Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Do you suffer from Lexidactylophobia?

That term was in the title of a 12-page magazine article by Donald A. Grushkin which appeared on page 404 in the December 1998 issue of the American Annals of the Deaf - Lexidactylophobia: The (Irrational) Fear of Fingerspelling. You can read the abstract at Pubmed. Fingerspelling is using the American Manual Alphabet letter by letter rather than American Sign Language for representing entire words. (I’ve shown above how to fingerspell the word hello). Gallaudet University has a downloadable educational article about The Importance of Fingerspelling for Reading

Why did I bring up this obscure phobia? As a reminder that finger, hand, and arm gestures all are important in public speaking. In previous posts I have blogged about Common and obscure gestures and how Gesture size usually should match audience size.

Enough of that serious stuff! Have some fun watching gestures in YouTube videos of Johnny Otis and Cliff Richard performing the song Willie and the Hand Jive, and Born to Hand Jive from the 1978 movie Grease and on GLEE

Monday, January 28, 2013

Predicting the 2012 presidential election - the boys who cried elephant

One of the stranger things which happened last year just before the presidential election was watching five conservative pundits (Michael Barone, Dean Chambers, Dick Morris, Karl Rove, and George Will) predict that Mitt Romney would win by a big margin in the Electoral College. (Mr. Chambers lowered his margin from 311 vs 227 on November 1st to 275 vs 263 on November 5th). That wasn’t how things turned out though. Here is what happened versus their predictions:

Look at what Karl Rove did. He said that without twelve toss-up states the two candidates were tied at 191 each. Then he predicted that Romney would win seven of those states (for another 94) and Obama would win five (for 62), even though several states really were too close to call.

The map shown above has states Obama won in blue, states Romney won in red, and states Rove predicted Romey would win (but Obama actually won) in purple. Karl was right about North Carolina, but wrong about the other six states and who would be president.

In the movie Forrest Gump, the main character proclaimed:

“My momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get’."

Forrest might have flipped a coin to predict how those dozen states would come out, and he might well have done better than Karl Rove did. 

Would you rather get a reputation for being wrong, or for being cautious and saying it’s too close to call? If you’re a pundit, then you feel compelled to make that prediction and risk losing your credibility. But, when the next election comes, people may remind you that you had behaved like the Aesop's Fable of the boy who cried wolf.

The Halloween image of an elephant was adapted from a 1912 Puck cartoon.   

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Hopping through sixty speeches: Shauna Causey’s Ignite Seattle talk

On November 8, 2012 Shauna Causey spoke at Ignite 18 in Seattle on the topic of Yes for One Year: Confronting a Fear. Watch the following YouTube video about how she overcame her fear of public speaking and developed self-confidence.

She said yes to every single request to speak for an entire year, and wound up doing 60 speeches, including a keynote for the Gates Foundation, and being in the 2008 tree lighting ceremony at the Westlake Village shopping center. That’s an average of more than once per week!

T. J. Walker, who wrote the best selling book  T. J. Walker’s Secret to Foolproof Presentations, had coached her to put sticky notes with little faces on her wall as a way to simulate an audience when rehearsing. I’ve also seen suggestions to use stuffed animals, or even pets. (Our cats both get disgusted and leave the room whenever I try to lecture to them).     

Doing an Ignite talk is pretty impressive, since it calls for handling a five-minute presentation where twenty slides each appear automatically for fifteen seconds. The following YouTube video by Scott Berkun discusses Why and How to Give an Ignite Talk.

Most people aren’t asked to speak as many times a year as Shauna. Joining a friendly local Toastmasters club is another way to speak regularly, and overcome your fear of public speaking. It’s more like the tortoise than the hare, but you’ll still reach your goal eventually.   

I was in Toastmasters International for about four years and found it a very useful experience. You can expect to speak in some role at every meeting, and to do a speech from a manual perhaps six times a year. The hare and tortoise images both came from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

National Speak Up and Succeed Day was on Tuesday

Oops! I missed that January 22nd apparently was National Speak Up and Succeed Day. It’s the fourth Tuesday in January. That event was created by Mary-Ellen Drummond, who has an inspirational YouTube video on Turning Fear of Speaking Into Excitement.

The text of it opens with:

“The greatest fear of Americans is not dying...it’s public speaking.

It’s somehow reassuring to know...

‘Everybody’s afraid of something - that’s how we know we care.’
Kevin Costner,  The Bodyguard

Someone once said: ‘If God wanted us to be brave, then why did he give us legs?’ “

Back in October I blogged about how Either way you look at it, public speaking is not our greatest fear.  

A longer, better version of that quote from the script of the 1995 movie The Bodyguard is:

“Everybody’s afraid of something...that’s how we know we care about things...when we’re scared to lose them. What are you afraid of?”

Marvin Kitman was the someone who said the second quote about bravery and legs. 

Also, two author’s last names slipped through proofreading - their correct spellings are Boris Pasternak and Edmund Hillary.

The image is from Billy Childish.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Three tips on public speaking from comedienne Annie Lederman

Her tips are to:

1. Know your material.

2. Know your audience.

3. Practice. Practice Practice.

They are presented in an amusing 4-1/2 minute video on Yahoo Screen that is Episode 116 from the Mansome series. Annie's opening is:

“Hey guys, Annie Lederman for Mansome. Did you know that America’s number two fear is public speaking and that’s next to death. Do you know where I read that? On the bathroom stalls at a ...bar. But I’m pretty sure it’s true.“

It is true. It’s one result (for women) from a survey of university students published last year that I blogged about on May 17th. See my third and fourth bar charts.

Annie Lederman also has appeared in Episode 112 Breaking It Off Clean and in Episode 80: Meeting Her Parents.

The 1976 image of Michael Dukakis speaking came from the Library of Congress collection.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Avoiding giving speeches is the most common social fear for Finnish adolescents

Last May I blogged about how avoiding giving speeches is the most common fear for Brazilian university students. In 2007 there was a magazine article by Klaus Ranta titled Age and gender differences in social anxiety symptoms during adolescence: The Social Phobia Inventory (SPIN) as a measure about a large study that used the Finnish version of the same survey tool called the Social Phobia Inventory (SPIN). It appeared in Psychiatry Research, volume 153, pages 261 to 270. You can read an abstract at PubMed, and find the full text of this article in the back of his academic dissertation on Social Phobia among Finnish Adolescents.

There were 5252 students in the study, with ages ranging from 12.8 to 16.9 years (2592 boys and 2650 girls).  3859 were in the 9th grade, with much smaller amounts of 612 in the 7th grade and 641 in the 8th grade (and 140 who didn’t supply grade information). Those students were given the Finnish SPIN, which evaluated 17 symptoms of fear and avoidance on a scale from 0 to 4 where:

0  = Not at all
1  = A little
2 = Somewhat
3 = Very much
4 = Extremely


A bar chart shows the mean results from Table 4 of the article. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer version). Avoiding speeches was ranked first (at 1.75) and was significantly larger than the next four items (which clustered together). Those were fear of criticism (at 0.96), avoids being the center of attention (at 0.95), avoids embarrassment (at 0.93), and avoids talking to strangers (at 0.91). Being distressed by sweating was tenth (at 0.65).

The article also reported more detailed results - the percentages of students who answered 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4 for each item. It is interesting to compare the sum of the percentages for 3 and 4 (Very much and Extremely), which were 28.4% for avoids speeches, 6.2% for fear of criticism, 7.5% for avoids being the center of attention, 6.6% for avoids embarrassment, and 5.6% for avoids talking to strangers.

Pekka Halonen’s painting of a boy on the shore came from here.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A recent review article on public speaking anxiety

Last January Charles B. Pull published an article about the Current Status of Knowledge on Public-speaking Anxiety in Current Opinion in Psychiatry magazine. You can read the abstract here, or here at PubMed, and find the full text online here. The summary says that:

“Public-speaking anxiety is a highly prevalent disorder, leading to excessive psychological and physiological reactivity. It is present in a majority of individuals with SAD [social anxiety disorder] and there is substantial evidence that it may be a distinct subtype of SAD. It is amenable to treatment including, in particular, new technologies such as exposure to virtual environments and the use of cognitive–behavioral self-help programs delivered on the Internet.”

He references 37 articles. How did he find them all? His Methods section says that:

“PubMed was systematically searched for research studies published between August 2008 and September 2011 using the search words 'public speaking anxiety', 'fear of public speaking', 'fear of speaking in public', 'fear of speaking in front of others', 'SAD', and 'social phobia'. In addition, a similar search was conducted for review articles published on the topic prior to August 2008.”

Did you notice what term didn’t appear on his list of search words? It’s glossophobia. Although there is a web site called Glossophobia.com that claims:

“Glossophobia is the technical term given to a severe fear of public speaking.”

that’s not really true. I’ve ranted before about how glossophobia might as well mean the fear of waxing your car to a high gloss. Glossophobia just is a pseudo-technical term that won’t lead you to the best information. Instead it it will send you down blind alleys.

The photo of James Watson speaking came out of the Images from the History of Medicine collection.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Review of the 3-CD Public Speaking Survival Kit

Recently I borrowed this set from the Meridian Public Library, and mostly enjoyed  listening to it. It came from from the Made for Success collection in 2012, is titled Public Speaking Survival Kit and subtitled Expert Training to Dazzle Your Audience. The ISBN is  978-1-4551-5834-8, and the price is $19.95. If I had paid that $20, I would not have been disappointed.

The first CD, Speak on Your Feet, is presented by Brian Tracy, and is 70 minutes long. When I put it into iTunes so I could listen on my iPod it was identified as being disk 2 from another of their products, the 2011 10-CD Presentation Masters set. (That didn’t surprise me, since this CD was divided into 14 tracks, while the other two were not).  

Most of what Mr. Tracy says is well thought out and useful. He mentioned that for an important 30-minute speech he may prepare for fifty to a hundred hours. One of his pieces of advice on delivery is to:

“Be warm and genial. Be likable. Be charming. Be happy to be there. Be friendly. Sort of imagine that your eyes are sun and you want to give your audience a tan. And smile, and look at your audience with warmth, and kindness, and geniality.

Because the better you feel, the happier you are, the more you smile, and the happier that they feel that you feel, the better is your whole talk. Nothing worse than a speaker who’s tense, and irritable, and short-tempered, and going too fast, and so on, as opposed to a speaker who’s warm, and genial, and friendly, and gives good examples, and smiles at people in the audience.”

Some of what Mr. Tracy says is way off. On January 1st I blogged about his bogus claims that 54% of adults fear public speaking, and we all grew up with that fear. Also, when he discusses opening strongly, in Track 10, he says that: 

“If you remember Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, where it starts off bum bum bum bum bum bum. Bum bum bum bum bum bum. Everybody in the world knows those first few beats, they were so powerful. So, when you start off, always start off with a very strong statement.”

That motif indeed is powerful, but just a minute spent at Wikipedia will show you that there are four notes (short-short-short-long), not six!

The second CD, Overcoming Stage Fright and Delivering Riveting Presentations, is presented by Dianna Booher and is 33 minutes long. She described and discussed eleven very useful tips:

1. Accept nervousness as part of the process.
2. Use that fear to push you to peak performance.
3. Use positive self-talk, rather than focusing on the fear.
4. Find your fans (in the audience).
5. Play mental games of “what’s the worst” to overcome that disabling fear.
6. Use physical exercise and activity to relieve some of that nervous tension.
7. Concentrate on your audience rather than on yourself to reduce your tension.
8. Don’t let fear mean mediocrity.
9. Be better than natural.
10. Make your presentation both a conversation and a performance.
11. Assume a friendly audience. 

The third CD, How to Create a Commanding Presence, is presented by Dr. Larry Iverson and is 60 minutes long. Worldcat shows that this CD is also in another 2012 collection called Sell to Anyone : America's top sales experts on becoming a selling superstar. Also, there is an MP3 eAudiobook version via EBSCOhost found in some libraries.

For me the most useful part of this CD was Dr. Iverson’s advice on nonverbal communication - that you should first be approachable and then be credible, which call for two different sets of behaviors, as are summarized below: 

If you look at Google Books, you can find a longer written discussion in his The Psychology of Selling: Mastering Super Persuasion for Peak Performance.  

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Did you ever worry about blacking out while performing or during an oral exam?

I didn’t, so I was surprised to find that problem was at the top of a list of social situations and performances from a survey of 520 seniors done back in December 2000 at six high schools in the Pisa, Italy area. That list was in an article by Lilian Dell’Osso et al titled Social Anxiety Spectrum, which appeared in 2003 in the European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience. You can read an abstract here, and download it here.

Students (209 females and 311 males) filled out the Social Anxiety Spectrum Self Report (SHY-SR), which is a 164-item list of yes-no questions grouped into four domains (childhood and adolescence social anxiety, interpersonal sensitivity, behavioral inhibition and somatic symptoms, and specific phobias). The top five feared situations are shown above in a bar chart. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer version. 66% (almost two-thirds) of the students listed blackout while performing or taking an oral exam. 64% listed feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable when taking an oral exam.   60% of the students feared performing in front of an audience, which ranked third. I don’t recall seeing a question about blackout while performing or taking an oral exam in any survey other than this one.

Those top five situations differ from those found by Green et al, which I blogged about last June in a post titled What social situations scare American adolescents, and what are their top 20 fears. There the top situation was performing for audience (35.8%), followed by speaking in class (24.9%), and situation that could be embarrassed (24.6%), meeting new people (23.6%), talking to strangers (22.2%), and talking to authority (20.3%). Taking important exam (19.8%) came in seventh. 

Fainting or blacking out isn’t included on the 51-item Fear Survey Schedule II, which I blogged about last October.

I found an Associated Press article from 2010 about Bill Nye the Science Guy fainting on stage while giving a speech. On YouTube I found a brief video of an Arizona State University (ASU) student fainting while speaking, and David Buckner fainting while appearing as a guest on Glenn Beck’s television show.

There is a fairly readable medical article on Fainting, Swooning, and Syncope that you can read online which appeared in 2010 in a magazine called Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders. Syncope is the general medical term for fainting, and the subtype that happens during speaking is called vasovagal or neurocardiogenic syncope:

“Syncope, the medical term for fainting/blacking out, is traditionally characterized by a sudden and temporary loss of consciousness (with spontaneous recovery) caused by insufficient oxygen delivery to the brain (via hypotension or other mechanisms). Syncope is a word that often induces fear in patients and their physicians, and the condition frequently leads to hospitalization for further evaluation. The term fainting (more familiar to laypersons) is less intimidating and rarely results in admission to a health care facility.....”

“Neurocardiogenic syncope can occur in emotionally challenging (eg, scary or embarrassing) situations, such as during blood drawing, while observing one's first autopsy, seeing blood or needles, or receiving bad news...” 

How common is fainting? An article by E. S. Soteriades et al from 2002 in the New England Journal of Medicine on the Incidence and Prognosis of Syncope reported that it occurs for just six percent of adults over a decade. So, the percent of seniors reporting blacking out as a fear is way greater than the chance of it actually happening.    

The 1830 painting came from Wikimedia Commons.

UPDATE February 3, 2013

In the textbook iSpeak: Public Speaking for Contemporary Life by Paul E. Nelson, Scott Titsworth, and Judy C. Pearson (McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2009) page 6 says:

“....Will you faint? One of the authors used to carry a smelling salts capsule (the kind used to revive people who faint when they give blood), just in case a student fainted while giving a speech. After several thousand student speeches the gauze-wrapped capsule started to get very dirty, but not from ever using it. The author finally threw the capsule away. None of the authors has ever seen a student faint.”

Thursday, January 10, 2013

An infographic showing rhetorical fallacies, and a commercial for skepticism

Yesterday on her Tweak Your Slides blog Chiara Ojeda posted about Infographic Candy: David McCandless’s Rhetological Fallacies. That wonderful infographic on rhetoric from Information is Beautiful is divided into six sections covering: Appeals to the Mind, Appeals to Emotions, Faulty Deduction, Garbled Cause & Effect, Manipulating Content, and On the Attack.

The very first entry under Appeal to the Mind discusses appealing to anonymous authority. That reminded me of the following phony but hilarious video advertisement for Skepticism® from Shut Up Infinity.

One of the items discussed in their handy Phrase Book is:

“When you say ‘studies have shown’, could you please specify which ones.”

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Bullspotting book by Loren Collins

Last October Loren Collins released a skeptical book on Bullspotting, which he subtitled Finding Facts in the Age of Misinformation. I recently found it on the new books shelf at my local public library, and enjoyed reading it. The book has ten chapters on: Baloney Detection, Denialism, Conspiracy Theories, Rumors, Quotations, Hoaxes, Pseudoscience, Pseudohistory, Pseudolaw, and What’s the Harm? Loren is an attorney in the Atlanta area who writes a blog called Barackryphal (a skeptic’s guide to birtherism).

Spotting bull isn’t hard if you use the Web and your public library critically, and keep asking simple questions like:

1. What is the claim?

2. Who said so?

3. How would he know that?

4. Where did that information come from?

5. When did it appear?

Four examples follow.


“Two magazines, Country Living (95.99% white readership) and Ebony/Jet(99.99% black readership) did surveys on "WHAT DO PEOPLE FEAR MOST?"

Country Living magazine's top three answers were:
1. Nuclear war/terrorist attack in U.S
2. Child/spouse dying
3. Terminal illness

Ebony / Jet magazine's top three answers were: 

1. Ghosts 
2. Dogs 
3. Registered mail”

I’ve quoted it from a posting on January 1st. The first suspicious sign is that no dates are given for when the surveys appeared in magazine articles. If you just Google the phrase “Country Living Ebony fear”,  the first item you will find is an article at Snopes.com titled Fear Factor that says it is false. They say that neither Country Living, Ebony, or Jet ever ran such a survey.

The full text from all three magazines also can be found in the EBSCO MasterFILE Premier database that may be accessible via your public library web site (or at a state university). Two other EBSCO databases - Business Source Premier and Academic Search Premier cover other publications.


There are Apollo denialists who claim that we never really sent astronauts to the moon. (That's why we never went back either!) When the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) satellite recently took very clear images of objects and even the tracks on the moon left from, for example, Apollo 11 and Apollo 15, they claimed those just were Photoshopped fakes, and that the original files wouldn’t show those features. There is a 12-minute YouTube video refuting that silly claim, and showing how to find and view the original 252Mb image files from the LRO Narrow Angle Camera.     


There is a subculture which made claims about a planet called Nibiru that was supposed to create a cataclysm back in 2003, and then in 2012. Nancy Lieder and Marshall Masters are two people who have appeared on the late-night Coast to Coast AM radio show spreading wild tales. Supposedly NASA even built a telescope down at the South Pole just to watch for it (and then hid the pictures, which nevertheless keep turning up on YouTube). NASA’s Ask An Astrobiologist web site has a page with answers to twenty questions, one of which was:

“5. Do you deny that [you] built a South Pole Telescope to track Nibiru? Why else would they build a telescope at the South Pole? And wasn’t [it] built as part of a defense against Nibiru?
There is a telescope at the South Pole, but it was not built by NASA and is not used to study Nibiru. The South Pole Telescope was supported by the National Science Foundation, and it is a radio telescope, not an optical instrument. It cannot take images or photos. You can look it up on Wikipedia. The Antarctic is a great place for astronomical infrared and short-wave-radio observations, and it also has the advantage that objects can be observed continuously without the interference of the day-night cycle. I should add that it is impossible to imagine a geometry in which an object can be seen only from the South Pole. Even if it were due south of the Earth, it could be seen from the entire southern hemisphere.”

If you look up the South Pole Telescope at Wikipedia, you can see a description of what it really is and why it was built. The people who work on the team there have a new tee shirt design each year. Their 2012 gag edition says Greetings from Nibiru.


See yesterday's Savage Chickens cartoon.

The image of a bull was adapted from this one on Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

That mystical 54% of adults who fear public speaking

Last week I was listening to a set of three CDs called the Public Speaking Survival Kit: Expert Training to Dazzle Your Audience. The first CD was a presentation by Brian Tracy titled Speak on Your Feet. After about 2-1/2 minutes on the 2nd track he proclaimed that:

“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.”  

Which survey really has that 54% statistic? Back in 1993 Bruskin-Goldring did a survey of 1000 U.S. adults that found 45% feared speaking before a group. I blogged about it on May 19, 2011. If you dyslexically swap those two digits, you might say 54% instead of the actual 45%. That survey also reported results by gender, which were 54% for women but only 34% for men.

When I looked over at my public library I found the current Guinness World Records 2012 book, but there were no index entries either for fear or speaking.

In his 2008 book Speak to Win: How to Present with Power in Any Situation, on page 42 Mr. Tracy had claimed the statistic came from a different source:

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

On June 6, 2011 I blogged about how the Book of Lists (actually reporting a 1973 Bruskin survey) did not say that. The reported percentage there really was 41%.

What about his other claim - that everyone grows up with a fear of public speaking? That’s nonsense too. Last June I blogged about the NCS-A, a large survey of U.S. adolescents, which found that only 35.8% feared performing before an audience, and 29.4% feared speaking in class.

Just because a popular author claims something doesn’t mean that it’s true. Do your homework and check before you believe or repeat any statistics you read.