Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Should fear of negative self-talk be on Top Ten lists of fears?

Back on July 1st the web site had an article titled Fear of Public Speaking: Our #1 Fear is Talking to Someone Else that began with the nonsensical claim that:

“Every year, the survey engines around America release the ten biggest fears list, and at the top of the list, every single year, is Fear Of Public Speaking. Death is number two or three most of the time.”

Obviously they never saw the 2001 (and 1998) Gallup Polls reported with the title Snakes Top List of Americans’ Fears.

But,'s article title got me thinking about talking to ourselves (self-talk) versus talking with other people. That isn’t on Top Ten fear lists, because the question isn’t being asked in surveys.

Negative self talk clearly is a problem. In a July 2013 blog post at Life Practice for Schools Gaynor Dawson described it as being:

“ having a poison parrot in your head, which just won’t shut up.”

The negative self-talk problem  appears in blog posts and articles about public speaking. At No Freaking Speaking Matt Abraham discussed Be Kind To Yourself: Managing Your Self-Talk and Fear Stories To Reduce Speaking Anxiety. Sandra Zimmer wrote at length about Self-Talk: What You Say to Yourself Determines Your Experience.

There also are brief discussions at medical web sites like Turn Down Negative Self-Talk at Web MD, and Positive thinking: Stop negative self-talk to reduce stress at the Mayo Clinic. Down in Australia at the Center for Clinical Interventions there is a detailed nine-module course on Improving Self-Esteem.

The image of a Blue-eyed cockatoo came from Christian Paul Stobbe on Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Storytelling and The Simpsons

Right now I’m enjoying watching the Every Simpsons Ever cable TV ultra-marathon that will include all 552 episode which have appeared over the last 25 years. NPR’s Fresh Air Weekend has an article about it. There are three things can we learn about storytelling from The Simpsons

Say something new

For the opening of each episode Bart writes something different on the blackboard in the schoolroom, and the couch gag (where the whole family gathers in the living room) is new.

In Homer Defined he averts meltdowns at two nuclear plants just by dumb luck and gets his name in the dictionary.

In Lisa the Iconoclast two brand new words appeared, embiggen and cromulent. Sprinfield’s town motto is Jebediah Springfield’s statement that:

"A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man."

Don’t be afraid to tell stories on more than one level

In A Streetcar Named Marge there is a subplot where Maggie is sent to a strict day care center whose director confiscates all the pacifiers, and puts here alone in a play pen. Maggie retrieves the pacifiers from a locker in a sequence that can be enjoyed just as an elaborate sight gag. But, her solitary confinement quotes from Steve McQueen’s role in the World War II prisoner of war film The Great Escape (including the theme music).

One couch gag has the family in cowboy hats, and then the couch drops below the floor revealing they are above the clouds. Then it falls toward the ground. That’s funny as is, but also is a movie reference to the scene in Dr. Strangelove where the pilot, Major Kong, rides a hydrogen bomb like a bucking bronco.  

What should we avoid?

Don’t try to cram in too much information. Every 22-minute episode contains way more material than is in an 18-minute TED talk.

Friday, August 22, 2014

My gut reaction to Greg Gutfeld is disgust

Yesterday evening I was watching The Simpsons cartoon ultra-marathon on cable TV. During commercials I flipped channels to see what else was on. At Fox News Greg Gutfeld was filling in for Bill O’Reilly and wearing his reading glasses sometimes, like he does as one of the hosts on The Five.

Back on October 22, 2009 on the Get in Front Communications blog Susan Young discussed 99 Ways to Improve Your Communication. Her way #69 is to:

“Avoid keeping your reading glasses on and ‘looking down your nose’ when speaking to others.”

More recently Matt Christian tweeted that:

“When Greg Gutfeld has his reading glasses on, he looks like Geppetto if he’d made a RealDoll.”

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Having to give an elevator speech is the most commonly feared networking situation

There have been two recent surveys about social fears that rank which situations about business networking people find scary. I blogged about one on U.S. adults reported in a 2008 magazine article by Ruscio et al. Also, I blogged about another on adults in both developed and developing countries  in a 2010 magazine article.

A bar chart shown above lists the fears ranked from most common to least common. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer version). For both (US adults) and [adults in 9 developed countries] they come in the same order:

Public speaking/performance (21.2%) [13.0%]
Speaking up in meeting/class (19.5%) [12.5%]
Meeting new people (16.8%) [8.8%]
Talking to people in authority (14.7%) [8.6%]
Talking with strangers (13.1%) [6.9%]
Entering an occupied room (11.9%) [6.7%]

For developing countries the order is slightly different. Both articles also list phobias.

Giving an elevator speech is one kind of speaking up in a meeting. It is the second most common fear, after public speaking/performance. Yet, it is something that is expected when you attend networking events. Thus it calls for lots of your attention. 

Starting in late April on his No Sweat Public Speaking web site Fred E. Miller discussed how to craft an elevator speech. He divided the process into seven floors:

First Floor: Describe who you are.

Second Floor: Describe what you do.

Third Floor: Describe your expertise.

Fourth Floor: Describe why they hire you.

Fifth Floor: Your WHY (the DNA of your elevator speech).

Sixth Floor: More WHY they hire you.

Seventh Floor: What you deliver (Your Ultimate Selling Proposition)

Fred also mentioned an eighth floor, which is where you ask a person you are talking to one-on-one about what they do. 

This post was inspired by a comment in a lengthy discussion on the LinkedIn Public Speaking Network group on the topic of “Is ‘The Fear of Public Speaking’  a misnomer?”  Susan RoAne had commented that our greatest fear was not public speaking, but rather was walking into a roomful of strangers. I think she got that from a three-decade old New York Times article that I have blogged about. Last November I had blogged about fears in networking situations, and even emailed her about that post. 

The image of an elevator door in Vancouver, Washington came from Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Measure twice, and then cut once

Measure twice, cut once is an old proverb that cautions us to check our work. There are several ways to put the pieces together when designing and building any project. That includes writing a speech. Making the transitions between them smooth (gap free) is an important detail.

In October 2012 Diane Windingland blogged about how Transitions in Your Speech Bridge the Gap. In August 2013 Andrew Dlugan blogged about Speech Transitions: Magical Words and Phrases such as:





Norrm Abram used Measure Twice, Cut Once: lessons from a master carpenter as the title for his 1996 book of essays. (One essay is even titled Measure Twice, Cut Once, but Don’t Measure at All if You Can Avoid It. Fitting the last piece of siding in a row on a house is a situation where you are better to just hold it in place and mark it).  

For the cat scratcher box I discussed on August 1st, I used butt joints on the sides.  I chose to make both visible on the long sides. As shown above, I also could have put them both on the short sides, or one on each side. Or, I could have gotten fancy and cut 45-degree miters on all four corners to almost hide them, like for a picture frame. 

By the way, the oldest version of the proverb I could find comes from the Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini (1500 - 1571), who said to the Pope that:

“It must, most blessed Father, be allowed that in those cases where men are risking all upon one throw, it is not wrong to do as certain poor and simple men are wont to say, who tell us we must mark seven times and cut once.”

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Robin Williams, improv, and answering questions

This week I was deeply saddened to hear that comedian and actor Robin Williams had committed suicide. Back in 2001 he appeared on Inside the Actor’s Studio. In the four-minute video clip shown above he improvises starting with a shawl, and creates (among others) the Indian director of a musical film “Whose Sari Now?”,  an Iron Chef, a bullfighter, and finally a car driving out of a car wash.

Answering questions during a speech requires developing impromptu speaking skills, and studying improv can help. Pages 20 and 21 in the June issue of Toastmaster magazine have a brief article by Thomas Piccin about Speaking Off the Cuff.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

12 most commonly feared social or performance situations for university students in Pisa

Recently at PMC I found a magazine article from Italy by Liliana Dell’Osso et al. titled Dimensional Assessment of DSM-5 Social Anxiety Symptoms Among University Students and Its Relationship with Functional Impairment. It appeared in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 2014, volume 10, on pages 1325 to 1332. They surveyed a sample of  717 students at the University of Pisa (440 women and 277 men, ages 18 to 28). Students filled out the SHY-SR, which is an exhaustive list of 168 yes-no questions that you can read here.

Table 3 of the article lists 12 most commonly feared social or performance situations, feared by more than 60% of students, which are shown above in a bar chart. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer version).

The most common fear (71.4%) was question [#36], Have you often felt more comfortable in small groups?

Six other fear questions began with Have you often felt embarrassed or uncomfortable:

2nd (70.0%) [#150] when you had to express romantic feelings to someone you liked?

5th (63.9%) [#108] that you might black out while performing or taking an oral examination?

7th (63.0%) [#105] when taking an oral examination?

9th (62.1%) [#103] when speaking, singing, or dancing in front of others?

10th (61.5%) [#146] when you had to ask someone you liked to go out on a date, a movie, to dinner, or a dance?

11th (61.2%) [104] when performing in front of an audience?

Three other fear questions began with When you were a child or adolescent, do you remember or have you been told that:

3rd (66.7%) [#9] you felt embarrassed and uncomfortable speaking with people you didn’t know very well?

4th (64.0%) [#1] you were very shy?

8th (63.0%) [#11] you didn’t want to go to school because you were afraid that the other children would not stay with you and you would feel embarrassed and uncomfortable?

The other two questions that rounded out the top twelve were:

6th (63.6%) [#26] Have you often felt that you were physically unattractive?

12th (60.4%) [#109] Do you worry a lot about having to perform in public or taking an oral examination, for any of these reasons?

These are very curious results which illustrate that the answers you get depends crucially on the questions you ask. I was surprised that blacking out while performing or taking an oral examination ranked 5th and worrying was 12th. Dell’Osso et al. explained that:

“In addition, we found a high frequency of endorsement of ‘Do you worry a lot about having to perform in public or taking an oral examination?’. This finding is probably because, in Italian universities, unlike in other countries, most examinations are orally performed in front of other students.”

In January 2013 I posted about Did you ever worry about blacking out while performing or during an oral exam? and was surprised that their previous study of high school students had ranked it first.

Perhaps there is an inside joke by clinical psychologists in having chosen the acronym SHY-SR. It can be pronounced as scheisser (a German obscenity for one who defecates).

Since this survey does not cover specific fears there is no locally relevant question:

“Have you often felt afraid of falling from the top of a leaning tower?”

Yair Haklai’s image of the leaning tower came from Wikimedia Commons. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Was yesterday really National Public Speaker Day?

Not quite. (As shown above, it was just another hot summer day). It  popped up yesterday at the start of a post on THE ONE THING blog:

“Today, we recognize National Public Speaker Day, a day that celebrates an activity that has most of this blog audience collectively grimacing. In honor of this day, we dove into the backstory of one of our favorite speakers. Our very own, Jay Papasan.

Does the thought of speaking to a crowd of people put your stomach in knots? You’re not alone. 75 percent of people fear public speaking – making it one of the most common phobias around. Best-selling author and speaker,  Jay Papasan, experienced it too.  While we know he captivates us when he heads on stage to deliver The ONE Thing’s message, those who’ve seen him talk might be surprised to find out that Jay is a borderline introvert. Speaking to a room full of people isn’t exactly one of his natural behaviors.”

That post was titled How Jay Papasan Lined Up His Dominoes to Speak Publically with Confidence. It’s worth reading, but that first paragraph really is superfluous.

If you Google the phrase "National Public Speaker Day" you will get just four hits. That is a clue that something is amiss, and further research is required before posting. Actually yesterday instead was Professional Speakers Day. It is listed in a thick reference book for holidays called Chase’s Calendar of Events. The description says:

PROFESSIONAL SPEAKERS DAY. Aug 7. A day celebrating the consummate professionals who through their oratorical skills help people. For info: Jim Barber, 1101 Marcano Blvd, Plantation, FL 33322. Phone: (954) 476-9252. Fax: (954) 424-0309.

It lists both an email address and a web home page giving a 404 (page not found) error.

We already have both Freedom From Fear of Public Speaking Day in July and National Speak Up and Succeed Day in January. Both days also are listed Chase’s Calendar of Events. You probably can find it by calling the reference librarian at your friendly local public library. That book is a useful source for trivia when you are an emcee, like the Toastmaster for a Toastmasters club meeting. 

The image of a summer day was adapted from the 1903 Puck’s Midsummer Medley.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Is stage fright just “The American Disease”?

On the third Thursday of each month Thomas Dillon writes a column in The Japan Times  titled When East Marries West. On July 16th  it was Ten tips for shaking stage fright, aka ‘the American disease’. His humorous tips were:

1. Keep in mind - no matter what happens - 1 billion Chinese won’t give a hoot.

2. Imagine the entire audience is sitting there naked - a vision guaranteed to make you grin and relax.

3. Imagine the entire room filled with clones of someone you love and trust.

4. Wear your lucky shirt.

5. Encourage yourself by focusing on good memories.

6. Whisper your own words of encouragement.

7. Create a distraction. You know, to take the pressure off. For example, you might release some small animal in the back of the room.

8. Come out smiling and don’t stop. Smile, smile, smile.

9. Even if you goof up the world’s not gonna end.

10. Don’t forget your audience. They’re Japanese. They will be polite, graceful and responsive even if they don’t understand.

Mr. Dillon’s description of stage fright as being “The American Disease” surprised me. Perhaps over  in Japan it’s no big deal compared with our obsession. I found a magazine article from 2001 in Japanese Psychological Research written by C. B. Pribyl, J. Keaten, and M. Sakamoto that mentioned why. It is titled The effectiveness of a skills-based program in reducing public speaking anxiety. Their opening paragraph noted:

“American students have numerous opportunities to learn and practice presentation skills in both high school and college. In contrast, public speaking has played a minor role in Japanese education. However, the Ministry of Education is calling for renewed emphasis on oral skills, and this has prompted Japanese educators to reconsider their position.”

The cropped and flipped 1856 election poster for John C. Fremont came from Wikimedia Commons.    

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

How not to give a self-erasing speech

Last weekend on A Prairie Home Companion rerun Garrison Keillor’s comic monologue of the News From Lake Wobegon included a hilarious description of the commencement speech given at their high school:

“He spoke for about 20 minutes about the importance of communication, as he was demonstrating how not to do it. It was one of those self-erasing speeches, you know.

You come to the end of it and you clap and  you can’t remember what this was about. About communication, or communism, or the state of Connecticut, or what it was.”

You can download a free podcast here. That speech is discussed at the 9-minute mark.

How can you avoid giving a forgettable speech? Pay attention to structure, particularly the ending. In an article on page 26 of Poster, the National Cancer Institute Frederick newsletter, for March 2012 Ken Michaels referred to Keillor’s monologue and discussed how to Finish a Presentation without Erasing Yourself. When you are going from a scientific magazine article to writing a speech, it is tempting to keep the same structure and wind up with acknowledgements at the end. That’s a weak way to finish, but you need a strong one. 

I’ve blogged about Don’t End by Driving Your Audience Off a Cliff. Fred E. Miller also has discussed Closing Your Speech, and  Peter Jeff described 10 Ways to End Your Speech with a Bang.

The eraser image came from Wikimedia Commons, and the image of a man at the microphone came from Openclipart.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

A free e-textbook from The Public Speaking Project

Back in 2009 I blogged about a free e-book with 13 chapters being prepared by the American Communication Association and then called The ACA Open Knowledge Guide to Public Speaking. Now it is called The Public Speaking Project.  It has 18 free chapters with the following titles:

1. Introduction to Public Speaking

2. The Origins of Public Speaking

3. Ethics in Public Speaking

4. Listening Effectively

5. Audience Analysis

6. Critical Thinking and Reasoning

7. Supporting Your Ideas

8. Organizing and Outlining

9. Introductions and Conclusions

10. Using Language Well

11. Speaking with Confidence

12. Delivering Your Speech

13. Visual Aids

14. Speaking to a Global Audience

15. Informative Speaking

16. Persuasive Speaking

17. Special Occasion Speaking

18. Group Presentations

Friday, August 1, 2014

Things that almost design themselves

Sometimes a product, a speech, or a blog post almost designs itself. That can happen when you already have the parts (ideas) at your fingertips.

A couple weeks ago my sister Sally, who has several cats, asked me if I could build her something wooden and sturdier than what she had recently bought. She had a Planet Petco Cardboard Ramp Cat Scratcher, but her cats had gang tackled and destroyed it. She wanted it to hold a 9”x18”x1-3/4” Planet Petco Double Wide Cardboard Cat Scratcher Refill. Are those dimensions compatible with standard lumber? Yes!

The 9” width of that refill is very slightly narrower than the 9-1/4” actual width of a piece of nominally 1x10” lumber (which actually is 3/4” thick). Surrounding a piece of 1x10 with four pieces of 1x3 lumber (which is actually 2-3/8” wide) would produce a box with a 1-5/8” deep pocket for holding the corrugated cardboard refill. Another 12" piece of 1x10 could be attached to the back of the box to make it a ramp.

So, I went to Home Depot and bought a 6' long 1x10, and had them cut it to two 18-1/4” lengths, and two 12” lengths. Also, I bought a couple of 8' pieces of 1x3. I cut the 1x3 lumber with my little mitre box, and used 2” long drywall screws to assemble two scratchers as shown above, one for Sally and one for our cats. (I included a pair of pine shims at the left to lock the refill in place).     

The new scratcher was a big hit with Sally's cats. One had a unique approach. Most of them like to scratch uphill, but he likes to also scratch downhill.