Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Forward and other slogans

Did you ever include a slogan in one of your speeches?

Last month the Obama presidential reelection campaign picked out a single word slogan - Forward. Immediately the Washington Times ranted that New Obama slogan has long ties to Marxism, socialism. There’s a  brief video of Lou Dobbs repeating that claim on Fox, and a longer one showing he didn’t like any of Obama’s other slogans either. Forward does sound better than backward, and upward sounds better than downward.

I found it hilarious to see conservatives hadn’t realized that Forward was the motto for the State of Wisconsin and appears on their flag and seal. Also, the phrase Forward for Freedom was the motto of the battleship USS Wisconsin, and later used by Ronald Reagan for a 1986 speech.

Jay Heinrichs (aka Figaro) blogged that he liked Forward as a motto, and reminded us that William F. Buckley’s definition of a conservative was someone who stands athwart history yelling STOP as is shown above by a pair of signs.

It’s no worse than some advertising slogans that you’re not supposed to disagree with like:

Enhances cellular rejuvenation
Firms sagging facial muscles
Prevents excess hair loss
Promotes healthy digestion
Reduces congestion
Removes unwanted toxins

Forward is not that boring or awful of a political slogan, compared with some others you’ll find listed on Wikipedia. How about:

Vote as you shot (1868)
Grant us another term (1872)
Grandfather’s hat fits Ben (1888)
Let well enough alone (1900)
Hoo but Hoover? (1928)
Ross for boss (1992)

Mitt Romney’s slogan Believe in America also was used by John Kerry during part of his 2004 presidential campaign. That was back when he was in the U.S. Senate representing Massachusetts, and Mitt Romney was governor. Perhaps Mitt liked it because it seemed familiar.

After I imagined all the expensive talent had that labored to come up with those two campaign slogans, I was humbled to find out the the national motto for The Bahamas - Forward, Upward, Onward Together was devised by a pair of eleven year old schoolchildren.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Watching fast women

Early yesterday evening I walked six city blocks over to the Boise Depot to watch (and photograph) a professional bicycle race - the prologue for the Exergy ladies professional cycling tour. Last February I blogged about Finding images that show what you mean. I’d mentioned that showing motion in still images isn’t straightforward. My goal was to use a shutter speed  just slow enough for the wheels to blur - while still having the rider clearly in focus. I had fun photographing them flying by on their radical racing bikes. Above I’ve included images of ladies from three US teams (Colavita/ESPNW, Optum Pro Cycling, and TIBCO), and Topsport Vlaanderen(Belgium), the Canadian National Team, and Team Specialized Lululemann (Germany). There were two TV video crews on motorcycles too.
It was a time-trials race over a two-mile course that first went south from Julia Davis Park on Capitol Boulevard and climbed 82 feet up  to the front of the Depot, turned around, and went back downhill. Weather was almost perfect - sunny, with a temperature of 61 F, and wind of less than 5 miles per hour. In a time-trial the cyclists traverse the course individually and just race against the clock. The other four stages of this tour are road races which will be more exciting to watch. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Another half truth - There’s no “I” in team

If you’ve listened to sports talk radio, or watched movies about sports or business, then you’ve probably heard that tiresome old cliche. But, if you step off the beaten track and use a font like Silom with a round top as shown above (or another with a square top) you can see that the space inside the “A” really does make an “I.”

Chris Muller included it on his list of Business Cliches That Must Die, and ranted:

“Seriously? We’re using spelling now for motivation? Although there’s no ‘I’ in team, there is a ‘me’, ‘am’, ‘eat’, and ‘meat.’ Not sure if that means anything, but based on spelling, I think the team should go out for a burger.”

British cartoonist Royston Robertson added:

“You’re right, there is no ‘I’ in team. But there is ‘tea’, so I’m nipping off for a break right now...”

Better still, if you look up team in the Oxford English Dictionary, you will find a 1688 alternate spelling of taime. So, there really is both an “I” and a “me” in team.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Would you jump off a bridge if we told you it was OK?

Up here in Idaho we are downright ornery about having government tell us what not to do. In February I asked Does your organization give off a negative vibe? and used this example of a sign on the the Eight Street Pedestrian Bridge over the Boise River. The city has been trying to let young people have summer fun while avoiding unsafe behavior by troublemakers. Earlier this month the City Council voted on some revisions, so the sign got changed.

The new sign doesn’t forbid six things like the old one did. It’s now much less negative. You have to read it all before finding that it’s OK to jump though. (Still, there’s that nagging voice in your head of your mother - telling you that you shouldn’t just because everybody else now is doing it).

Monday, May 21, 2012

Avoiding giving speeches is the most common social fear for Brazilian university students

In February the Journal of Affective Disorders published an article by C. A. Baptista et al. titled "Social phobia in Brazilian university students: prevalence, under-recognition and academic impairment in women." You can read the abstract here.

They surveyed 2319 students at two public universities and one private university in the state of Sao Paulo (1294 women and 1025 men). Students were given the Brazilian version of the Social Phobia Inventory (SPIN), which evaluated 17 symptoms of fear and avoidance on a scale from 0 to 4 where:

0 = not at all
1 = a little
2 = somewhat
3 = very much
4 = extremely

Students also were screened for social phobia using the three-question MINI-SPIN, and those with high scores were diagnosed using the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV. 237 or 10.2% of the sample were diagnosed with social phobia. (Another 55 who were screened weren’t diagnosed but were estimated likely to have social phobia, for a total of 11.6%).

Results for items ranked 3 or higher on the scale for the SPIN by the entire sample are shown above in a bar chart. (Click on it to see a larger version). Avoids speeches was the most common social fear, followed by avoids criticism, fear of criticism, bothered by blushing, and fear of embarrassment. Fear of people in authority and avoiding talking to them were ranked very low, as were fear and avoidance of parties. In 2010 I discussed how Public speaking is the worst social fear for both Swedish and Indian college students. Brazilian students are similar. 

Baptista et al also tabulated results from dividing the sample into a control group (2082) and those with social phobia (237). Those results are shown in another bar chart. For those with social phobia (shown in red) all 17 items had higher percentages than the second highest item did for the control group (shown in gray).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

More university students in the U.S. fear public speaking than fear death, but death is their top fear.

How could that be? Those results were the answers to two different survey questions. They were asked by Karen K. Dwyer and Marlina M. Davidson in research they reported in an article titled Is Public Speaking Really More Feared Than Death? that just appeared on pages 99 to 107 of the April-June 2012 issue of Communication Research Reports. You can read the abstract here and find the full text here.

Ms. Dwyer and Ms. Davidson did their survey in 2010. Participants were  815 students (416 women, 372 men, and 27 who didn’t report their gender) enrolled in a basic communications course at a large Midwestern university. Their online survey was an optional part of an oral communication assessment that was announced on the first day of class.

Their first survey item was:

“Everybody has fears about some things. Please check all the things on this short list that make you fearful or anxious.”

The list  had these fourteen items, which I’ve shown in alphabetical order:

Deep water
Driving riding in a car
Financial problems
Insects & Bugs
Speaking before a group

They are the same 14 items reported in the 1973 Bruskin survey cited in the 1977 Book of Lists. I really wish people would quit talking about that old survey, but this new one one gives them yet another reason to keep discussing it.

Their second item asked the students to rank their top three fears from the same list.

Their third item was the six questions about the public speaking context from the 24-item Personal Report of Communication Apprehension (PRCA).

Results from their first item are shown above in a bar chart (in purple). (Click on it to see a larger version). 61.7% of students feared speaking before a group, 52.1% feared financial problems, and 40.1% feared death. The survey participants chose a total of 2,978 fears, or an average of 3.65 per person. 

Note that in the 1973 Bruskin survey (gray) death came seventh at only 18.7%. The large differences between these surveys aren’t very surprising, since many of the students in the 2010 probably weren’t even born 37 years earlier. 

Another bar chart compares results for women (pink) and men (blue). Women reported higher percentages than men for all 14 fears.

A third bar chart shows results from the second item about top fears. Death was the most commonly reported top fear, followed by speaking before a group, financial problems, heights, and loneliness.When you ask a different question, you get a different answer.

A fourth bar chart compares top fears by women and men. A larger percent of women than men reported speaking in public as their top fear. Also, women ranked loneliness higher than heights. Men ranked speaking before a group first, followed by death, financial problems, heights, and loneliness.

Dwyer and Davison spoke with Bruce Barr (who had worked for Bruskin) about the 1973 survey. Mr. Barr reported that for that survey the telephone representatives read from a list of 14 fears and asked if that item was a fear. Mr. Barr also said that Bruskin had no end client who had requested the survey. Apparently it just was an sample done for marketing purposes to show their capabilities.

More recently Michael Hinton blogged about the Bruskin 1973 survey. He said that it actually had been done for the Travel Research Association. Presumably it was released to the public after they found that fear of flying ranked only 8th (slightly behind death) and driving/riding in a car ranked 11th. 

Curiously Dwyer and Davidson didn’t mention the survey done two decades later in 1993 by the successor firm called Bruskin-Goldring.

Also, they didn’t mention the survey of 813 college students reported in 2010 by Seim and Spates. (Perhaps the article came out just after they did their search of the literature). In that 2010 survey spiders was ranked highest, followed by public speaking, snakes, heights, rats, tight enclosed spaces, receiving injections, insects, intrusive memories, seeing blood, meeting new people, and walking through crowds. 

Dwyer and Davidson give us a different perspective on the 1973 Bruskin one, so I’m glad to add it to my collection of surveys.

July 17, 2012 update: Today the University of Nebraska - Omaha finally put out a press release about this magazine article.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Who invented the flip chart?

While researching yesterday’s post about flip charts I looked at the  en.Wikipedia page, which said that:

“The flip chart is thought to have been invented by Peter Kent who built one to help him in a presentation. He went on to found the visual communications group Nobo plc.” 

Another web page suggested that Mr. Kent came up with the flip chart in the mid 1970’s. That sounded far too recent, so I looked further and found a Wikimedia Commons image of one being used by Boy Scout leaders a decade earlier in 1962.

Then I found a post by Gerhard Gschwandtner on his SellingPower Blog that claimed the flip chart had been used by John Henry Patterson (1844-1922) who ran the National Cash Register Company and also pioneered sales training. There is a single-page biography of Patterson (and the claim he invented the flip chart) on page 9 of the first chapter of a 2004 historical book called Home Field Advantage: A Century of Partnership Between Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and Dayton, Ohio in the Pursuit of Aeronautical Excellence.  

Now I knew the flip chart went back to before 1922. But how far? I needed another way to access the power of knowledge. At the Boise Public Library I found another book from 2004 by Jeffrey Gitomer called The Patterson Principles of Selling. On page 53 there was a photograph from 1912 of Mr. Patterson addressing the 100 Point Club while standing next to a pair of flip charts on casters.

So, the flip chart is at least a century old (but newer than the blackboard), and it came from the same city as both the airplane and the automobile starter motor.

John Henry Patterson said about communication both that:

“To get your ideas across, use small words, big ideas and short sentences.


Before you try to convince anyone else be sure you are convinced, and if you cannot convince yourself, drop the subject.”

The flip chart image shown above came from Mr. William McInnes on flickr.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Three half-truths about flip charts

On April 15th Oliver Adria’s Rethink Presentations blog had a guest post by Joanne Westley on on Why Flip Charts Will Always Outlive PowerPoint.

Her four section headings were:

1. You’ll be a better presenter.
2. PowerPoint bores your audience, but a flip chart entertains them.
3. Using a flip chart gives you room to be spontaneous.
4. Your audience will remember you and your message.

Her first half truth under #1 was that:

“...there are no technological excuses, because the equipment can’t possibly fail! If the electricity goes out, you and your flip chart are still good to go.”

Got Markers?

That’s silly because it assumes that there are both the right markers and enough paper in the room. Make sure that you bring along a couple of wide chisel-point permanent markers. Fine or ultra-fine point versions just won’t do.

Yellow or pink highlighters also won’t do, but that may be what is left in the room for you. They won’t have enough contrast to be visible from the back of the room. 

Got Paper?

Don’t assume that there will be a pad with enough sheets for your presentation. Bring a  pad of paper with you. Remember that to avoid bleed-through you will want to leave a blank page between each page that you use. I prefer a pad with a one-inch grid of light blue guide lines. They help me keep my letters two-inches tall, and avoid them running downhill. 

Got Casters on your Easel?

There is a third technical problem with flip chart easels - casters, that was mentioned last year by Max Atkinson. If you don’t lock the casters before you begin, then the chart may roll away (or you may knock it over while trying to stop it).  

Her second half-truth under #2 was:

“With a PowerPoint presentation, the lights are dimmed and all attention goes to the screen.”

That’s only true if you chose to use light colored text on a dark background. If you use dark colored text on a light background (like a flip chart), then you can leave some lights on so your audience won’t go to sleep.

Her third half-truth under #3 was:

“A flip chart lets you be flexible with your delivery, depending on the feel of the room. And since you can decide how much to pre-draw, you can adjust the spontaneity level to suit your audience.”

If you learned PowerPoint in ten minutes, you probably didn’t discover that in Slide Show view you can change the pointer into a pen and draw on the screen. That’s the last item in Dave Paradi’s excellent article on Ten Secrets for Using PowerPoint Effectively. Put some plain slides in your presentation, switch to the pen, and you will have the equivalent of a flip chart for adding ideas spontaneously.

Here are two good YouTube videos - a two minute Flip Chart How To and a five-minute Top Tips for using a Flip Chart.

Images of plain and rolling flip chart easels are from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

How did the Brinell hardness test get cannonized?

Some of what you read in a newspaper or a magazine may not be true. Page 58 of the latest (May-June 2012) issue of Mental Floss magazine has an article by Gary Belsky on 10 Scales Worth Printing an Article About.

His discussion of the sixth scale begins with:


Almost a century after Mohs left his mark on the rock world, Swiss engineer Johan August Brinell decided that a simple scratch-based test wasn’t sophisticated enough for metals. So in 1900 he developed a better hardness test using...a tiny cannon. No joke - the Brinell Hardness Test evaluates the strength of metals by shooting a 10-millimeter-diameter ball of hardened steel into whatever you want to test.”

When I read that paragraph, I was rolling on the floor laughing (ROFL). First, Mr. Brinell was Swedish not Swiss, as could be seen by glancing in Wikipedia either under his name or Brinell hardness. Second, there’s no shooting and no cannon involved. I don’t know how Mr. Belsky came up with that misinformation, or why no one at Mental Floss bothered to check his article before publishing it. Just this year there was a 17-page scholarly article on the Historical origins of indentation hardness testing that you can download here.

Usually in the Brinell hardness test the 10mm ball is pushed against the metal surface with a load of 3000 kg held for 10 to 15 seconds. Then the diameter of the resulting indentation (in millimeters) is measured using a portable microscope, and the hardness is calculated from the load divided by the surface area. The current ASTM E10 test method calls for using a tungsten carbide ball rather than hardened steel. For steels there is an excellent correlation between Brinell hardness and tensile strength, so hardness tests are commonly used for quality control of products like castings or plate.   

You can watch a brief YouTube video of a simple pneumatic Brinell tester here, and a fancier German one (with a built-in microscope) here

The image of a small cannon came from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Stop, Listen, Understand, Act

A few days ago I saw a post about 13 Powerful Posters on the Power of Listening at the Communication Skills Tips blog. It included a flickr image from Steven Shorrock shown above (with a green tint added by me).

An interesting thought and image, but it seemed to be missing a word. Looking around on Google I found another phrase: Stop Listen Think Act. That’s better, since it reveals that you need to stop your multitasking first. I still liked understanding more than just thinking though.

Here is my version made using Scrabble tiles. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Big Idaho Potato: from a fanciful postcard to a real tractor trailer rig

Sometimes you’d like to have a colossal prop for telling a story. There was an old gag postcard captioned We Grow ‘em Big In Idaho which showed a single enormous potato chained to a flatbed trailer. That just was a fantasy. You couldn’t really drive around with a thirty foot tall potato - it wouldn’t fit under bridges crossing the highways.

For their 75th anniversary the Idaho Potato Commission had a Big Idaho Potato built to more than match the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile. Watch the video to see how square steel tubing covered by plywood got turned into an enormous storytelling spud.

The potato currently is on tour, and can be followed via its web site or on Facebook.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Is taking a liquid homeopathic anxiety remedy more like drinking lemonade or playing an accordion?

In previous posts on this blog I have discussed both homeopathic and herbal remedies for anxiety. Recently I found the web site for a homeopathic remedy called Anxietin that added what to me was an entirely new claim in the area of complex homeopathy.

What’s in there?

First the familiar stuff. This liquid remedy has a combination of 21 distinct ingredients, so it can be a commercial brand. As is usual for homeopathy, most ingredients are made more mysterious by only giving their Latin names.  They include the following (with English translation):

Elements (2)
Aurum Metallicum (gold metal)

Chemicals (9)
Argentum Nitricum (Silver Nitrate)
Arsenicum Album (Arsenic Trioxide)
Baryta Carbonica (Barium Carbonate),
Calcarea Phosphorica (Calcium Phosphate)
Glonoinum (Trinitroglycerine)
Kali Arsenicosum (Potassium Arsenite)
Kali Phosphoricum (Potassium Phosphate)
Muriaticum Acidum (Hydrochloric Acid)
Natrum Phosphoricum (Sodium Phosphate)

Plants (10)
Aconitum Napellus (Wolfsbane or Monkshood)
Avena Sativa (Common Oat)
Chamomilla (German Chamomile)
Gelsemium Sempervirens (Yellow Jessamine)
Ignatia Amara (Strychnos Ignatia; contains both Strychnine and Brucine)
Lupulus Humulus (Humulus Lupulus; Common Hop)
Passiflora Incarnata (True Passionflower)
Staphysagria (Delphinium)
Stramonium (Datura Stramonium; Jimson Weed or Locoweed)

How much is in there?

Here’s where things get either interesting or silly. Their web site says that:

“Anxietin’s unique multi-potency formula contains three dilutions (10X, 30X, and LM1) of each active homeopathic ingredient, in equal amounts, in one bottle. These active ingredients are stabilized in our oligotherapeutic water base to help maximize absorption. Unlike most homeopathic medicines, Anxitetin does not contain irritating alcohol or sugar and is gluten free.” 

That formula isn’t really unique since it’s also sold as the less expensive Anxietrex Pet Anxiety Formula.

These three dilutions (or potencies) supposedly are like a musical chord (potency chord,  or accord, or homaccord), and somehow act together but distinctly from each other. That peculiar concept is about a century old. (There are other products like Aconite Plus that even contain four dilutions). This notion of potency chords throws out the idea of a chemical concentration, and I don’t buy it.

An LM1 dilution means that a substance is mixed with 50,000 parts of water and then shaken (succussed). Therefore its concentration would be 20 parts per million (ppm).

In homeopathy dilutions followed by an X mean that a substance is mixed with ten parts of water, shaken, and then diluted repeatedly. A 10X dilution thus contains 1 part in 10 to the tenth power, or 0.0001 ppm. A 30X dilution supposedly contains just 0.000000000000000000000001 ppm, but actually is completely immaterial (magic) since at 24X there wouldn’t even be one molecule left. So, the concentration of each substance would theoretically be the average of the first two, 20.0001 ppm. I doubt that the volume of the LM1 dilution could be measured so precisely that adding the 10X dilution would make any practical difference.

By the way, the label says that Anxietin also contains two preservatives - 0.1% potassium sorbate 0.1% (1000 ppm), and 0.0075% citric acid (75ppm). They are present at higher concentrations than those active ingredients. 

Will it help?

Who knows! I’ve previously blogged about how there wasn’t conclusive evidence that Argentum Nitricum, Gelsemium, or Passionflower would reduce anxiety in humans.

The image of a boy playing the accordion came from Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Have you met TED?

Have you already had the excellent adventure of watching any TED Talks? TED is an acronym for a nonprofit group that started in 1984 with a conference on Technology, Entertainment, and Design. They have a very large collection of talks posted as videos both on their web site and on YouTube.

Here are two of my favorites - Susan Cain on The power of Introverts, and Phil Plait on How to defend earth from asteroids.

Three other TED Talks that I’ve enjoyed recently were Drew Curtis: How I Beat a Patent Troll, Reuben Heyday Margolin: Scultpting waves in wood and time, and Rob Reid: The 8 billion dollar iPod.

If you’d like to see some great five-minute talks, look up Ignite on YouTube. Also look up TedX and you can find ones like Joe Smith on How to Use One Paper Towel (which I found yesterday via a blog post by Marco Montemagno). There also are some longer talks done at Google, like another by Susan Cain.

Have you met Ted? is a line said by Barney Stinson (played by Neil Parick Harris) on the TV comedy show How I Met Your Mother. Barney used it for introducing his friend Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) to women at bars.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Fear sells!

Last night the 1895 pastel version of Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream was auctioned by Sotheby’s for a terrifyingly expensive 120 million dollars. That painting has been used to illustrate panic, including about public speaking.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A top ten list after 600 blog posts

After putting 600 posts on this blog it’s once again time to celebrate by taking a look back at what my audience liked best - the ten most popular posts. I’ve listed their rankings in percent relative to the top one.

At #1 (with 3387 views) is a post about fears from October 27, 2009 discussing The 14 Worst Fears in the 1977 Book of Lists: where did this data really come from? Last week I blogged about it and asked Why do people still refer to a 39 year old survey?

At #2 (89.1%), from August 9, 2010, is The power of brief speeches: World War I and the Four Minute Men.

#3 (44.1%), from August 13, 2010, is on how to Add your unique perspective to a topic.

At #4 (43.8%), from December 11, 2009, is a post on Does homeopathic Argentum Nitricum reduce anxiety?

#5 (38.8%), from February 8, 2009, is a post on Finding Topics for Speeches

At #6 (33.3%), from July 5, 2009, is Two types of speech outlines: speaking and preparation

#7 ( 31.0%), from January 11, 2011, is about Timing lights for speakers.

At #8 (27.7%), from December 29, 2011, is How can you easily draw dotted chalk lines on a blackboard? This one was a surprise for me because it just was a follow-up to a post on Finding and communicating wonder in physics that I’d expected to be the popular one.

#9 (20.0%), from November 5, 2010, is about relating oatmeal cookies to political funding  - Do you like stealth raisins?

At #10(14.2%), from September 25, 2009, is Introducing a speaker.