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.