Sunday, November 29, 2015

A video where mediocre delivery overrides the content

Recently I watched Ben Angel’s 14-minute YouTube video titled How to Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking and Become More Influential. The content is OK, but the delivery fails five ways.

First, the title is misleading, almost backwards. His content comes from an unreferenced  2014 blog post more accurately labeled 5 Things Influential Speakers Do That Others Don’t. Five steps with headings in the video (and their times) are:

Energetic Engagement (1:06)
Manage Your Look (6:49) 
Dealing with Attacks or Criticism (7:43)
Presentation Structure (9:03)
Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking (11:41)

About 4/5th of the way through Ben finally gets around to really talking about how to overcome your fear (using visualization).

Second, although he talks about managing your look his set is distracting. Left of the sofa is a tall cylindrical container of twigs, switches, or canes. Are they decorative, or are they kinkily functional (Fifty Shades of Grey)? At the right is an imposing unlit floor lamp that resembles a crane. The shade is just to the right of his head, so my eyes were repeatedly drawn to it. It is the Elephant in the Room. Eventually I started hoping Ben would act out the classic drunken party joke by putting the lampshade over his head. It looks like a nearly perfect fit. 

Third, the zoom keeps toggling from wide enough to show all his hand gestures to slightly too narrow, and then back again. That’s as irritating as a hearing a dripping faucet. There are 103 zoom changes, or an average of one every 7.2 seconds. I concluded whoever had the camera must have attended the Take Two Breaths and Then Zoom school of video production. Zoom is the visual equivalent of cowbell in a rock song like (Don’t Fear) The Reaper, and usually we don’t need More Cowbell.  

Fourth, some of his gestures aren’t engaged with the audience. Instead they are done from his viewpoint, and appear backwards to the audience. Watch at 2:30 when Ben says to picture a scale from zero (right) to ten (left). 

When you think about it for a minute that scale really should be vertical (higher is up, not to the left), since he needs to discuss how energy varies over time.

Also watch at 11:26 where he talks about visualization, and at 13:00 says rewind while his hands instead say fast forward. 

Ben needs a warning (shown above) to stop gesturing backwards. 

Fifth, at 1:03 he says to:

“Grab a pen and paper and jot this down. Step one: energetically engage your audience.”

That’s not engagement. It’s just smug superiority.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Thing Explainer - the joy of simplicity

Back in September 2013 I blogged about Funneling your big ideas through a small vocabulary. That post began from one of Randall Munroe’s xkcd cartoons called Up Goer 5. It explained the Saturn 5 moon rocket using a line drawing that had captions limited to a vocabulary of just a thousand words. Funneling ideas through a limited vocabulary is an excellent antidote for our usual wallowing in jargon.   

On November 24th Randall’s book Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words appeared at He again uses line drawings and a thousand-word vocabulary to describe things like the International Space Station (Shared Space House), Cells (Tiny Bags of Water You’re Made Of), the Mars Rover (Red World Space Car), and organs in the human body (Bags of Stuff Inside You).

Go to, and click to zoom the Look Inside  feature for a preview. You’ll probably enjoy reading his explanations.   

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Something free - A Thanksgiving Reader from Seth Godin

Most of the time I enjoy reading Seth Godin’s blog. On November 16th he had the thoughtful A Thanksgiving Reader that you can download. Happy Thanksgiving!

The Thanksgiving image was adapted from a 110 year old Puck magazine at the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A missing piece explaining American attitudes toward preparing for disasters

An October 13th blog post about the 2015 Chapman Survey of American Fears titled Americans Need A Disaster Reality Check began by stating:

“In our survey we asked a random sample of Americans about fears of natural and man-made disasters. We then asked whether they had taken recommended preparedness steps such as assembling an emergency kit.

More than half of all Americans [55 percent] fear they will experience a natural or manmade disaster. And some 28 percent fear such a disaster will damage their property.

A whopping 86 percent believe an emergency supply kit, such as a 72-hour kit recommended by FEMA or the Red Cross would improve their chances of surviving a disaster. Nevertheless, 72 percent have made no effort to put together such a kit. WHY?”

I looked in their Complete Survey Results and found the question about experiencing a disaster was at the top of page 86. Answers were four levels of disagreement or agreement:

1 = Strongly Disagree
2 = Disagree
3 = Agree
4 = Strongly Agree

 and the question was:

 “Please indicate your level of agreement with the following:
I will experience a significant natural or manmade disaster in my lifetime.”

8.8% Strongly Agreed, and 46.5% Agreed, for a total of  55.3%, as was quoted. (35.9% Disagreed, and 8.8% Strongly Disagreed).

But, there was another question at the bottom of page 85, which instead asked:

“Please indicate your level of agreement with the following:
I will experience a significant natural or manmade disaster in the near future.”

For that question only 4.4% Strongly Agreed, and 21.5% Agreed, for a total of just 26%. A majority, 59.1%, Disagreed and 14.9% Strongly Disagreed.  

As shown above, there is a huge difference between in my lifetime (which could cover many decades) and in the near future. People don’t bother to prepare since they think it can’t happen here or now. 

A WPA poster for The Big Blow came from the Library of Congress

Saturday, November 21, 2015

One chart to rule them all

In a Dilbert cartoon titled The Generic Graph on November 18th, the pointy haired boss explained that:

“The company is standardizing on this one chart.”

which was why he had used it yesterday for the travel budget and today for the sales estimate. (It also could work for coffee consumption and Bigfoot sightings).

What is that chart for? Does it show what was (history), what is (current data), or what will be (a prediction we hope will come true)?

Look more carefully. How much data was used to draw that line?  Perhaps the curve just is a spline interpolation that exactly fits those three gray points. Would a fitted straight line have been more honest?

You can’t really expect to use just one chart type. At Perceptual Edge there is a Graph Selection Matrix that includes lines, points, bars, and boxes. At they discuss Time Series Graphs & Eleven Stunning Ways You Can Use Them.

One chart came from Tolkien’s One Ring.

Friday, November 20, 2015

KRC Pulse Poll on American fears found the most common five were heights, public speaking, failure, spiders, and small spaces

In advance of Halloween on October 21st, KRC Research posted a press release titled America’s Biggest Fears and subtitled KRC’s Pulse Poll Reveals Which Phobias Are Most Common. Those were:

Heights 33% (Acrophobia)
Public speaking 32% (Glossophobia)
Failure 31% (Atychiphobia)
Spiders 28% (Arachnophobia)
Small spaces 16% (Claustrophobia)
Flying 13% (Aviophobia)
Germs 13% (Mysophobia)
Needles 13% (Trypanophobia)
Ghosts 9% (Phasmophobia)

They polled 507 adults in August, but didn’t mention that the margin of error was 4.35%. Based on that margin the first three aren’t significantly different. What were the top ten fears? Who knows, since they only looked at nine, although a Top Ten likely would be much more popular.

A bar chart shows those nine fears without their phobia names. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer view). Failure isn’t usually included in surveys, although it was the greatest fear for both women and men in a fear survey schedule from back in 1992.

The image of a pumpkin patch by Carol M. Highsmith came from the Library of Congress. I drew a face on one.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What to do with your hands

Yesterday the On Leadership section at the Washington Post had an interesting article on gestures by Jena McGregor and Shelly Tan titled What to do with your hands when speaking in public. It used graphics and animations to nicely illustrate that topic. Their main points were:

1]   Keep hand movements descriptive.

2]   Use open palm gestures to build the audience’s trust.

3]   Keep your hands in the strike zone when possible.

4]   Don’t point. Just don’t.

5]   Politicians love to use the Clinton thumb. Most people shouldn’t.

6]   When you don’t know what to do, drop your hands to your sides for a moment.

7]   Avoid drawing attention to the wrong places.

8]   Conducting is for orchestras, not public speaking

9]   Keep objects out of your hands.

10] If behind a lectern, show your hands.

11] Avoid “spider hands.”

If you are tall enough to play pro basketball, then your “strike zone” (#3) won’t be hidden by a typical lectern (#10). If you’re short, you could skip being hidden by instead using the top of a chair or stool to hold your notes. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Shutting the stable door after the horse is stolen

On November 6th someone anonymously commented twice on my post from October 2, 2012 titled Rock Water: the Bach Flower Remedy for perfectionism that doesn’t contain any flowers. He (or she) said that I should have tried the flower remedies before writing skeptically about them. But, I already wrote that post over three years ago, and I’m not going to apologize now for doing it. In three previous posts I had already discussed the lack of evidence for effectiveness of the flower remedies.

That comment is just shutting the stable door after the horse is stolen, a proverb shown above in a cartoon adapted from one back in 1884. It is a pointless form of heckling.

Friday, November 13, 2015

A really big bench for a morning break

This morning I had to chuckle when I saw saw four construction workers taking a break to discuss what would happen next on a nearly complete road project.

Their truck wasn’t parked nearby, so they improvised by using the 10-foot wide bucket of a Caterpillar wheel loader for seating. By the way, that CAT 966H is described as only a Medium Wheel Loader.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

How is a story like a can of beans? It also has a Best By Date.

Sometimes it is easy to tell when a story is past the Best By Date. A brief article by Natalie Walters at Business Insider on November 2nd is titled 11 tips to stop saying ‘um’ forever. It  repeated an infographic, but opens with the Startling Statistic that:

“Public speaking is the No. 1 phobia in America, according to The Chapman University Survey on American Fears.”

She linked to a Washington Post article from October 30, 2014 about last year’s survey. But this year’s survey came out on October 13, 2015, and it ranked public speaking at 26th not 1st - which is a lot less startling.   

Other times a story is past the Best By Date because it simply has become a tired cliche. Last Halloween Rich Hopkins discussed that problem when he made Another Visit to Speak & Deliver’s Story Graveyard.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

YouGov survey done in 2014 found U.S. adults were less than A Little Afraid of public speaking

How high is that fear?

On October 30th I blogged about how According to the 2015 Chapman Survey of American Fears, adults are less than Afraid of federal government Corruption and only Slightly Afraid of Public Speaking. In that post I discussed how the four answers people chose to reply to questions could be put onto a numerical scale by calculating a Fear Score.

Back in 2014 YouGov did a smaller survey of 13 fears in U.S. adults that also had four answers. I blogged about it 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. The four fear levels were:

1 = Not afraid at all

2 = Not really afraid

3 = A little afraid

4 = Very afraid

A fear score also can be calculated from those four answers for each question tabulated in the Acrobat .pdf file of their data. The formula simply is a weighted average of the percentages expressed as proportions:

Fear Score = [ 1x(% for Not Afraid at All) 
                      +  2x(% for Not Really Afraid)
                     + 3x(% for A Little Afraid) 

                     + 4x(% for Very Afraid)]/100

A bar chart shows the results. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer version). The five greatest fears were snakes (2.8), heights (2.63), public speaking (2.55), spiders (2.41), and being closed in a small space (2.24). Flying on an airplane (2.13) was 6th, mice (1.96) was 7th, needles and getting shots (1.90) was 8th, darkness (1.84) was 9th, and crowds (1.83) was 10th. Blood (1.74) was 11th, dogs (1.64) was 12th, and clowns (1.46) was 13th.

Another bar chart shows the sum of the percentages for Very Afraid and A Little Afraid. It ranks the results in the same order as the Fear Score chart, with the slight exception of darkness and crowds.

As shown above, those Fear Score results only covered 1.34 of the available 3.0 range, and didn’t include the highest 1.2 or the lowest 0.46. Adults were not even A Little Afraid of anything.

The fear score gives a balanced view of the answers for a question. Take public speaking as an example. 23% were Not Afraid at All, 22% were Not Really Afraid, 36% were A Little Afraid, and 20% were Very Afraid.

UPDATE  November 15, 2015

Another bar chart shows how the Fear Score for public speaking varied with gender, age, region, family income, politics, and ethnicity. One significant result is that women (2.70) were more afraid than men (2.36). 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Free places to learn more about public speaking

At on November 3rd Larry Kim wrote about 9 Places to Learn Public Speaking Skills for Free. (He actually mentioned 11 places including Andrew Dlugan’s Six Minutes blog, which is this blog in my list titled Other Sites of Interest).

It’s useful to have other people point out their favorites, rather than just vaguely pointing us to TED talks or YouTube. Some TED talks are mentioned here.

There is some great content on YouTube, but it is buried among tons of junk like puppies pooping. For example, Matt Abrahams has an hour-long discussion about impromptu speaking titled Think Fast, Talk Smart: Communication Techniques. You might also search via the phrase “Talks at Google,” and find presentations like Carmine Gallo’s 53-minute one on his book Talk Like TED.

The image was adapted from an old WPA poster found at the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Dave Paradi’s 2015 Annoying PowerPoint Survey again found the most common annoyance was speakers reading their slides

In October Dave Paradi reported the results from his biennial Annoying PowerPoint Survey. The four most common annoyances were:

71.7%  - The speaker read the slides to us. 

48.6%  - Full sentences for text.

47.7%  - Text too small to read.

36.9%  - Visuals too complex.

As shown above, speakers reading slides is a recurring problem and  ~2/3 to ~3/4 of participants were annoyed. On June 10th I also discussed this topic.

The image was adapted from a Puck magazine cartoon about If Moses came down today found at the Library of Congress.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Resfeber and public speaking

At my public library I found an interesting book from 2014 by Ella Frances Sanders titled Lost In Translation: An illustrated compendium of untranslatable words from around the world.

One is the Swedish noun Resfeber defined as:

“The restless beat of a traveler’s heart before the journey begins, a mixture of anxiety and anticipation.”

If a speech is like a journey, then that word expresses very well what a speaker feels, and hopefully what the audience does as a story is told.

That book covers the following 52 words (listed in alphabetical order):

Ákihi (Hawaiian)

Boketto (Japanese)

Cafuné (Brazilian Portuguese)
Commuovere (Italian)
Cotisuelto (Caribbean Spanish)

Drachenfutter (German)

Feuillemort (French)
Fika (Swedish)
Forelsket (Norwegian)

Gezellig (Dutch)
Glas wen (Welsh)
Goya (Urdu)
Gurfa (German)

Hiraeth (Welsh)

Iktsuarpok (Inuit)
Jayus (Indonesian)
Jugaad (Hindi)

Kabelsalat (German)
Kalpa (Sanskrit)
Karelu (Tulu)
Kilig (Tagalog)
Komorebi (Japanese)
Kummerspeck (German)

Luftmensch (Yiddish)

Mamihlapinatapai (Yaghan)
Mångata (Swedish)
Meraki (Greek)
Murr-ma (Wagiman)

Naz (Urdu)
Nunchi (Korean)

Pålegg (Norwegian)
Pisan zapra (Malay)
Poronkusema (Finnish)

Razliubit (Russian)
Resfeber (Swedish)

Samar (Arabic)
Saudade (Portuguese)
Sgriob (Gaelic)
Shlimazel (Yiddish)
Struisvogelpolitiek (Dutch)
Szimpatikus (Hungarian)

Tíam (Farsi)
Tíma (Icelandic)
Trepverter (Yiddish)
Tretår (Swedish)
Tsundoku (Japanese)

Ubuntu (Nguni Bantu)

Vacilando (Spanish)

Wabi-sabi (Japanese)
Waldeinsamkeit (German)
Warmduscher (German)

Ya’aburnee (Arabic)

On March 3rd I blogged about seven Concepts and words from far away, which included both jugaad and wabi-sabi.

The EKG image came from Wikimedia Commons.