Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Just Say It! - a worthwhile Canadian documentary feature film on public speaking and fear

Earlier this year Luke King posted a video of his 73-minute film Just Say It! on YouTube. It’s worth watching, enjoyable, and free. The trailer is shown above. (WARNING: It contains animated Gumby vomiting).

Luke’s film follows some contestants in the Ontario public speaking contest for school children sponsored by the Canadian Legion. It also contains discussions about fear with some Canadian celebrities like Peter Mansbridge (anchorman for the CBC TV evening news, The National), former boxer George Chuvalo, Roger Abbott and Don Ferguson of CBC’s comedy program Royal Canadian Air Farce, and various other experts.  

Those contestants include 1st to 3rd graders and 10th to 12th graders. The cutest part is six year old Alex Maisonneuve’s speech about a Giant Potato. The 10th to 12th graders are quite polished and mostly serious. 

In Luke’s 2007 film the stakes are lower than in SPEAK!, the more recent American documentary about the Toastmasters World Championship, which I reviewed back in 2012. But, the 10th to 12th graders gave speeches with the same 5 to 7 minute time limits as for the Toastmasters championship.

One of my favorite parts is about Caroline Marcil, a nurse and singer from Quebec. Back in 2004 she  stumbled while trying to sing the Star Spangled Banner at an exhibition hockey game between Team Canada and the U.S. ABS News described what followed in Anthem Singer Redeems Herself

Sunday, July 27, 2014

An Overstuffed Series of Donut Charts

In his All About Presentations blog on July 24th Vivek Singh blogged about how to Create professional looking charts in 6 steps. He showed how to use PowerPoint to make a very pretty donut chart series like the one shown above, which is taken from an Ericsson publication called Performance Shapes Smartphone Behavior. (I added the light green background).

When I looked at that series, something didn’t seem to add up, and doesn’t. Those four percentages are shown as separate categories, which implies they are exclusive. But, 40% + 25% + 23% + 20% = 108%. That’s bull dung.

Something is wrong with the raw data. Before you plot percentages you need to check that they total to a hundred percent. (You could have the named percentages total to less than a hundred, if you left out a miscellaneous or other category though).

PowerPoint is set up to automatically scale the total from them to fill a circle on a single pie chart or donut chart, so it won’t object to showing something silly like this. If you tried to plot them on a single chart, you might be more likely to check them. When you saw that 25% did not fill 90 degrees, you would ask what is wrong.         

Perhaps there really are people who use a train or bus and they shop while commuting. Or, maybe there are people who grab a sandwich and have dinner while they are either shopping or commuting. The charts should show what is really happening.

This is a much more subtle error than the pie chart with a total of 271% I blogged about last December as ‘tis the season for pies and artistic charts about them.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Leave the “clean and jerk” to the weightlifters!

The "jerk" is the last part of a sequence, but if you are a public speaker rather than a competitive weightlifter holding a barbell that gesture will look silly (and perhaps show off sweat patches on your armpits).  

I found this 1939 filibuster image of Senator Warren R. Austin on the Library of Congress web site , with a long title that began:

“If we have to make speeches until morning!”

Back in June 2008 I blogged about What to do with your arms and hands, and mentioned the T-Rex posture, where you let your hands dangle uselessly in front of your body.

Competitive weightlifting is a performance watched by an audience, which is Why Strippers Would Be Good Weightlifters.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Should you wear a megaphone helmet for public speaking?

Probably not, although wearing your very own personal public address system might be tempting. Back on November 18, 2005 Phillip Torrone posted on the Make web site about How to Make a (Pimped Out) Megaphone Helmet:

“Here I show you how you can very simply modify a megaphone to accept 1/8” line input from an iPod, and mount the megaphone on top of a motorcycle helmet. The resulting ‘Mega Helmet’ delivers the maximum aural stupidity allowed by law...Go play softball wearing the helmet. It is very good for antagonizing the pitcher, and trash-talking in general. The helmet allows both for amplification of your voice, and playback of mp3s from the iPod.”

Then on October 24, 2012 The Onion took that idea to an absurd limit (implanted microphone and speakers), demonstrated with an Onion Talk parody of  a TED Talk titled Loudness Equals Power.

Finally, over in London, designer Tomomi Sayuda came up with her two versions of what she called the Mask of Soul. The newer one is described on Designboom in a July 2nd post, Tomomi Sayuda’s mask of soul helps overcome fears of public speaking. It’s slick looking, but the concept is a bit silly. (The Vimeo video shows a swearing contest, and thus is not suitable for playing in a work environment). Her earlier soft version is shown in another Vimeo video from December 14, 2013. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Chris Hadfield’s amazing TED talk on What I learned from going blind in space

Today is the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon. So, it’s a good time to look at one effect. Up in Ontario it inspired a nine year old boy to dream of becoming an astronaut, which seemed impossible. Chris told that story in his book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. (Back in January I blogged about his advice to Visualize failure and then plan for success).

In this TED talk he describes getting over fear, what going up, being in space, and coming back down feels like, and his sense of wonder. (In the book he mentions an ironic detail - that before launch of a Soyuz rocket Russians toast to Miakoi posadki [soft landings]).


If you didn't recognize it, the snippet of song Chris sings at the end is an update of his upbeat cover version of David Bowie's space disaster song, Space Oddity.  

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Spam comments from folks who don’t know which end is up

When I checked the spam folder on my blog yesterday, I found a comment on a post from September 29, 2009 about Teleprompters and public speaking that said:

“Wow, supoerb blog layout! How ldnghty have you been blogging for? You make blogging glance easy. The overall look of your site is magnificent, let alone the content! My site...”

Now, the gray Blog Archive list on the right side of my posts shows that this blog has been around since 2008, so asking me how long I’ve been blogging is rather silly. 

Even sillier was the totally unrelated topic of his web site - a review for a nonprescription remedy meant to treat hemorrhoids. That remedy combines a dietary supplement (capsules) and a homeopathic spray (containing about 25% alcohol, and purified water), When I looked at two web sites about the product, I found rather confusing instructions.

The manufacturer’s web site says that the spray is applied under the tongue, but one paragraph says twice a day, while another says three times a day.   

Another web site selling the product says that that spray is applied twice a day - either directly to external hemorrhoids, or under the tongue. I’m not sure they know which end is up. 

A third web site says that the remedy originally just was the capsules, and then the spray was added later by new management.

The cartoon of a handstand was derived from this old WPA poster.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

National Speakers Association fell off their new PLATFORM, and will try another brand name

On July 7th I blogged about Will the National Speakers Association fall off its new platform? At their annual meeting they had announced that they were going to switch to a single-word name of PLATFORM.

But, Michael Hyatt already had a best-selling book published in 2012 with the title Platform: get noticed in a noisy world. I said that name change by NSA looked like a hilariously poor choice, and expected that it would not happen.

On July 14th NSA released a YouTube video titled Update on NSA’s Proposed Brand/Name Change - National Speakers Association in which they said they were going to drop PLATFORM and do something else.   

NSA has a code of ethics for members which includes:

“Article 4 - Intellectual Property

The NSA Member shall avoid using - either orally or in writing - materials, titles or thematic creations originated by others unless approved in writing by the originator.”

The text accompanying the YouTube video contained this reply (separation into paragraphs added by me for clarity):

“2. Why did NSA not adhere its own ethics and values related to intellectual property when others were using the Platform name?

An extensive search was conducted through the US Patent and Trademark Office during the development process. While there were 40 separate trademarks held by various companies throughout the US, only one of those was trademarked in the speaker marketplace and it had not been actively used in the last 15 years.

As soon as NSA became aware that someone else was actively using this brand in a similar marketplace to what we proposed, we reached out to that individual immediately to discuss the issue. While it took some time, we have communicated with all parties (including Michael Hyatt and his organization) and have worked out all issues to the satisfaction of everyone involved.

NSA takes very seriously any infractions of intellectual property and holds its ethics process and the values of the organization in high esteem and would never intentionally violate either of them.”

Michael Hyatt’s gracious reply to the announcement included this statement:

“The real test of leadership is not in whether you make mistakes. They are inevitable. I’ve certainly made my share. The real test is in what you do about them once they happen.

This is a good example of an organization that stumbled but then had the integrity to reverse their decision once they processed all the relevant input. This is extremely rare among individuals, let alone organizations. I salute them for their leadership.”

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The ultimate presentation nightmare cartoon

Wow! Today’s Savage Chickens cartoon by Doug Savage has it all - a presentation nightmare where you didn’t know what you are talking about, are naked, and are surrounded by critical angry bears (that shoot lava out of their paws). 

The only thing I’ve heard of that approaches it is a somewhat obscene comedy routine by Patton Oswalt about how taking Ambien creates crazy dream mashups that include several nightmares. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Is the advice you’re getting about public speaking almost as ancient as a fossilized trilobite?

And, how about the advice you’re giving out? Things change. Trilobites are extinct marine arthropods that showed up about half a billion years ago and flourished through the lower Paleozoic era. But, they have  been gone for a quarter billion years.  

On his Great Public Speaking blog for March 30, 2014 Tom Antion had a post titled 11 Public Speaking Quotes (that was reposted from August 11, 2013) which began by claiming:

“Public speaking is the number one fear in America.”

Every time I see that, I want to ask if the claimant has ever seen the results from 1998 and 2001 Gallup Polls reported on March 19, 2001 with the title Snakes Top List of Americans’ Fears.

Evidently Tom has not. I looked in the 2010 edition of his book Wake ‘Em Up! Business Presentations. Chapter 8, on Delivery begins with a section on Stage Fright Strategies that still refers to a  (1977) Book of Lists fears Top Ten with speaking to dogs humorously added as #11. 

The Book of Lists got their fears from a 1973 Bruskin survey. There was another 1993 Bruskin-Goldring survey that had public speaking at number one, but most surveys don’t. For Halloween 2012 I blogged about how Either way you look at it, public speaking really is not our greatest fear.  

What’s the latest? On March 27, 2014 YouGov reported results from a survey of about 1000 U. S. adults. I blogged about the details on April 2nd in a post titled YouGov survey of U.S. adults found they  most commonly were very afraid of snakes, heights, public speaking, spiders, and being closed in a small space. Public speaking only came in first when people were asked what they were A Little Afraid of. Both for Very Afraid and a total combining it with A Little Afraid, public speaking came third.    

Remember that sometimes the phrase “thought leader” means:

“I just thought I’m a leader, but now I’m really not.”

The image shows a trilobite fossil replica in an exhibit at The Herrett Center in Twin Falls, Idaho.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

If laughter is the best medicine, are there harmful side effects?

An article by R. E. Fermer and J. K. Aronson titled Laughter and MIRTH (Methodical Investigation of Risibility, Therapeutic and Harmful): Narrative Synthesis appeared in the Christmas 2013 issue of the British Medical Journal. You can read it in full here at PubMed Central. Their objective was to review both the beneficial and harmful effects of laughter.

Benefits of laughter included:

A] Reduced anger, anxiety, depression, and stress
B] reduced tension (psychological and cardiovascular)
C] increased pain threshold
D] reduced risk of myocardial infarction (presumably requiring hearty laughter)
E] improved lung function
F} increased energy expenditure
G] reduced blood glucose concentration

Harmful effects were:
A] Syncope (fainting)
B] cardiac and esophageal rupture
C] protrusion of abdominal hernias (from side splitting laughter or laughing fit to burst)
D] asthma attacks
E] interlobular emphysema
F] cataplexy
G] headaches
H] jaw dislocation
I] stress incontinence (from laughing like a drain)

Their conclusion was that:

Laughter is not purely beneficial. The harms it can cause are immediate and dose related, the risks being highest for Homeric (uncontrollable) laughter. The benefit-harm balance is probably favourable. It remains to be seen whether sick jokes make you ill or jokes in bad taste cause dysgeusia, and whether our views on comedians stand up to further scrutiny.

Increased energy expenditure sounded promising, but an article from 2007 on the Energy Expenditure of Genuine Laughter said that the effect is relatively small. It will not replace exercising or going on a diet.

The same image that appeared in Fermer and Aronson’s article is at Wikimedia Commons.  

Monday, July 7, 2014

Will the National Speakers Association fall off its new Platform?

Last week the National Speakers Association (NSA) announced that they were going to start switching to a single-word name of PLATFORM (with an image of a stylized letter O shaped like a balloon) and using the motto:

 “Inform. Influence. Inspire.”

It already looks like a hilariously poor choice, and I expect that it will NOT happen. Why?

There already is a best-selling 2012 book by Michael Hyatt titled Platform: get noticed in a noisy world. Hyatt has been a speaker for over 25 years, and is in a business called Dynamic Communicators International which  already runs a conference called PLATFORM. So, he is rather well positioned to oppose NSA trying to trademark the name PLATFORM.   

Hyatt has a large tribe of followers, some of whom have been quite vocal:

Connie Bennett
Did NSA leaders forget to Google ”Platform” before stomping on Michael Hyatt’s Brand?

Daniel Decker
Do your research first- lessons from the National Speakers Association PLATFORM rebrand and Michael Hyatt

James Hahn
Why the NSA highjacked Michael Hyatt’s Brand part 1

Mike Kim
Michael Hyatt “Owns” Platform ... And 4 More Reasons the NSA Blew It on Rebranding

I understand that NSA felt they needed a change because they were no longer just national. But, I belong to two organizations that renamed just by adding the word International to their former national acronyms. American Society for Metals became ASM International, and National Association of Corrosion Engineers became NACE International.

Maybe NSA also felt that their acronym was tainted by the recent revelations about the other NSA, the U.S. National Security Agency. Perhaps they just should have run an ad explaining the difference:

The falling image was inspired by this warning sign.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Reference librarians are the heroes of research

An Unshelved comic on July 2nd had the conclusion of a story that started back on June 24th with Desmond (a software developer from another comic, Not Invented Here) asking Dewey an obscure question. Dewey went to his co-workers.

But, neither Dewey (the teen services librarian), nor Tamara (the children’s librarian) could find him an answer. Mel (their manager) couldn’t either.

Then Colleen (their retired reference librarian) took over the hunt. She activated her phone network, waited on hold, and another gray-haired librarian appeared and handed her the answer. Desmond’s friend Jeff (who actually had the relevant document) also showed up and he complained that:  

“A librarian broke into my house and stole one of my undergraduate papers.

It was in a box in the back of my garage.

How did she know it was there?

I didn’t even know it was there!

Then she headbutted me with her bun.”

That’s not much of an exaggeration. Reference librarians at your public library are very familiar with a whole box of tools that you may know nothing about, like the PMC and PDQ databases. They are used to looking in lots of places you haven’t ever seen. And they know how to reach people, like the officers in organizations such as the ACM and your local chapter. So, ask them for help when you’re looking for a speech topic or background information. 

For example, two decades ago we were writing a review article for the Society of Automotive Engineers about Spot Weld Failure Analysis for Accident Reconstruction. I found the title of a fracture mechanics handbook that might have something useful, but it was so expensive (~$400) and obscure that even the engineering library at Ohio State University didn’t own a copy.

So, I asked a reference librarian at the Columbus Public Library about getting it via interlibrary loan, and was immediately told (based on a WorldCat search) that Case Western Reserve University up in Cleveland had a copy in their reference collection, but wasn’t willing to send it out. Then the librarian said they would look further.

About a week later they called and told me to come down and pick up the handbook. They found it near Dayton in the library at the Air Force Institute of Technology, which is the Air Force’s graduate school for engineering and management. Back then WorldCat didn’t have the user-friendly web interface it now has.

The NCI image of a librarian working with a doctor using PDQ is from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Is anyone still celebrating Freedom from Fear of Public Speaking Week?

Not that I can find easily. So, by mentioning it I’m feeling a bit like Linus van Pelt sitting in a very sincere patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin

Back in 2011 I blogged about Celebrate Freedom from Fear of Public Speaking Week, or Day, or Month. The rather overblown month is mentioned here, here, and here.

For me, this week is an excuse to dig out another version of that iconic World War I U.S. Army recruiting poster and recaption it, as is shown above.

My older versions seem to have been borrowed and reposted both in the UK and Australia.


Yesterday Beverly Beuermann-King, who had started this event as a day in 2008, and switched it to a week in 2009, went back to calling it just a day. She’s welcome to also use one of my recaptioned recruiting posters rather than a cartoon turtle.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Distant starlight, science, and magic

After the first episode aired back in March, I blogged about Telling a big story - Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. The other dozen episodes of that television series also were memorable.

I was both amused and appalled to see some reactions from young earth creationists. After the second episode Danny Faulkner, who writes for Answers in Genesis, appeared on the March 20th Janet Mefferd show and whined:

“Janet :Now, do they do any interviews with scientists themselves during this whole thing, and do they ever give a creationist any time?

Danny: Well no, the creationists aren’t even on the radar screen for them. They wouldn’t even consider us plausible at all. I don’t recall having seen any interviews with people. That may yet come.”

In episode 4, A Sky Full of Ghosts, Neil deGrasse Tyson pointed out that since light has a finite speed it takes time to reach us, so we are seeing what was rather than what is. From the sun it takes eight minutes, from the planet Neptune it takes four hours, and from the nearest star (Proxima Centauri) it takes four years. Then he talked about the nebula that I’ve shown above and said:

“The Crab Nebula is about 6,500 light years from earth.

According to some beliefs, that’s the age of the whole universe, but if the universe were only 6,500 years old, how could we see the light from anything more distant than the Crab Nebula? We couldn’t. There wouldn’t have been enough time for light to get to earth from anywhere farther away than 6,500 light years in any direction.

That’s just enough time for light to travel through a tiny portion of our Milky Way galaxy. To believe in a universe as young as six or seven thousand years old is to extinguish the light from most of the galaxy, not to mention the light from all the 100 billion other galaxies in the observable universe.”

A review of that episode by Elizabeth Mitchell, M.D. at Answers in Genesis posted on April 1 (April Fool’s Day) objected:

“What Tyson, of course, does not address in the program is that young earth creation scientists do offer biblically consistent models to explain how we see faraway objects in space without attempting to tamper with the laws of physics. One such model is the anisotropic synchrony convention which is based on the fact—as Einstein recognized—that it is impossible to objectively measure the one-way speed of light. We instead must measure the round-trip speed of light and simply agree that the one-way speed must be half of the total. Read more about how this explanation would answer the question of how light from distant stars could reach earth within the time allowed in biblical history in ‘Distant Starlight’ and, for the more technically minded readers, ‘Anisotropic Synchrony Convention - A Solution to the Distant Starlight Problem.‘ “ 

I looked up the longer and funnier article on Distant Starlight (The Anisotropic Synchrony Convention) by Dr. Jason Lisle that was posted on December 8, 2010 rather than the brief one posted on February 24, 2010 that they now link to. He uses Einstein’s physics (relativity) as an excuse to sneak in a magical assumption:

“A less-well-known aspect of Einstein’s physics is that the speed of light in one direction cannot be objectively measured, and so it must be stipulated (agreed upon by convention). This stands in contrast to the round-trip speed of light, which is always constant.

For example, if light travels from A to B and then back to A, it will always take the same amount of time to make the trip (because its speed is always the same), and that time is objectively measurable. However, the time it takes to go just from A to B, or just from B to A is not objectively measurable. So the speed of light in one direction must be stipulated.”

Then he uses a silly example that would call for an absurdly long hallway (78% of the distance from the earth to the moon):

“We can calculate the round-trip speed of light. Let’s say, for example, we shine a light down a long hallway and it reflects off a mirror. If our stopwatch says it takes 2 seconds to go round trip, we can be sure of this time.

While we can be certain of the round-trip time, we cannot be certain of the time it took the light to travel to the mirror or the time it took to return.

We might assume that it takes light an equal amount of time to travel each direction.

However, the light could travel at different speeds for each direction.”

The simple solution where light has the same speed and takes the same time each way is shown above. That’s what you’d pick using Occam’s Razor.

But, that isn’t what Jason picks. As shown above, he makes a very peculiar assumption that the time in one direction is zero (and so the speed is infinite). It’s exactly what he needs to magically make that distant starlight problem vanish.

In the paragraph headed Distant Starlight he tries to explain:

“So we may choose to regard the speed of light as being instantaneous when travelling toward us, providing the round-trip speed (in empty space) is always 186,000 miles per second. In this case, the light from distant stars takes no time at all to reach the earth since the light is travelling toward us. So distant starlight is not an issue.

This convention could be called the ‘anisotropic synchrony convention,’ or ASC, because it claims that light travels at different speeds in different directions (anisotropic). Of course, it’s perfectly fair to use other conventions as well.

Einstein tells us that we may freely choose which convention to use. For the sake of simplicity, most physicists choose to regard light as moving at the same speed in all directions (isotropic). However, there is no fundamental reason that we cannot use ASC instead.”

In their discussion of this topic the Rational Wiki points out:

“One of the main problems with ASC, as a proof that there is no starlight problem in creationism, is that the use of a particular convention doesn't necessarily mean that the reality changes to match it.”

Then on June 18th at Answers in Genesis Danny Faulkner complained:

“More troubling was what appeared to be a direct response to biblical creationists that appeared in several episodes. For instance, in episode four, ‘A Sky Full of Ghosts,’ Tyson compared the idea that the universe is billions of years old to the possibility of the universe being only six or seven thousand years old. Why did the writers of that episode pick that particular age, if not to denigrate those who believe in biblical creation?”

Quit griping! You asked for it, and then you got it.