coworkers was feared by 14% and ranked fourth (versus 13% in the US). Conflicts with your manager was feared by 12% and ranked fifth (versus 15% and third in the US).

A post by Jenna Charlton at titled What scares us the most at work? confused things by first linking to the US survey but then quoting three percentages from the Canadian survey.

The wood carving of three wise monkeys came from Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Accountemps survey reveals workers are most afraid of making errors on the job - and public speaking tied for fourth

On October 24th Accountemps released a survey about Workplace Frights just in time to scare us for Halloween. They asked 420 workers to choose from a list in reply to being asked:

“Which one of the following is your greatest fear?"

Their results are shown above in a bar chart. (Click on it to see a larger version). Making errors on the job (28%) was first, dealing with difficult customers or clients was second (18%), and conflicts with your manager (15%) was third. Conflicts with coworkers (13%) and speaking in front of a group of people tied for fourth.   

Last Tuesday I blogged about how Either way you look at it, public speaking really is not our greatest fear. Public speaking was feared by more people in only six of nineteen surveys. Add this survey, and the score becomes six out of twenty, or only 30%. That refutes a silly claim made by Donald Michael Kraig at California Psychics on July 19, 2011:  

“For almost four decades, research polls investigating fears have revealed that the number one fear is...public speaking.”

The scary painting of Bertalda Assailed by Spirits was borrowed from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Free ebook on public speaking - Stand Up, Speak Out

Recently I found a freely readable electronic textbook on public speaking that was published last year. Stand Up, Speak Out: The Practice and Ethics of Public Speaking was written by Jason S. Wrench, Anne Goding, Danette Ifert Johnson, and Bernardo A. Attias. Titles for the nineteen chapters are:

1. Why Public Speaking Matters Today
2. Ethics Matters: Understanding the Ethics of Public Speaking
3. Speaking Confidently
4. The Importance of Listening
5. Audience Analysis
6. Finding a Purpose and Selecting a Topic
7. Researching Your Speech
8. Supporting Ideas and Building Arguments
9. Introductions Matter: How to Begin a Speech Effectively
10. Creating the Body of a Speech
11. Concluding with Power
12. Outlining
13. The Importance of Language
14. Delivering the Speech
15. Presentation Aids: Design and Usage
16. Informative Speaking
17. Persuasive Speaking
18. Speaking to Entertain
19. Your First Speech

It looks like a useful reference for Toastmasters and others who occasionally need to review a subject in more depth.

The poster of October’s Bright Blue Weather came from the Library of Congress.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Loss of iconicity

Back when I was a child, talking on the telephone meant picking up a handset that could be humorously represented either by a prop banana or an iconic hand gesture between ear and mouth (as shown above).

On October 10th Dave Kellett drew a Sheldon comic strip titled Grumpy Cartoonist Corner where he lamented that either showing someone making a phone call or watching a television set was getting far less obvious. Now everything just is a rectangle with a screen, so most activities can’t be drawn in an iconic way.