Monday, February 29, 2016

Is “improved” software choking your computer?

On February 24th at BrightCarbon Richard Goring blogged about how:

“...actually, one of the biggest contributors to slow PowerPoint 2013 and 2016 performance are little animations, or smooth transitions between one state and the next that Microsoft included in an attempt to make everything fit a touch environment more easily.”

Then he discussed how to disable those superfluous features to speed up that software.

That reminded me of my experience when I updated my iMac from Version 6 to Version 13 of Adobe Photoshop Elements. I got many more features, but few obvious benefits. The old version started with one mouse click. The newer version has an extra step of asking whether I want to run the Organizer or the Photo Editor.

In speech writing it also is important to remember that your audience wants to know about benefits not just features. See the eZanga article Benefits vs. Features: Sell the hole, not the drill.

The image was modified from one posted by Alex E. Proimos at Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Dave Lieber’s humorous TEDx SMU talk on a story formula and The Dog of My Nightmares

On February 9th I blogged about a demonstration speech by Dallas newspaper columnist Dave Lieber on Starbucks hot drink cup sizes. Watch his 17-minute TEDx SMU talk on The Dog of My Nightmares.

Dave is an NSA Certified Speaking Professional. In a 2007 interview at Lorri Allen’s Soundbites blog he discussed how he got started speaking:

“I've been speaking since 1980. I was working for a small paper in Florida that paid me $200 a week, and I could barely live on that. So the paper paid me $5 a speech every time I went and appeared before a Rotary Club or other audience. I began giving two or three a week because that extra $15 really went a long way for me back then. I got so good at it so quickly that the publisher of the paper actually started giving me some of his speeches. And when I left the paper and had speeches scheduled, he took mine and filled in for me. He went on to become publisher of USA Today. That was almost 30 years ago, and now I give about 100 or more speeches a year across the nation. It's so much fun because unlike my writing, I can see the immediate reaction from audiences!”

Read his Utah Law Review article on I’m Going to Let You Walk Home.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Is having a mandatory public speaking course at a university a great idea or a terrible one?

The Cavalier Daily is the independent, student run newspaper at the University of Virginia. On February 24th opinion columnist Alyssa Imam had an article there titled We need a public speaking requirement.

I think being imprisoned by a mandatory requirement or course is a terrible idea because of its potential effect on students with a high level of communication apprehension (CA). Back in 2009 professor James C. McCroskey published an article titled Communication Apprehension: What We Have Learned in the Last Four Decades. Professor McCroskey said that:

“Clearly, public speaking classes are very beneficial to most students, those who are not high CAs. Requiring public speaking classes for high CAs may do as much harm, or even more, than they benefit these students.”

He also told the following story about his experiences at Penn State:

“…One evening I received a phone call at home from a Penn State psychologist. He asked me some questions about one of my students, wanting to know if this student was scheduled to present her speech the follow(ing) day. I informed them that she did. I asked him why he wanted to know. He informed me that they had just rescued this student from an attempt to commit suicide by jumping off the top of one of the highest buildings at the university. She had indicated that she just could not face having to give another speech. Needless to say, this shook me up. I had never noticed this student to be any more reticent than any other students. Obviously I could not recognize a reticent when I saw one! Years later, we learned that many high CAs are able to conceal their fears/anxieties. One cannot be sure what students are high CAs by looking at them, unless you have the skills equivalent to those of Phillips.

I talked to Phillips about this attempted suicide, and he expressed concern also. He informed me that there had been a number of suicides by students in recent years. He and I were able to get the administration to identify the students who had committed suicide and the enrollments in required public speaking classes. There were 14 suicides recorded, and all but one of those students were currently enrolled in required public speaking classes at the time of their death. Was this just coincidence? Possibly, but the odds are strongly against it.

In the process of looking at the lists of students in the required public speaking class, we accidentally identified a student who had enrolled for and dropped the class 12 times. He had a straight “A” record in engineering, but could not graduate because he had not passed the required public speaking class. Phillips located this student, got him into his reticent class, and he graduated…”

Back on October 18, 2009 I blogged about McCroskey’s article in a post titled Some college students really do fear public speaking more than death.

Ms. Imam also claimed that:

“One reason for making this a requirement is how widespread the fear of public speak(sic) is. Public speaking consistently ranks at the top in surveys about our fears, often being named more than death. This causes concern that the people who avoid taking those classes may also be those who need it the most.”

She linked to a November 2012 article by Glenn Croston titled The Thing We Fear More Than Death containing his opening ipse dixit which she raised from commonly to consistently:

“Surveys about our fears commonly show fear of public speaking at the top of the list.”  

In a comment on that article I had linked to an October 2012 post on this blog titled Either way you look at it, public speaking really is not our greatest fear. Another post from last October noted that 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. That survey ranked fear of public speaking way down at #26 out of 89 fears!

Universities have all sorts of mandatory requirements. For example, some Ph.D. programs have foreign language reading proficiency requirements. I only had a couple years of German back in high school. Back when deciding where to go for graduate school, I remember eliminating some universities based on wanting to avoid having to jump through that extra hoop.

An image of a prisoner was adapted from an 1898 theater poster at the Library of Congress.   

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Celebrating 1200 blog posts and over 600,000 page views

Yesterday was the 1201st post on this blog. The image shown above displays what 1200 schematic documents looks like.

I’m also celebrating getting over 600,000 page views, which is harder to visualize. According to Wikipedia that’s the population for the Albany-Schenectady urban area of new York  (594,962) or Baton Rouge, Louisiana (594,309). For Baton Rouge another way to visualize it is that the LSU Tiger Stadium has a capacity of 103,321 and if it was filled for six home games that would be 613,926 people.   

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A comic strip about the context for a very famous quote

Before you use a quotation you should check to see if it is out of context, as was discussed by Ashish Arora on February 9th in a post on the SketchBubble blog titled Six Rules for Making the Most of Quotations in Your Presentation.

One very famous quote by philosopher George Santayana is that :

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

On February 19th Zach Weinersmith’s comic strip Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal discussed how it was out of context by also showing the preceding sentence.

That quote comes from his 1905 book The Life of Reason and appears in Chapter XII - Flux and Constancy in Human Nature. The paragraph with that quote begins:

“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

It continues with:

“In the first stage of life the mind is frivolous and easily distracted; it misses progress by failing in consecutiveness and persistence. This is the condition of children and barbarians, in whom instinct has learned nothing from experience. In a second stage men are docile to events, plastic to new habits and suggestions, yet able to graft them on original instincts, which they thus bring to fuller satisfaction. This is the plane of manhood and true progress. Last comes a stage when retentiveness is exhausted and all that happens is at once forgotten; a vain, because unpractical, repetition of the past takes the place of plasticity and fertile readaptation. In a moving world readaptation is the price of longevity. The hard shell, far from protecting the vital principle, condemns it to die down slowly and be gradually chilled; immortality in such a case must have been secured earlier, by giving birth to a generation plastic to the contemporary world and able to retain its lessons. Thus old age is as forgetful as youth, and more incorrigible; it displays the same inattentiveness to conditions; its memory becomes self−repeating and degenerates into an instinctive reaction, like a bird's chirp.”

Monday, February 22, 2016

Do you suffer from the heartbreak of scriptophobia?

Wikipedia defines scriptophobia as a fear of writing in public. On February 17th tween book author Elizabeth Atkinson posted on her web site about how it was An inconvenient phobia for her that interfered with doing book signings. She mentioned adapting to overcome it. Elizabeth called it a quirky phobia.

Scriptophobia really isn’t that quirky. We know how common it is based on several surveys of social fears I have discussed in this blog. The National Comorbidity Survey done in the early 1990s found that 6.4% of U.S. adults (or roughly 1 in 16) feared writing while someone watches (versus 30.2% for public speaking). A very similar 6.9% of Canadian adults in Alberta and Manitoba had that fear. Writing in front of others was feared by 8.0% of Swedish adults and 5.5% of Swedish university students. Also 2.9% of young Israeli soldiers feared writing while being observed.

More recent surveys of social fears typically have combined that fear with fears of eating or drinking while being watched. Some surveys also list results for both a fear and the more severe phobia. In the National Comorbidity Survey Replication 8.1% of American adults feared Writing/eating/drinking while being watched while  5.3% had a phobia. In nine developed countries 4.4% had that fear while only 2.5% had a phobia, and in eleven developing countries 9.4% had that fear but only 1.6% had a phobia. Also, 5.0% of people in the Canadian military feared Writing/eating/drinking while someone watches.
A 1936 image of Evalyn Walsh Mclean signing her book Father Struck It Rich came from the Library of Congress.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Don’t get overwhelmed by TED talks

On December 17th at her Speak Up for Success blog Jezra Kaye posted her Public Speaking Tip 82: Don’t Let the “TED Talk” Style Intimidate You or Stand Between You and Making a Good Enough Speech.

She pointed out that you should not judge a talk by comparing it with a TED Talk. Why not?

Those talks are prepared (and recorded) via an elaborate process calling for much more time and effort than a typical speech like a business presentation. They sometimes even are “the speech of a lifetime” and result from a lot of hard-won experience.

I previously blogged about Chris Hadfield’s TED Talk on What I Learned from Going Blind in Space. Last March Carmine Gallo wrote about How Steve Jobs Made Presentations Look Effortless. He mentioned:

“You might assume that a particular speaker is naturally gifted, confident, and polished on stage. What you don’t see is that it took them years of practice to get there. When I interviewed astronaut Chris Hadfield who became a social media sensation with his weightless version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, I complimented him on his TED talk and the strength of his delivery. ‘I’ve been speaking for about 25 years,’ he reminded me.”
You can see Chris Hadfield's optimistic revised version of the late David Bowie's song Space Oddity here .

Monday, February 15, 2016

Temperature inversions in valleys

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, which marks the typical end of the temperature inversion season in Boise and the Treasure Valley that began around Thanksgiving Day. As shown above, normally temperature decreases as altitude increases. An inversion occurs when it instead increases. There is an example with weather ballon data in an article from KOAA-TV in Colorado Springs titled Why the Haze?

Typically this microclimate results when cold air gets trapped in a valley due to calm conditions. Then fog can form, and pollution from auto exhaust and wood burning can build up. Eventually a change in weather accompanied by winds breaks up the inversion. But meanwhile we get depressingly monotonous cloudy gray days while the nearby mountains (like the Bogus Basin ski area and Idaho City) have clear blue skies.

You can watch an amusingly speeded-up five-minute YouTube video from 2014 showing an 8 mile drive up to Bogus Basin. The sun shows up at an altitude of 5000 feet versus the 2700 feet for the Idaho Capitol building downtown (that appeared at about 1-minute in).

Another five-minute YouTube video titled What you never knew about treasure valley inversions discusses how they occur. Another three-minute YouTube video from the National Weather Service office in Medford, Oregon on The Inversion uses graphics rather than just words to explain inversions. A third brief BBC Weather video on Temperature Inversion describes how in a valley it may be 0 C (32 F) while the air above is at 12 C (54 F).

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Demonstration speech by Dave Lieber about Starbucks hot drink cup sizes

One of the joys of public speaking is finding excellent speakers you hadn’t seen before. Dave Lieber writes a column for consumers in The Dallas Morning News. His other web site is Watchdog Nation. Dave his discussed how Starbucks has their own private jargon for sizes that mixes English, Spanish, and Italian.  

Watch him in a YouTube video on Dave Lieber & Watchdog Nation Share the Starbucks Secret on TV (including how to drink free coffee there). His demonstration is humorous and memorable. It might be even better if he also pointed out that the cup sizes increase in steps of 4 ounces (a half-cup) as is shown below.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Demonstration Speech: A world of healthy snacks from your microwave

It’s Superbowl Sunday, so this afternoon and evening Americans will be consuming lots of greasy, salty snacks while watching the game on television.

Several years ago I gave a demonstration speech at my Toastmasters club that showed how to use a microwave oven to make healthier snacks. I showed them before and after cooking, and then passed around bags with samples.

Popcorn is one snack food that can be made healthier. As shown above, a plastic popper lets you use bulk popcorn without the fat found in those overpriced commercial bags. Then you can add spices like cayenne pepper, curry powder, or Chinese five-spice, salt, and some butter or margarine.

You can microwave a pair of tortillas on a dinner plate to make your own chips. Cook for thirty seconds, then turn them over and repeat. Regular tortillas might take about four minutes, while extra thin ones just about two. You can begin by rubbing a small amount of oil between the tortillas, and then salting them lightly. Break them into quarters after cooking.

You also can cook an Indian papadum on a dinner plate. Indian markets stock packages of these in several spicy flavors.

As shown above, you even can cook four Indonesian krupuk at a time. (Both uncooked and cooked ones are shown). Experiment to get the correct cooking time. You want the whole cracker to puff up (no raw edges), but don’t want to start burning them.

Friday, February 5, 2016

An excellent infographic on how to hack your anxiety about presenting

Some infographics aren’t useful. On January 27, 2016 Matt Abrahams posted an excellent one titled Hack Your Anxiety. He discusses nine situations based on three types of anxiety:

(Where you’re presenting)

Flip it

(To whom you are presenting)


(What you are trying to achieve)

Be present

Under Flip It he says:

“Since the physiological manifestations of anxiety are similar to excitement (e.g. increased heart rate). trick yourself into feeling good about presenting by seeing your physical reaction as excitement.”

An image of Theodore Roosevelt carrying an ax came from the Library of Congress.