Thursday, March 29, 2012

Four other situations people would rather avoid than speaking in public

Salespeople sometimes refer to cold calling as smile and dial, and some would prefer to avoid doing it. Back in February 2010 Sandler Training (a sales and management training company) had Infosurv conduct an online survey of 1226 people about attitudes towards sales.

One question they asked was which of five situations people would rather avoid:

1. Being picked as a surprise guest on a reality TV show
2. Getting a root canal
3. Giving up sex for a month
4. Making cold sales calls for a week
5. Speaking in public

As shown above (click to enlarge the chart), 33% wanted to avoid getting a root canal, 23% wanted to avoid cold calls, 18% didn't want to give up sex, 15% wanted to avoid the reality TV appearance, but only 13% wanted to avoid speaking in public.

Results from that question were written about by Reuters news service on May 19th - with a headline comparing cold calling and giving up sex.

I previously blogged about how three years ago the American Association of Endodontists (AAE) put out a press release comparing four other situations. They found that flying on an airplane during a storm (57%) was feared slightly more than getting a root canal (52%). Getting a root canal was feared more than either public speaking or a job interview (42% for either).

Other results from the Infosurv survey were described in a press release distributed on May 17th that no longer is shown on the Sandler web site, and were written about later with more detail in the Orange County Register.

A second question asked which of the following professions do you trust the least (or most). As shown above, politicians were trusted far less than salespersons, lawyers, journalists, bankers, or mechanics. Note that the answers weren’t perfectly consistent, because the order wasn’t reversed when the question was changed from who do you trust least to who do you trust most.

A third question asked in which industry do you trust salespeople the least. As shown above, car salesman were least trusted, followed by those in financial services, business services, and retail. Again, the rankings weren’t perfectly consistent when the question was changed from least to most trusted.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Do words keep their original definitions?

No, often they just don’t. Let’s look at a simple example. The 1828 Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language defined a computer as:

“One who computes; a reckoner; a calculator.”

Then the 1913 edition said:

“One who computes; a machine which computes.”

Now the online Merriam-Webster says:

“One that computes; specifically: a programmable usually electronic device that can store, retrieve, and process data.”

Almost anyone you’d ask today would say that a computer is a thing you purchase rather than a person. So, don’t assume the definition you once learned still is the only correct one!

That original meaning is illustrated in the 1949 photograph of the “computer room” at NACA Dryden shown above. It just is a historical leftover.  The transition from person to electronic thing happened during the second half of the twentieth century.

My father was a highly skilled computer. For two decades Harold taught chemical engineering in universities, and then he worked in industry. Dad was armed with a detailed knowledge of applied mathematics. When I was a young child he had a black Marchant mechanical calculator on his desk at home, with an electric motor as big as a pound coffee can on the back. I grew up playing with it. The Marchant handled long division by making repeated subtractions. Dividing could take many seconds, while producing sounds that resembled a heavy machine gun.

Later he had a Hewlett Packard 9100A desktop electronic calculator, with a CRT display showing a stack of three registers. It used Reverse Polish notation (RPN), so there was no “= “ key. I got familiar with using RPN, so all three pocket calculators I’ve owned came from Hewlett Packard.

I learned to use electronic computers like the exotic Bendix G21 and IBM System 360/67 back in my teens in the 1960s. The Boy Scout troop and Explorer post I belonged to both were run mainly by Carnegie Tech computer science grad students.

Images of the Marchant EB9 and HP9100A calculators came from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, March 26, 2012

What NOT to do during a speech

This humorous animated video goes with a more serious Entrepreneur web article by Ross McCammon on What Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know About Public Speaking. LOL.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Kate Middleton speaks at The Treehouse

On Monday, March 19th Kate Middleton gave her first public speech as the Duchess of Cambridge during the formal opening of The Treehouse, a children’s hospice in Ipswitch. She spoke thoughtfully for about three minutes. You can find the text of her speech here.

I saw a lot of first “Icebreaker” speeches in Toastmasters. A lot can go wrong with them, but this one went rather well.

Kate did:
1. Smile
2. Make eye contact
3. Pause appropriately (after mentioning William)
3. Thank her audience
4. Brush her hair aside (once)

She didn’t:
1. Have a wardrobe malfunction
2. Slip, trip, or fall
3. Freeze in terror
4. Faint on stage
5. Only look down at her script or notes
6. Lose her place
7. Lose her voice
8. Stutter

Nick Morgan and John Zimmer have discussed her speech in more detail.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Chasing the past

It sometimes is both useful and pleasant to look way back via magazine articles. We may learn either that how people behave has stayed much the same, or that how they live has changed greatly.

On Sunday I blogged about how lack of organization can ruin a speech, and mentioned a humorous article from 1927. In Tuesday’s blog post I mentioned a 1930 article by Alfred E. Smith. Both magazine articles came from bound volumes on the shelves at the Boise Public Library.

I found them by looking under the subject of public speaking in the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature. It is an index to periodicals of general interest by author and subject. Reader’s Guide began publication back in 1890 under another title. Entries in the Reader’s Guide are very terse, so it’s simple to write them down. After collecting several it’s time to locate the magazines and find the articles. They might either be in bound volumes on shelves, or microfilm in drawers (either on rolls of microfiche cards). After skimming an article, I can decide whether to copy it or print it out.

This old-time style of research takes far longer than working online with full-text databases. Once you get more than about thirty years back it may be the only way to find some information.

Reader’s Guide also was turned into a database sold in several flavors. I found one called Reader’s Guide Full Text at the Boise State University Library. Older stuff is in a subset called Reader’s Guide Retrospective that covers from 1890 to 1982.

The image of a boy came from a poster at the Library of Congress web site.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Women in the UK consider going to work without wearing makeup more stressful than public speaking

Tomorrow is National No Make-Up Day, and over in the UK, the Vitality Show TV program reported the startling results of a survey which found that:

“The notion of going bare-faced to work was rated more stressful than public speaking, attending a job interview and even a nerve-wracking first date. When asked what they worry about leaving the house without, 70% said ‘hair styling and make-up’, topping daily essentials such as a bank card (65%), cash (40%) or their diary (11%).

....While 70% women would not feel confident going to work without make-up on, 91% said they would cancel a first date rather than turn up bare faced. 31% would not go to the gym without make-up and astonishingly 1 in 6 women wouldn’t even answer the front door unless in full make-up.”

Similarly, in February, The Renfrew Center Foundation issued a press release about an online survey of women in the United States which found:

“Forty-four percent of women have negative feelings when they are not wearing makeup, reporting feeling unattractive (16%), self-conscious (14%) and naked/as though something is missing (14%). Only three percent of women said going without makeup made them feel more attractive.” 

The image is the cover of Puck magazine from back in September 27, 1911.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rick Santorum’s Teleprompter Tantrum

Last week he complained childishly that the rules should be changed to favor spontaneity:

“See, I’ve always believed that when you run for president of the United States, it should be illegal to read off a teleprompter, because all you’re doing is reading someone else’s words to people.”

Teleprompters are older than Mr. Santorum. Their first political use was sixty years ago - by Herbert Hoover at the 1952 Republican Convention. (If you’d like to see how they once looked, search on Google Books for an article about “How a Teleprompter Works” in the July 1960 issue of Popular Science magazine on pages 104 and 105).

In the March 14th episode of his comedy satire TV show The Colbert Report (5 minutes from the beginning) Stephen Colbert took Santorum’s complaint to an absurd conclusion:

“Now, Rick Santorum is resonating with voters because of his authenticity. He always speaks off the cuff, which is why his sweaters don’t have sleeves. And Santorum believes authenticity should be legally mandated. [plays video clip of Santorum’s statement].

Yes, it should be illegal. Voters cannot trust candidates who have somebody else’s words in their mouths. That’s why no ventriloquist’s dummy has been nominated since the dark days of Charlie McCarthyism.

But we cannot, I believe we cannot, stop at teleprompters. I reject all pre-wrtitten words.That’s why I’m against reading books. I mean, books are a lie. When I read the words it makes thought sounds in my head like I’m thinking them.”  

Mr. Santorum would like us to return to a simpler time, but how far back would that be? I looked up what the first Catholic presidential nominee, Alfred E. Smith, had to say about public speaking in the really old days. Mr Smith was a former governor of New York who ran as a Democrat in the 1928 election. In a May 24, 1930 Saturday Evening Post article on "Spellbinding" he talked about unamplified speeches lit only by kerosene torches:

“...outdoor speaking in those days required a man to be in vigorous health and to have a good voice, or else he lasted only about five minutes on the platform, when the patience of the listening mob would be completely exhausted, and they usually started crying out for somebody else and kept up until they got him.

Nevertheless, it was a great training school for young men. It may have had its faults. It may have been crude, but it certainly was not without virtue. To my own knowledge, many young men who distinguished themselves in their later years began their early campaign speaking in the open air. The one great thing about it was that the young man starting out did not feel that he had to be an orator. There is quite a difference between coming out in front of the footlights and climbing upon the back of a truck. Maybe it is the possession of the knowledge that the truck affords a quicker get-away if you are not making a hit.”  

Mr. Smith lost the 1928 presidential election by a landslide - to the Republican candidate, Herbert Hoover.

The crying baby image was adapted from an 1884 Puck magazine cover.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Does your speech have too much content and not enough structure?

Crafting an excellent speech requires giving the content a structure (via a storyboard, mind map, or outline), and deciding how much to say (or not say). Too much content is like a bad Santa overstuffing the stockings.

I just read a humorous story by Stephen Leacock called Save Me From The Man Who Has A Speech To Make from the September 1927 issue of Harper’s Magazine. He told about his series of brief encounters with Mr. Robinson over the course of a month.

First, Mr. Robinson told him that next month he had to speak at a Tuesday evening banquet - to give an after-dinner toast to Our Country. A week later he decided it might be a good idea to say something about the history of the country. After another three days Robinson was sidetracked by reading The Life of Christopher Columbus.

A week before the speech he decided it also might be a good idea to say something about the future of the country. On Monday morning, Robinson stayed home to work on his speech. (A newspaper announcement for the banquet noted there would be fifteen speakers).

On Tuesday morning he was still working, and finally had decided to write it out. Also, he complained that he hadn’t had enough time to work on it before. Just before dinner Robinson decided he’d gotten a touch of bronchitis, gave his text to a friend to present at the banquet, and stayed at home, presumably in bed.

On Wednesday evening he whined that the morning paper had misquoted his text:

“...Where I said ‘This country has a great destiny in front of it,’ they’ve put it, ‘this country has a great destitution in front of it.’ ”

Months later Mr. Robinson was still talking in hindsight about what he should have said, of other ideas that came to him later, and of jokes or gags that could have been included.

The bad Santa was adapted from a 1908 Puck magazine cover.

Friday, March 16, 2012

How many types of lecterns are there?

In a previous post about What are you standing on or behind? I suggested that there were at least four: floor or tabletop, and plain or with a built-in sound system (amplifier and speaker). There might be a lot more.

A plain floor lectern might be flanked by tables that could be used for other stuff like laptop computers or props. Floor lecterns are common in large spaces like auditoriums and ballrooms.

Plain tabletop lecterns are common in smaller spaces like classrooms or boardrooms. The one shown above is unusually clever - it can be flipped over to accommodate either shorter or taller speakers. Most tabletop lecterns are not adjustable, so a shorter speaker would have to stand beside them, or their hand gestures would be invisible.

Most floor lecterns aren’t adjustable either, but some simple ones with telescoping support tubes are.

Lecterns with built-in sound systems are both a blessing and a curse. They are easier to set up than a sound system with separate speaker boxes. You can’t walk directly in front of them while using a microphone without generating feedback.

Most speakers probably won’t need to purchase a personal lectern (perhaps with a built-in podium) from a door-to-door salesman, as shown in this cartoon.

If you do, than the lectern sales pitch might include them promoting other features, like Will It Float? I don’t think you need to consider that unless you speak on cruise ships, or at coastal venues with a risk of tsunamis. Have you ever had a speaker’s briefing including:

“In case of an emergency, your lectern can be used as a flotation device?”

Images of floor and tabletop lecterns came from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Don’t use a song that conflicts with your image

Here in Boise the early morning Kevin Miller talk show on KIDO-AM sometimes uses questionable rock music. He usually follows a series of commercials with a brief clip (bumper music) that repeats the title words from the 1982 song Up All Night by the Irish punk-rock group, The Boomtown Rats.

Kevin may think he’s describing how seriously he prepares for that show. The message I get instead is that he’s another blowhard carpetbagger who’s mocking this town as being far too quiet. That's because those lyrics also say:

“It’s an agreeable town,
it’s neat and sedate.
Why even the muggers
are off the streets by eight.”

The video with snakes also doesn’t fit his “Mr. Right” social conservative image. Did he ever listen to the whole song or watch the video? Perhaps an intern snipped out that clip for him. Last April I pointed out how Kevin has also used Prince’s Raspberry Beret for bumper music.

Popular songs with memorable, upbeat tunes, like Pumped Up Kicks and Sunny Came Home, can have very dark lyrics.

The Burmese Python image came from Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Aftermath of a “knock your socks off” sales presentation

Today’s F Minus cartoon showed us how that cliche would look. Tony Carrillo made me think sweaty bare feet might not smell very pleasant. When you reconsider, book titles including “knock your socks off” don’t seem as desirable.

That isn’t the only cliche that looked worse when illustrated. Last December one of Tom Fishburne’s cartoons showed Death by Powerpoint with chalk outlines where the bodies fell onto the conference table.

The image of bare male feet came from Wikimedia Commons. (I changed the background color).

Sunday, March 11, 2012

What should we call the stage furniture where we put our notes, laptop computer, and other stuff when we speak?

Should it be termed a multimedia lectern, or a presentation station, or even a projector cart? That may be an important question when communicating with an event organizer about the setup we need.

In North America, what isn’t important is just to distinguish between a podium and a lectern. (You stand on a podium, and supposedly you stand behind or in front of a lectern). Current North American usage does not make that distinction. The Oxford English Dictionary shows lectern in their second definition for podium, and their free online dictionary includes it too. Webster’s started including it way back in 1961, and their 1989 Dictionary of American Usage explained why. Ben Zimmer, whose job includes nitpicking, discussed the topic two years ago in one of his Visual Thesaurus columns about Owning the Podium (and the Lectern). He still suggested making a distinction.  

Late last month Craig Senior posted a nitpicking article about What is a lectern or podium? at the Message Masters Toastmasters web site. On Saturday John Zimmer (no relation to Ben?) blogged about Podium vs. Lectern. (John also is a Toastmaster).

Back in July 2009 I blogged about getting A Visit from the Lectern/Podium Police Patrol. Another old Toastmaster had taken issue with the closing sentence in the last paragraph of a previous post:

“Fear of public speaking is the most significant social fear for residents of the U.S. Fear of speaking up in a meeting or class is a very close second. Both affect about 1 in 5 Americans. Toastmasters, the best way to overcome both of those fears, remains the number one antidote. Don’t be snake bit – tell everyone how they can feel confident and competent behind and, yes, even in front of the podium.”

He claimed that a podium only was something you stand on. In my reply I gave five specific examples with the other use in recent books. I also pointed out that talking about where a word is derived from (etymology) isn’t relevant to its current usage (lexicography).

I think we have to carefully tell event planners how many flat or slanting surfaces we desire, and what heights they should be. Then they can tell us what they have, and we can compromise to get a presentation setup that really works. What do you think?

The multimedia lectern images came from here and here on Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

How an engineer kept a power failure from derailing a keynote speech

In his 2011 book An Engineer’s Alphabet: Gleanings from the Softer Side of a Profession Dr. Henry Petroski tells the story on page 22, under the heading of Backups and Redundancy. His keynote speech on success and failure in design began normally, but after about ten minutes there was an ominous hum, and all electrical power in the hotel ballroom went out.

Dr. Petroski continued without his PowerPoint slides for about five minutes. Then the projector came back on, and he ran through those missing slides. Power to the projector went off again briefly, but then it stayed on until he finished his speech. Later the emergency generators in the hotel restored the lights and some other power. What had happened? Where had the backup power come from?

City workers accidentally had hit some buried power lines. The engineer who organized the meeting had driven his truck to the hotel. He knew that his truck had an inverter powered by the battery that could provide enough AC power to run the projector. So, he drove his truck up onto the sidewalk outside of the ballroom. Then he scrounged three extension cords from around the room, and connected his backup power supply to the projector. The second brief outage was from someone having tripped over and disconnected one of the extension cords in the still dark ballroom.

The image of a derailed train is from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Surviving presentation problems with visual aids

There always will be problems with visual aids used during presentations, so presenters need to learn how to adapt and recover from them. In 2010 Brian J. Ford discussed what can go wrong with overhead projectors, 35-mm slide projectors, and PowerPoint in an excellent six-page Microscope magazine article titled The Good Guide to Bad Lectures

Brian is a character best known as a radio and TV broadcaster, and  a prolific writer. He’s explained biology and microscopy to audiences ranging from the International/Microscopy Conferences (Inter/Micro) to folks on cruise ships. 

He reminded lecturers:

“You’re there to please the people, not yourself. The only individuals who ever should pontificate at a conference are those who may know their subject, but are profoundly worried about doing it well. Good lecturers begin as poor speakers. People learn more when things go wrong, rather than when they’re doing it right, and in time they improve.”

At Inter/Micro 2010 Brian had problems with PowerPoint where videos would only run for about a minute and then would freeze up. You need to play the whole video before concluding that the setup works properly.   

He told a great story about Lord John Butterfield to illustrate that your slides are not your presentation. Lord John once was supposed to speak on the history of medicine to a student audience at Cambridge University. The man setting up the slide projector tripped on the cord, the bulb broke, and slides were scattered far and wide. “It seems we have lost our slides,” he said. “But, no matter, let me tell you about these people without their pictures.” And then he did, calmly, briefly and clearly - based on knowing his topic very well.

Brian also described two occasions where he wound up lecturing about digital imaging despite not being able to show the audience any of his images (because the laptop and projector wouldn’t interface properly).  

After Walter J. McCrone had admonished him at an older Interl/Micro that: “No lecture needs more than 25 slides.” Brian proceeded to construct a one-hour lecture for the next containing 145 35-mm slides. A Carousel projector tray only held 80 slides, so he’d arranged for the trays to be changed during his lecture by Gary Laughlin. Batteries on the wireless remote died during it, but Gary took over seamlessly and manually advanced the slides without ever once being asked: “Can we have the next slide, please?” No one in the audience but Walter even noticed that the remote had died, and he congratulated Gary on his fine teamwork.   

The image of Pierre-Gilles de Gennes lecturing at Rice University in 2006 is from Wikimedia Commons. (He won the 1991 Nobel Prize in physics for discoveries about ordering of molecules in liquid crystals and polymers).

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Advice on eye contact not followed by the man giving it

Andy Harrington has a teaser YouTube video called Public Speaking Fear - The Truth, which gives the following numerically challenged advice:

“Public speaking is considered by many people to be their number one fear. But, there are a number of ways of overcoming the fear of public speaking.

Here’s one you may have never thought of before. Essentially, when in a large group of people, what you do when speaking is just talk to one person at a time. By doing this, and making it conversational, and holding that contact for say, seven to ten seconds, what happens is you won’t get overwhelmed by all the many eyes staring back at you.

Let’s watch a live demonstration of this as I present at the London XL Center and the London O2 arena alongside Sir Richard Branson, Alan Sugar, and Anthony Robbins.

....Eye contact! So, here’s what you do. There’s 8000 people in this room. My job is to have 8000 individual conversations with you. Meaning, I pick one person out, I focus on you, I speak to you for five seconds. I pick somebody else out, I speak to you for just five seconds.

I look in the back, and I look at my focus over there. Pick one person. I look directly at you and I look at you, and I speak to you personally for that time. I come right back here, and I speak just to you for that period of time. I look at the back, and find someone else, and speak to him for five seconds, and hold that gaze.     

You do that and you’ll do something very important. It meets a very important human need, if you looked at Tony Robbins’ human needs. It fulfills your need for significance. Write it down!”

Well, Andy, write this down. Multiply 8000 times five seconds, and you get 40,000 seconds. Divide it by 60, and that’s 666.66 minutes. Divide it by 60 again, and that’s 11.11 hours. Did you get to talk to that audience for over eleven hours? If you instead had looked at each person for ten seconds, you’d need to have talked for 22.22 hours. So, you didn’t really follow your own advice.

However, I have spoken to an audience of 80 people for 40 minutes, so I actually could have taken less than 7 minutes to look at and briefly speak to everyone.  

The All Eyes Are on You image was derived from a March 5, 1913 Puck magazine cover.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Making impromptu speaking into a nightmare experience

Last Friday, on Life as a Human, Gil Namur blogged about why Speaking in Public is not a Game. He described having attended a four day sales and marketing conference where one of the main events for 700 people on the 2nd day was an impromptu speaking "game." Three sales representatives were put on stage, given a topic and two minutes to prepare, required to speak for two minutes, and then judged like in the Olympics. The woman chosen to go first faltered after a minute, then left the stage and the meeting hall. She was so humiliated that she flew home that day, and quit her job a month later.

Gil compared that cruel game to throwing someone who isn’t trained to swim into the deep end of a pool. They might survive that baptism, or they just might drown. The conference had included smaller break-out sessions, so they could have first given people practice at impromptu speaking to smaller audiences.

Toastmasters International includes practice on impromptu one to two minute speeches in their club meeting programs. They call that section Table Topics. It can be rough going even for some with lots of sales experience.

Table Topics is a completely different skill than speaking from a prepared sales script. It’s like playing a jazz solo versus performing classical music you’ve rehearsed extensively with sheet music. At first I found it to be very intimidating, but eventually I got used to it, and finally even started to enjoy myself.

The painting of a Man on a diving board is from Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

How many folks in the U.S. are freaked out about flying?

The answer is millions. Earlier this week I found an article in the Chicago Tribune about Calming the Fear of Flying, which discussed a recent book on Flying Fear Free. The article reported that:

“Fear of flying is the second most common phobia in the United States, according to author Sandra M. Pollino, with public speaking being first.”

On her Facebook page on January 13th Sandra Pollino further claimed that:

“The National Institute of Mental Health(NIMH) places fear of flying (acrophobia) second only to fear of public speaking." AND 

 “More than twenty-five million Americans fear flying.”

I had good reasons to be suspicious of her claim that fear of flying came in second to fear of public speaking. However, I decided to first look on some expert web sites about fear of flying and find what survey statistics they had. (Their main focus is on helping people get over that fear).

First I looked at Dr. Todd Curtis’s, and found a web page with a section on How Many People Are Afraid of Flying on that said:

“The airline industry is clearly aware of the fear of flying, and how it affects the traveling public. Research is somewhat sparse, with one of the most important studies on fear of flying dates back to 1980, when two Boeing researchers found that 18.1% adults in the U.S. was afraid to fly, and that another 12.6% of adults experienced anxiety when they fly. In short, one of three adult Americans were afraid to fly.”

Second, I looked at Tom Bunn and Lisa Hauphner’s SOAR web site and found a similar, slightly more detailed page including information about the Boeing Report on the Fear of Flying.

Third, I found a web page (of unknown age) from Dr. Jonathan Bricker, a Seattle therapist, who claimed that:

“Moreover, there has not ever been a scientific study that has provided a fully representative sample (of) the general population to give us accurate estimates of fear of flying.”

Back in July 2011 I blogged about Putting the Fear Puzzle Pieces Together. In that post I discussed two articles from 1998 that had analyzed results from the National Comorbidity Survey (NCS, of 8098 people) on specific fears (like fear of flying), and social fears (like the fear of public speaking).

The bar chart shown above (click on it to enlarge) combines those results. Fear of public speaking is first (30.2%), but fear of flying isn’t second - it is seventh (13.2%).

As shown above, the article on specific fears includes data on phobias too. A phobia is different from a plain fear - it is an intense, unreasonable fear - a fear with a capital F. Only 3.5% have a phobia about flying (about a quarter the percent having just a fear).

Last August I blogged about using data from the screening questions on specific fears from the more recent National Comorbidity Survey - Replication (NCS-R). The bar chart shown above reveals that public speaking (or speaking in class) is the top fear (38.5%), and flying is eighth (17.6%). That percentage for flying isn’t much higher than the 13.2% previously reported in the NCS. Assuming a U.S. population of about 310 million, 17.6% converts to about 55 million people with a fear of flying.

The two green bars for public speaking and speaking in class show Ruscio et al’s percentages from a more detailed analysis using more questions that separated those two social fears.

I looked around and eventually found a review article about specific phobia that referenced another two recent large surveys.

The bar chart shown above presents data from a very large survey on specific phobias by Stinson et al. published in 2007. Over 43,000 people were interviewed face to face, and with the response rate of 81% the final sample was 34,900 people. The full text is here. Phobia of flying was fourth, at 2.9%, and slightly lower than the 3.5% reported earlier by Curtis et al. Assuming a U.S. population of about 310 million, 2.9% converts to about 9 million people with a phobia of flying.

Over in Europe in 2008, M.F. L.A. Depla et al published an article on Specific Fears and Phobias in the General Population: Results from the Netherlands Mental Health Survey and Incidence Study) in Social Psychiatry & Psychiatric Epidemiology, V43 P200. You can read an abstract here.

The bar chart shown above presents their results for both specific fears and specific phobias. 6.9% had a fear of flying, which is significantly lower than the United States surveys. 2.5% had a phobia of flying - not much lower than those surveys in the United States.

Where did Sandra M. Pollino get that comparison of two fears? I looked up magazine databases via my public library and found an October 18, 1993 article in Fortune magazine by Nancy J. Perry on How to Conquer Fear of Flying which stated that:

“Aviaphobia is estimated by experts to be the second most prevalent phobia, behind the fear of public speaking.”

What can we learn about research from looking for this topic? First, there may be newer and better data than what is being quoted by the “experts.” Second, so much information is on Google that knowing the insider jargon term “specific phobia” and looking for surveys was critical for narrowing the search. Without using them, we just would get a lot of references to the 1973 Erica Jong novel, Fear of Flying.

The image of a crashed Boeing 747 in Brussels is from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Is your presentation more useful than a facial tissue?

If not, then why are you bothering to say it or write it? Before any presentation you should ask one critical question: So What?

Last month I blogged about how Jeff Davidson had written an excellent article in Speaker magazine about how to Develop a Sure-Fire Topic.

A few days later I read his 135-word January 24th Interruption Management blog post titled "Too Much Information." In it Jeff just bleated about how huge the U.S. Library of Congress is.

He spouted a bunch of large numbers, like how their holdings require over 500 miles of shelf space, and their staff takes in 7,000 new items each day. But he didn’t bother to make those numbers real. For example, their 532 miles of shelf space would make a single row stretching from Washington, D.C. down to Atlanta, Georgia. With a permanent staff of 3,525 people, their handling 7000 items a day only means roughly two per person.

When you have finished reading his blog post you are no better off than when you started. Is there one thing you really should know about the Library of Congress? Yes! They have an awesome online catalog of prints and photographs. I have used their images extensively as illustrations. Three recent examples are here and here and here.

What else should you know about the Library of Congress? They are responsible for the controlled vocabulary of subject headings used by most libraries to organize their collections. It’s extremely convenient that when you look at your public library shelves for a book you can browse the nearby books and find more information. That organization took lots of effort. If librarians were thoughtless or lazy, books might instead just have been shelved based on the order in which they were bought. (There are such accession numbers, but users don’t need to know them).

As R. L. Howser pointed out last week, having said something that changes our audience is The Only Result That Matters.