Thursday, December 26, 2013

Happy New Year! Celebrating 300,000 page views

Earlier this month I was surprised to find that this blog had over 300,000 page views. To me that’s a large number, about the audience for a couple of big NASCAR races or three college football stadiums.

The most popular post this month (and my second most popular overall) is Two types of speech outlines; speaking and preparation, which appeared back on July 5, 2009.

The fireworks image actually is from back on July 4, 2008.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

‘tis the season for pies and artistic charts about them


Several years ago the makers of Mrs.Smith’s pies (Schwan's Consumer Brands North America) did a survey that asked people what their three favorite types of pies were.

Pie Charts
by herrimanjoe.
Explore more infographics like this one on the web's largest information design community - Visually.

At they showed those results as an artistic pie chart (see above) with ten categories and a silly caution that the total adds up to more than 100%. The total actually was 271% (rather than an even 300%), which left me wondering if there also should have been an Other category for a remaining 29%.

At a total of  271% the chart was ridiculously inflated.

That total is a serious violation of the usual assumption that a pie chart will be used for percentages which add up to 100%. Therefore I have redone it as a horizontal bar chart. 

by Column Five Media.
Explore more infographics like this one on the web's largest information design community - Visually.

Before Thanksgiving I saw a post on the Make a Powerful Point blog that led with a widely posted infographic titled There’s Always Room for Pie, featuring another artistic  pie chart of nine favorite pies, and reportedly based on an NPR survey.

Residents of Georgia and Florida probably would question the absence of Peach and Key Lime pies. They might expect to find them in a category labeled Other, but none is shown. 

When I looked up the NPR survey I got a shock as illustrated above in a bar chart that compares their results (yellow) with those in that artistic chart (red). First, they didn’t list Strawberry pie. Strawberry-Rhubarb pie came second, at 15.6%. Second, they didn’t list Pecan at 8% - just Other at 7.1%. Third, the categories shown did not add up to equal the total number of clicks. What was missing (and presumably Don’t Know) is 15.6%, or equal to the very second item, Strawberry-Rhubarb.   

That NPR survey included chess pie. The classic cookbook The Joy of Cooking notes that:

“Chess pies, now chiefly a southern specialty, are essentially pecan pies without the nuts. There are countless varieties, but all are rich and intensely sweet, approximating candy.”

Bill Neal’s 1990 book, Biscuits, Spoonbread and Sweet Potato Pie, further adds that:

“The classic chess pie is pointed up with vanilla and/or nutmeg. Lemon chess pie, perhaps the favorite, receives just enough citrus flavor to name, but not dominate, the custard. Chocolate chess is the rich choice.”

The Mrs. Smith’s survey results also can be plotted with fruit and custard (or egg) pies as separate categories.

Fortunately there is a simple remedy for re-educating people who misuse pie charts.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Santa Claus is still around: Free download of SlideStar slide design book

A press release today from BoldPoint announced that  through January 1st they are giving away their SlideStar slide design ebook.

They hope you’ll like it enough to buy their other two books, Point of You and StoryPilot.

You also might want to download a paper on PowerPoint Presentation Flaws and Failures: A Psychological Analysis which I discussed in September 2012 in three blog posts:

Rules Commonly Broken
Survey of Common Flaws and Annoyances
Do People Know and Understand What They’re Doing?

The toy department image was adapted from a century-old Puck magazine.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Communicating without a sound

Last year during his Hurricane Sandy press conferences the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, used Lydia Callis as his sign language interpreter. Watch this YouTube video to see how her exuberant gestures effectively communicated his message to the deaf community. Later she blogged about her experience in The silver lining of a hurricane, which also is on a video.

During the memorial service for Nelson Mandela this month there was a completely ineffective sign language interpreter standing next to the speaker behind the lectern. Thamsanqa Jantjie made far fewer gestures than the woman interpreter back in the SABC studio did, as shown in the full video coverage (for example, at about 0:31:51). 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Illegal use of the hands?

Use of a few natural gestures can make a speech more effective. Referees at football games use a standard vocabulary of them, as shown on a for Dummies web page. Illegal use of hands (illustrated above) is one.

Overuse of gestures can hurt an otherwise excellent speech. Ten decades ago, on page 128 of his 1903 book Public Speaking: A Treatise on Delivery: with Selections for Declaiming Edwin Du Bois Shurter warned to: 

“Avoid using too many gestures. As in other elements of expression, too many gestures lose their force by monotony. You have seen speakers who were continually waving their arms and hands, producing a sort of windmill effect. Do not think that every idea must be painted on a banner and waved at the audience, or reflected in some way in the action.”

Earlier this month Brian Tracy posted the following three minute video on YouTube about 3 Key Components to Improving Your Public Speaking Skills. Watch it, and see if you think he’s using too many gestures or just enough. (Note that at 1:24 he almost makes the “concrete mixer” gesture for a False Start in football).

If you use lots of gestures, then you also need to be careful not to partially hide them (like behind a tall lectern), as happens when the camera zooms in for close-ups at 0:23,1:26, and 2:08.  

On October 1, 2012 Nick Morgan’s Public Words blog had a long, thoughtful post about How to master your gestures to become a more effective communicator.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Spouting Nonsense: July 2013 Toastmaster magazine article fumbles fears and phobias

Toastmasters International claims that it is:

 “a world leader in communication and leadership development.”

The July 2013 issue of their Toastmaster magazine had a brief article on page 8 titled FACTS WORTH KNOWING The Common Fear of Public Speaking. But some of them aren’t facts, and they aren’t worth knowing. The text says:

“Glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, is believed to be the most common type of social phobia. Some experts estimate that three out of four people have some anxiety prior to public speaking.”

Glossophobia is the most common fear, according to It lists the top five phobias as:

1. Glossophobia: fear of public speaking
2. Necrophobia: fear of death
3. Arachnophobia: fear of spiders and other arachnids
4. Achluophobia, scotophobia and myctophobia: fear of darkness
5. Acrophobia: fear of heights.

If your fear of public speaking interferes with your daily life, you might suffer from glossophobia. says that with preparation and persistence, anyone can overcome this fear. The website endorses the Toastmasters program as a means of support for people challenged by public speaking.

Did you know? A video in the Toastmasters Time-tested Communication Tips series titled ‘Managing Fear’ shares methods for managing speaking anxiety. To watch it, visit /videos and click ‘View gallery 2.’ ”

The best thing in this article is that it references a video on Managing Fear, which you can find here on YouTube. That video summarizes advice from their Better Speaker Series publication on Controlling Your Fear. But they also should have referred to an article by Matt Abrahams, Know Thy Fear, in the April 2011 issue of Toastmaster.   

The next best thing in the article is that it points out a Mayo Clinic article, which actually was titled How can I overcome my fear of public speaking and written by Dr. Daniel K. Hall Flavin. I blogged about an earlier version of that article back in 2009. Dr. Flavin doesn’t just mention Toastmasters. He also discusses medication and seeing a psychological counselor.   

The worst thing in this article is that it opens by fumbling and failing to explain that there is a big difference between a fear and a phobia. A phobia is more severe - it’s a fear with a capital F.  As is shown above via a Venn diagram, a phobia is a fear that also is excessive, persistent, and interfering. (See Table 1 from this recent article about social anxiety disorder).

The second worst thing in this article is it wastes a third of the space with a silly graphic of top five phobias (really fears) taken from the somewhat dubious Fear of Public Speaking Statistics Factsheet web page at Jim Arthur Peterson’s Speech Topics Help web site. Lots of Toastmasters will be impressed by these seven words with -phobia suffixes. They should not be.

Are those seven words all common enough to be found in serious dictionaries, like Merriam-Webster and Oxford? No, as shown above only three are. Also, none of his three terms for fear of the dark appear. (Myctophobia might be a typo for Nyctophobia, which is in Merriam-Webster as abnormal fear of darkness).        

Are those seven  -phobia words useful?, Does using them in a search lead you to relevant information in medical or health databases, or do they instead just sent you down blind alleys? As shown above, most are not at all helpful. Just acrophobia and arachnophobia really are useful.

To judge their usefulness I searched both them and their common English equivalent phrases in two pairs of databases. One was the PubMed and PubMed Central medical article databases. The other was both the Consumer Edition and the Nursing and Academic Edition of the Health Source databases on the web site for my friendly local public library. 

As is shown above, acrophobia is a useful term since is occurs about as commonly as the phrase fear of heights.

The Fear of Public Speaking Statistics Factsheet at Speech Topics Help claims that glossophobia is the medic (sic) term for fear of public speaking. But, as is shown above, that term doesn’t appear at all in PubMed, and only once (falsely) at PubMed Central.

Toastmaster magazine was spouting nonsense, and so I have reluctantly awarded them a special floating globe Spoutly.

UPDATE August 27, 2014

I forgot to mention that article chose to use the phobias list from Speech Topics Help, but to ignore the pie chart listing just 19% of people having glossophobia. It's certainly less impressive than claiming 75% (three out of four people).  

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Communicating ideas using Venn diagrams and other simple graphics

I am a fan of Jessica Hagy’s Indexed comics on note cards, like this one. If you don’t think that simple graphics can be used to communicate very serious ideas, go look at her Forbes series illustrating Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

Venn diagrams aren’t used well very often. But recently Jessica has used them with two and three circles, four circles, and even five nested circles like a Matryoshka doll.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

What can you do next when something goes very wrong?

Suppose you were sitting in the front seat, flying a graceful LET L-13 Blanik sailplane being towed aloft, as shown above. What would you do next if if the towline broke, or if your tow plane lost power? There are two very different answers for that question. I know that because three decades ago I was the student pilot in the glider, and had been drilled to keep track of what altitude separated which of them would apply.

As is shown above, if you are at a low altitude, then your only imperfect but satisfactory option is to look for open ground and land straight ahead. At higher altitude you instead could safely turn around, and return to the airport runway. Returning to the airport is the perfect option. When it just is not possible, there’s no reason for wasting time trying to achieve it. You have to adapt and try something else instead. (For example, watch this video animation of the crash landing by US Air Flight 1549 in the Hudson River).

The bulb on a projector almost always burns out just as it is switched on. Three decades ago I had that happen to me just as I began to speak during a technical conference in Houston. Then I froze, and just waited for the projectionist to put in the new bulb. What I should have done instead was to proceed with my introduction. It had four text slides I could have equally well have read from my notes. But, I had only rehearsed with my slides, and hadn’t considered what I’d do without them as a crutch.  

Another aviation-related post on this blog is about checklists - Is your speech ready for takeoff? Are you sure?

Where did the inspiration from this post come from? When I checked the statistics for this blog, I found that last week over 180 people had viewed a post from June 17, 2012 titled Fear is based on perception and not reality about a magazine article by aerobatic pilot Patty Wagstaff. On December 1st Patty mentioned that post on her Facebook page.

The image of a towed Blanik came from here

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Edward O. Wilson on storytelling and the creative process

Over Thanksgiving I read biologist Edward A. Wilson’s wonderful little book, Letters to a Young Scientist. My favorite part was his fifth chapter on The Creative Process that concludes with this paragraph (which also applies to speech writing):

“I’ll end this letter by telling you how I conceive of the creative process of both a novelist like Crichton and a scientist. (I have been both.) The ideal scientist thinks like a poet and only later works like a bookkeeper. Keep in mind that innovators in both literature and science are basically dreamers and storytellers. In the early stages of the creation of both literature and science, everything in the mind is a story.

There is an imagined ending, and usually an imagined beginning,  and a selection of bits and pieces that might fit in between. In works of literature and science alike, any part can be changed, causing a ripple among the other parts, some of which are discarded and new ones added. The surviving fragments are variously joined and separated, and moved about as the story forms. One scenario emerges, then another. The scenarios, whether literary or scientific in nature, compete with one another. Some overlap. Words and sentences (or equations and experiments) are tried to make sense of the whole thing.

Early on, an end to all the imagining is conceived. It arrives at a wondrous denouement (or scientific breakthrough). But is it the best, is it true? To bring the end safely home is the goal of the creative mind. Whatever that might be, wherever located, however expressed, it begins as a phantom that rises, gains detail, then at the last moment either fades to be replaced, or, like the mythical giant Antaeus touching Mother Earth, gains strength. Inexpressible thoughts throughout flit along the edges. As the best fragments solidify. they are put in place and moved about, and the story grows until it reaches an inspired end.”    

You can watch more of his advice in this 2012 TED talk.

My second favorite part of the book is a table of ten organisms on page 184 that shows (as of 2009) both the number of species known to science and an estimated total. I’ve divided, and added the percent known to it. We have found almost all the birds and mammals (except perhaps Bigfoot), but  really know very little about insects, spiders, fungi, and nematodes. 

In another  2007 TED Talk Edward O. Wilson discussed creating the amazing web Encyclopedia of Life.

The painting is by Paul Salvator Goldengruen.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

71% of business managers have either been sleepy or fallen asleep during presentations

Back on October 31, 2005 Infommersion, Inc. put a press release on Business Wire  about an online survey titled Business Executives Admit to Dozing Through Boring Presentations. (They also said that 43% of them had caught other people dozing).

On November 23, 2013 Patti Wood posted on her Body Language Expert Blog about that survey with the misleading headline Research shows that 71% of executives admit falling asleep during a presentation. Her first bullet point in that post says instead that:

“Results released this week from an online poll by a data visualization software company reveals that 71 percent of business executives surveyed have fallen asleep or felt sleepy during dull presentations.”

There is a big difference between just feeling sleepy and actually falling asleep. Her headline lost me as a possible fan. Also October 2005 sure is a long way from being last week.

When I clicked Patti’s link to Infommersion nothing happened. So, I did a Google search and found out why. On November 1, 2005 there was a press release on Business Wire about how another firm called Business Objects had acquired Infommersion .

Other interesting results in that Infommersion press release about their survey were that:

“The most difficult types of presentation to remain fully awake through were individual speeches (35%) followed by training sessions (23%) and then general meetings (16%). Webcasts revealed themselves as the easiest type of conference to stay alert throughout, with only 11% of respondents saying they found this difficult to sit through.

Survey participants agreed that the most important ingredient for success was an 'animated and enthusiastic' speaker (51%), with an 'interesting and interactive' presentation gaining 36% of the votes. Finally, 3% of those polled said it helped if the presenter was 'good looking'.”

The yawning man came from a painting by Mihály Zichy.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Becoming a purrfect speaker - lessons from a cat

Back in August 1963 the Canadian Medical Association Journal published a two-page letter to the editor by D. J. Currie and A. Smialowski titled The Purrfect Speaker which was illustrated by seven hilarious feline images captioned as follows:

“The purrfect speaker is relaxed, faces the audience, uses all his charm, and adds a touch of humour. Instead of being upset, the audience will be spellbound rather than ....zzzzz.”

It’s amazing what can be found over at PubMed Central. LOL.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What to leave in, what to leave out

Two years ago I blogged about how Speechwriting always needs editing. Sometimes a speech or presentation can be improved more by deleting material than by adding, as was discussed on November 6th by Gavin McMahon in a blog post titled The Art of Leaving Things Out. Other times what’s there isn’t quite right, but can be fixed after you take another critical look.

Ken Burns is responsible for Learn the Address, a web site about the Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address. If you look alphabetically in the video gallery of people reciting it, you will find Bill O’Reilly right before Barack Obama. Mr. O’Reilly reads the standard version that is on the Lincoln Memorial. When you compare his reading with that text, you will find that he made two mistakes. A Google search did not find that anyone had complained about those flubs.

Contrast that with outraged comments from conservatives (for example at that President Obama had omitted the phrase “under God”. Mr. Burns eventually explained that he had asked the President to read the first draft (Nicolay Version), which you can find here at the Library of Congress. The President read that version perfectly.  

The last paragraph in the Nicolay (draft) copy reads:

“It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us —that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people by the people for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

The corresponding version on the Lincoln Memorial instead says: 

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

(Mr. O’Reilly added an extra here to this paragraph). I found it amusing that Ken Burns managed to get us to think about how Lincoln went from his draft to the actual speech he gave. 

Last month I saw another example from pop songwriting. My friendly local public library had the three-CD expanded version for the 1977 Fleetwood Mac album Rumours. It had some demos and early versions for songs.

One was Lindsey Buckingham’s romantic breakup lament, Go Your Own Way, which was redone as is shown above on the TV show Glee. The finished chorus says that:

“You can go your own way
Go your own way
You can call it
Another lonely day
You can go your own way
Go your own way”

That’s not what is in the early take, which instead has:

“You can go your own way
You can roll like thunder, yeah yeah
You can go your own way
Go your own way”

Roll like thunder? That line doesn’t even rhyme.

The title for this post is a line from Bob Seger’s 1980 song Against the Wind.

Monday, November 18, 2013

150th Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address

Tomorrow is the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s famous brief speech given at the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery. The following YouTube video with Sam Waterston reading it is from The Civil War, a film by Ken Burns.

I’ve previously commented that if we’d had a Twitter backchannel back then, there probably would have been caustic comments like:

DrummerBoy61: 4score n7? Y not 87? LOL

CopperHead62: 3 minutes iz 2 short 4 an address. WTF!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How many Americans are scared of networking situations? An infographic showing both fears and phobias for meeting new people and talking with strangers

The infographic shown above is based on two recent and very serious magazine articles reporting on large surveys of U.S. adults and adolescents. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer view). Both surveys asked two questions related to networking - about meeting new people and talking with strangers.

For adults, meeting new people was feared by 16.8%, and talking with strangers was feared by 13.1%. For the more serious phobias, meeting new people freaked out 9.7%, and talking with strangers freaked out 8.1%. For adolescents, meeting new people was feared by 23.6%, and talking with strangers was feared by 22.2%.

The first article by A. M. Ruscio et al. is titled Social Fears and Social Phobia in the United States: Results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. You can read the full text here. I blogged about it back in October 2011 in a post titled What’s the Difference Between A Fear and A Phobia? That post also contains a bar chart for all the fears and phobias shown by Ruscio et al. in their Table 1. 

The second article by J. G. Green et al. is titled Validation of the Diagnoses of Panic Disorder and Phobic Disorders in the US National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent (NCS-A) Supplement. You can read the full text here. I blogged about it back in June 2012 in a post titled What Social Situations Scare American Adolescents, and What Are Their Top 20 Fears? That post also contains a bar chart for all the fears shown by Green et al. in their Table 4. 

For adults, meeting new people was feared by 16.8%, and talking with strangers was feared by 13.1%. Where do these fears rank compared with other social situations? Meeting new people was ranked third, and talking to strangers was seventh. Public speaking/performance was first (21.2%), followed by speaking up in a meeting/ class (19.5%). Talking to people in authority (14.7%) was fourth, an important exam/interview (14.0%) was fifth, and going to parties (13.4%) was sixth.

How many U.S. adults fear meeting new people? According to the 2010 Census, the total population was 305,745,538 people, but only 234,564,071 were 18 years and older. Multiplying that by 0.168, there are about 39.4 million people with that fear. 

For adolescents, meeting new people was feared by 23.6%, and talking with strangers  was feared by 22.2%. Where do these fears rank compared with other social situations? Meeting new people was ranked fourth, and talking to strangers was fifth. Performing for an audience was first (35.8%), followed by speaking in class (24.9%), and a situation that could be embarrassed (24.6%).  

How do these survey results for adults compare with some statistics cited in books by networking experts? Back in 2005 Debra Fine published The Fine Art of Small Talk. On page 19 of that book she said:

“Do you know the biggest social fear in America? It’s public speaking. And do you know the second? It’s fear of starting a conversation with a stranger. So remember when you walk into a luncheon or a cocktail party, most people there are scared to death to talk to you.”

I’m not sure where she got that ranking, but second is a lot higher than seventh (for talking with strangers). In an article about her book in the Houston Chronicle on December 1, 2005 she was quoted as saying that five out of eight of us (62.5%) are afraid to talk to strangers. The 13.1% shown above in the infographic is about 4.8 times smaller than her statistic. 

In 2010 Frances Kay published Successful Networking. On page 43 of her book (and page 22 of her 2004 book Brilliant Business Connections) she said:

“Don’t worry if you have butterflies; research shows that over 90 per cent of people feel fear about walking into a room full of strangers.”

This year Signe A. Dayhoff published her How to Speak Without Fear Small Talk Course, in which she said:

“However, a survey done in the 1980s showed that up to 95 percent of the U.S. population reported that it was truly uncomfortable talking with strangers.”

These percentages are almost ludicrously high compared with those reported by Ruscio et al. The last column of Table 1 in that article reports percentages of fear for people with a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder, which were 80.5% for meeting new people and 66.7% for talking with strangers.

Monday, November 11, 2013

In space teardrops don’t stream from your eyes

When you are writing a speech it’s easy to assume incorrectly that things are universal for any audience. Everything always will work the same way as it did back home.

Last week I saw the 3D version of the space disaster movie Gravity. At one point Sandra Bullock cries, and her teardrops move out toward the audience. The computer generated imagery is very impressive, but I had a nagging suspicion that it wasn’t right.

When I got home I found the YouTube video shot on the International Spece Station by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield (shown above) with what actually would happen. 

Chris also has another video about what happens when you try to wring out a soaking wet washcloth. It’s very different from down here on earth. You get a tube of water stuck to both hands. 

The row of teardrops were Photoshopped from this image.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

How scary is public speaking or performance? A better infographic showing both fears and phobias

Back on March 11th Miami Public Speakers posted a web page containing a Fear of Public Speaking Infographic (shown above). It’s very pretty, and has been reposted elsewhere many times. However, it was based on bogus statistics (which I have crossed out in yellow) so it is not very meaningful. Also it uses the silly pseudo-technical term glossophobia. 

A bar chart in my better infographic shown above is more useful since it is based on two recent and very serious magazine articles. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer view). For adults, they show the percentages for both fear and phobia of public speaking/performance in the United States, nine developed countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, and the United States) and eleven developing countries (Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Colombia, India, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Romania, South Africa, Ukraine). For U.S. adults, 21.2% have a fear and only 10.7% have a phobia, both of which are drastically lower than the 74% shown in the Miami Public Speakers infographic.

The first article by A. M. Ruscio et al. is titled Social Fears and Social Phobia in the United States: Results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. You can read the full text here. I blogged about it back in October 2011 in a post titled What’s the Difference Between A Fear and A Phobia? That post contains a bar chart for all the fears shown by Ruscio et al. in their Table 1. 

The second article by D. J. Stein et al. is titled Subtyping Social Anxiety in Developed and Developing Countries. You can read the full text here. I blogged about it back in August 2012 in a post titled Surveys show that public speaking isn’t feared by the majority of adults in nine developed and eleven developing countries. That post contains a pair of bar charts for all the fears shown by Stein et al. in their Table 2. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Verbal communication skill is one of the top five abilities desired by employers from new college graduates

In late summer and early fall of every year the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) surveys employers about new college graduates. Their 2014 Job Outlook Survey will be published this month. But a press release on October 2nd titled
The Candidate Skills/Qualities Employers Want presented an important result.

One of their questions asked employers to rate the importance of candidate abilities and skills on a scale from 1 to 5 where:

5 is extremely important
4 is very important
3 is somewhat important
2 is not very important
1 is not at all important

Results for the top ten abilities or skills are shown above in a bar chart. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer version). The top five were ability to work in a team structure (4.55), ability to make decisions and solve problems (4.50), a tie for third (4.48) between ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work, and ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization, and ability to obtain and process information (4.37).

Ability to create or edit written reports (3.62) was ninth in the top ten  and was rated 0.86 lower than ability to verbally communicate.

Another bar chart shows the results from the last survey, which I blogged about back in February in a post titled Verbal communication skill is the top ability desired by employers from new college graduate candidates in the NACE 2013 Job Outlook Survey. The same top five appeared there, but in a different order, and they were followed by the ability to analyze quantitative data.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Playing with Words - More About Glassophobia

Last Monday I blogged about how glassophobia was mostly a spelling error for the silly pseudo-technical term glossophobia. It’s also been used recently as a term for the fear of the new Google Glass product. But, how far back does that fear word go, and who else has used it?

Glassophobia showed up way back in 1901 in a short story called The Glass Dog, which appeared in L. Frank Baum’s book, American Fairy Tales:

” ‘Call off your dog,’ he shouted, in terror.

‘I can’t, sir,’ answered the butler. ‘My young lady has ordered the glass dog to bark whenever you call here. You’d better look out, sir,’ he added, ‘for if it bites you, you may have glassophobia!’ ”

In 2007 glassophobia showed up as the fear of public speaking in an Ezine Article by Joann Grant titled Glassophobia - When Fear is A Disability!

There are at least two other possible fear-related meanings for glassophobia. One would be a fear of heights triggered when standing on a glass floor (like on a deck at the CN tower in Toronto) and looking down. Way back in 1960 Gibson and Walk studied babies placed next to a visual cliff, and found they could perceive depth and recognize that cliff was to be avoided (see this video).

The other possible meaning is fear of bumping into a metaphorical glass ceiling that prevents women or minorities from being promoted at work.

The half full glass and CN Tower floor view both came from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Don’t do this to your audience!

For Halloween, a warning to speakers from a 140 year old Currier & Ives lithograph.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Just in time for Halloween - the most horrifying PowerPoint story of the year

This month the Duarte blog had a post on The Horror of Frankenslides and Make a Powerful Point had a post on Scary PowerPoint.

But the October 22nd Daily Mail had the most horrifying PowerPoint story of the year. Five days after Nigel Winkley had major surgery that followed a heart attack, he was visited in the Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester by two of his bosses from British Gas.

They delivered a PowerPoint presentation to Nigel which concluded by giving him the shocking news that he was terminated from his job. Obviously that was not what he’d expected to hear from those suits. A BBC News story added that the presentation had lasted for three hours.

Monday, October 28, 2013


Which statement do you agree with?

A. The glass is half full.

B. The glass is half empty.

C. The glass scares me half to death.

If you answered C, then you may have glassophobia. It’s mostly a spelling error for the pseudo-technical term glossophobia. This month glassophobia has shown up both in the title for a YouTube video by T. J. Walker and in the body of a blog post by Leo Novsky. 

Claims that glossophobia is the medical term for fear of public speaking are basically bat crap. I looked it up in two comprehensive databases from the U.S. National Library of Medicine. It isn’t in PubMed at all, and appears just once in their full article text PubMed Central (PMC).

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Stage Freight

Stage freight usually is a typographical error for stage fright, and won’t be caught by a spelling check program. It is one of many typos that can lower your credibility.

Back in November 2009 I blogged about Stage freight and other true typos or yakwirms. YAKWIRM is a long silly acronym for the phrase You All Know What I Really Meant.

I Googled “stage freight” and found that it had been recently used in the title for both a web page -  What Is The Fear of Public Speaking Called? Stage Freight or Glossophobia and a YouTube Video - Public speaking and speaker training camp - handling stage freight.

Stage freight also showed up on October 24th in a blog post by Brandon Gaille on 14 Fear of Public Speaking Statistics. It was in his list of Top 10 Phobias, which were really a list of fears borrowed without reference from a page at Speech Topics Help. I found that typo particularly silly since in a June 5th blog post on 10 Tips for Getting More People to Read Your Blog, his item 6 had warned to:

“Edit & Proofread Every Word Before It’s Published.”

The image came from an old poster for Hoyt’s A Black Sheep.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Spouting Nonsense: A pumpkin Spoutly for journalism student Brent Sullivan

On October 24th there was an article by Brent Sullivan at NCC NEWS ONLINE titled Forget Ghosts This Halloween, Public Speaking Is Frightful For Many. It opened with the startling statement that:

“According to a recent Gallup poll the thought of having to speak in public scares Americans more than a visit to the dentist, a flight across the country or an encounter with a snake.”

I eagerly went to the Gallup web site to see this brand new poll with different results than the well-known one from 2001 titled Snakes Top List of Americans’ Fears. But, a quick site search (starting with the word snake) revealed there is no new poll. That 2001 poll had listed what more people fear, not what people fear more. Snakes came first (51%), public speaking came second (40%), flying came eighth (18%), and dentists weren’t even listed. Going to the doctor was twelfth(9%). 

NCC is an acronym for Newhouse Communications Center. Their About page explains that:

“The content on this site is produced by students in the Broadcast and Digital Journalism Department at the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University.  We strive to work to professional standards.”  

Most of Brent’s article is about the Orange Orators, a Toastmasters club at Syracuse University. He apparently got a confused version of that Gallup poll from them, but never bothered to check the original source. Perhaps he also believes in the Great Pumpkin. Brent won my fourth Spoutly award.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Getting over your nervousness

On October 22nd Rob Biesenbach had an excellent blog post about How to Conquer Stage Fright: 10 Tips for Presenters

Those tips were to:

1. Accept it
2. Know your audience
3. Know your stuff
4. Have a backup plan
5. Rehearse
6. Focus
7. Warm up
8. Practice your intro
9. Breathe

10. Be positive

Read his post for the details. I only wish he’d used the Keep Calm and Carry On poster shown above as an illustration. You can watch the story behind it on YouTube. An blog article in Mental Floss suggested two Halloween related variations:



On October 21st the Pearls Before Swine comic had a panicky version.

There is no quick and easy path to getting over nervousness. The path really looks more like one shown above. 

Both the Keep Calm poster and Cretan labyrinth came from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Public speaking isn’t still the number one fear - A pink Spoutly for Diane DiResta

My third Spoutly award for spouting nonsense goes to Diane DiResta for an October 10th blog post titled Change Your Words to Change Your Mind: Public Speaking Affirmations that began by claiming:  

“Public speaking is still the number one fear. This was originally publicized by the 1977 Book of Lists. It’s 2013 and I don’t need another list to prove the case. Fear of speaking tops the list of reasons people hire me.”

The Gallup poll reported on March 19, 2001 as Snakes Top List of Americans’ Fears is  an obvious refutation for her silly claim. A decade earlier there was an almost unknown set of lists from the Epidemiologic Catchment Area Study where public speaking ranked eighth or ninth.
On October 23, 2012 I blogged about how Either way you look at it, public speaking really is not our greatest fear. Public speaking only ranked first in six of nineteen surveys.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A thumb up for Jeffrey Gitomer

I’m not just a bitter critter who only complains about people spouting nonsense. Actually I enjoy much of what I see or read. Jeffrey Gitomer’s recent 830-word article, Do Your People WANT to Listen to You?, caught my eye because he began:

“I’m at a corporate conference about to give my 90-minute, customized, personalized talk. I spent hours preparing it - as I do all my talks - and I’ve spent the last 20 years improving my speaking, presentation, and performance skills.

I’m not just a speaker, I’m a student speaker.”

That article also appears in his Sales Blog, and in the Washington Business Journal BizBeat blog. If you scroll to the bottom of his About page you will find that he is a member of the National Speakers Association, got his Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) designation in 1997, and was named to their Speaker Hall of Fame in 2008. Yet he calls himself a student and he’s still learning.

That article lists the following ten strategies and elements for a presentation:

1. Use genuine humor.
2. Ask poignant questions.
3. Ask intellectual questions.
4. Tell a story that relates to you and them.
5. Customization based on their real world.
6. Incorporate their philosophy, mission, brand, and theme.
7. Give five to 10 major points they can walk away with and use immediately.
8. Have simple slides.
9. Very little talk about you.
10. End with emotion. (Maybe even ask for the sale).

If you think you’ve already achieved perfection, then go read another of his articles: How lousy are you? You probably don’t even know!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Spouting Total Nonsense - the second Spoutly is awarded to Scott Bateman

In the Disalmanac: A Book of Fact-Like Facts Mr. Bateman says of Boise that:

“Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, was the cradle of civilization. Why was civilization born here and not say, in Boise, Idaho? Well, have you seen Boise, Idaho? They still don’t have civilization there. They just got fire three years ago, for Christ’s sake. Boise’s got a long, long way to go.”

I’ve awarded Scott a special flaming Spoutly for that. (Liar, liar, pants on fire).

Actually Boise is right on the Oregon Trail, and the Wikipedia article shows one of the 21 monuments that now mark its path. So, we are as civilized as anywhere else in the western US. Boise has been home for the National Interagency Fire Center for twenty years.  We don’t even need fire for heating some of our buildings though. The first geothermal district heating system in the U.S. was installed here over a century ago, and the State Capitol building also has geothermal heat. 

Everything in the humorous Disalmanac is total nonsense, like the following video of Evel Knievel: What is Portland, Oregon? Ask Disalmanac! Note that the soundtrack says that city is in Utah, while the caption says Florida with an arrow pointing to an eastern location on a silhouette of Pennsylvania.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Spouting Nonsense - the very first Spoutly is awarded to Brian Tracy

After watching the Emmy Awards on September 22nd, and hearing about the latest Nobel Prizes, I’ve decided to start handing out an award to those who spout nonsense. It is called a Spoutly.

 Brian Tracy has cranked out a cartload of motivational books. On October 7, 2013 he posted a two-minute YouTube video on how to Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking that says:

“According to the Guinness Book of Records, 54% of American adults rank public speaking ahead of the fear of death among life’s major fears.”

That claim sounds specific, authoritative, and references a well-known publication. It is hard to refute conclusively, given that he didn’t bother to identify which year or edition it supposedly came from. (When I looked in Worldcat I found that the 1994 version for The Guinness Book of Records was  the 40th edition).

A caption on that YouTube video invites you to go to his web site and download a free chapter of his 2010 book No Excuses: The Power of Self-Discipline. On page 109  of that book it instead says:

“According to the Book of Lists, 54% of adults rate the fear of public speaking ahead of the fear of death.”

Why doesn’t the reference in the video match the one in the book?

On June 6, 2011 I blogged about How to recognize a fictitious statistic, and noted that claimed 54% does not really appear in the Book of Lists (which instead says 41%). It is a ManBearPig statistic - half man, half bear, and half pig. Mr. Tracy also had made the same claim on page 42 of his 2008 book, Speak to Win: How to Present with Power in Any Situation, which also warned on page 19 that:

“Poor preparation before an intelligent, discerning audience automatically downgrades your credibility - your ethos.”

On January 1, 2013 I blogged about That mystical 54% of adults who fear public speaking, and noted that on a CD in a set called Public Speaking Survival Kit he had said:

“Everyone grows up with a fear of public speaking. In fact, according to surveys and the Guinness Book of Records and the Book of Questions and Answers, 54% of adults fear public speaking more than they fear death. That’s how much there’s fear for public speaking.” 

When I looked in the current Guinness World Records 2012 book at my local public library I found no index entry for either fear or speaking.

The spouting whale for the Spoutly is derived from the Arms of Baron Ackner.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

This year POWERtalk International celebrated its 75th anniversary

That public speaking organization began back in 1938 as a women’s organization, the International Toastmistress Clubs (later acronymed as ITC). Toastmasters International was founded in 1924, but it remained all male until 1973.

A decade or so after Toastmasters began to admit women ITC began to decline. It began to admit men, has been renamed and relocated, but as POWERtalk International it still is around. You can read the new president’s installation address here.

Back in 2009 I blogged about Two sides of a coin: Toastmasters International and POWERtalk International. I saw a May newspaper article from New Zealand about the anniversary.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Does it matter who said that?

Of course it does! A well chosen quotation lets you express an idea using pithy words borrowed from someone credible. But, preparation is vital before you use one.

In his Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic on October 6th Zach Weiner wickedly suggested that a fun activity would be to go through a motivational speech and change the source for all quotations to history’s villains. His example was to switch the one shown above from Tony Robbins to Stalin. I looked in the Yale Book of Quotations and found three more that easily could be changed.

Josef Stalin actually said that.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said this.

Adolph Hitler said that.