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. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

A poll done in Providence found 41% of adults feared public speaking

Halloween is coming in three weeks, so it’s time to scare people with surveys about their fears. I ran across results from a telephone poll of 500 adults done by SurveyUSA for WLNE-TV in the Providence, Rhode Island area back on November 10, 2005. They asked just this single question:

“Do you personally have a fear of public speaking?”

in with five about sex offenders and another topic. 

Results are shown above in a bar chart. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer version). 41% feared public speaking, 58% didn’t, and 1% weren’t sure. The sample was 53% female, and 46% of them feared public speaking, while only 37% of the males did. There was not much effect of age. 42% of those aged 18 to 34 feared speaking, 40% aged 35 to 54 feared it, and 42% of those age 55 and older feared it. Ethnically the sample was 87% white, and 41% feared public speaking. Of the 6% Hispanic (just 30 people), only 31% feared public speaking. (The rest of that sample was 4% black, and 3% other).

The 41% found in this survey very close to the 40% found by the 2001 US Gallup poll. I am not sure why this poll data was released on Veteran’s Day of 2005.

When I think of Providence, I think of the fictional town of Quahog based on it, which is the setting for the adult TV cartoon show Family Guy.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Hiding data in a Harlequin PowerPoint chart

In his Make a Powerful Point blog on October 4th Gavin McMahon asked Are you chart smart? 3 stupid charting mistakes. The second mistake he showed was a Harlequin chart with unnecessary multiple colors (a different one for each bar) like in the costume shown above.

That vertical bar chart also had vertical captions, which are undesirable since they force your audience into tilting their heads sideways to read them, as is shown above in a painting. This posture is known as the Goren Lean (from Vincent D’Nofrio’s portrayal of Detective Robert Goren in the TV show Law and Order - Criminal Intent).  

PowerPoint has lots of options for making bad charts. An example is shown above. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer version). Data for it came from an August blog post. I’ve redone it using vertical bars, each both with a different color and texture, and a water droplet background (which looks more like a sponge). The vertical axis should be labeled percent, but I left off that helpful detail. I also left off the title that identified the data and source. And, of course, the vertical captions are in the silly Comic Sans font.

A better version with horizontal bars and captions is shown above. You don’t have to lean to read it, and you can tell what it’s about.

The Harlequin image came from Wikimedia Commons. You can see other versions of the Goren Lean here.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Now we’re only number 46!

On September 15th I blogged about being number 44 on Public Speaking 101: The Top Online Resources, a web page list at the Masters in Communication web site. Now an updated version of that list has 103 entries, and I've slipped down to number 46. Should that list now be called Public Speaking 103?

I looked a bit further at their web page with a Detailed List of Campuses that have a Masters in Communication Program, and am even less impressed by their level of detail. For the state of Washington just three universities in the Seattle area were listed, but they missed the University of Washington (who came to mind since on August 31st in Seattle they clobbered the Boise State University football team 38 to 6). They also missed Washington State University.

In the bay area of California they just listed California State University East Bay, but missed both San Jose State University and San Francisco State University. They also missed the University of California campuses in Davis and Santa Barbara.

Don’t rely on a single list. Look around, and you’ll probably find another.For public speaking blogs, look at Alltop Speaking.