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.