Saturday, August 27, 2016

Stamp out fuzzy thinking: Please don’t confuse satire with reality

I got a laugh from reading an August 23rd article by Michael Deeds in the Idaho Statesman titled Idaho radio host gets epic beatdown from Neil deGrasse Tyson. Neal Larson had posted an opinion column at titled Larson: Neil deGrasse Tyson is a horse’s astrophysicist.

Unfortunately it was based on his having read an article at the satirical web site Clickhole from back on December 1, 2015 titled Awesome: When a little girl told Neil deGrasse Tyson she wanted to live on Jupiter, he completely shut her down.

Mr. Larson’s minimal research missed that the upper right corner of every Clickhole page is labeled ONION, INC. SITES. The Onion is a well-known satirical news site which hilariously claims it is America’s Finest News Source. Three other recent food-related articles at Clickhole are:

April 6. 2016: Major Blunder: Quaker Oats mistakenly printed Morgan Freeman’s obituary on the back of all its oatmeal boxes

April 15, 2016: PR Nightmare: Campbell’s is recalling 12 million cans of soup that still need another pinch of salt

June 20, 2016: A Bold Strategy: Heinz just rolled out a new ad campaign proudly proclaiming its ketchup makes you blind

Friday, August 26, 2016

The very persistent Pioneer Fire

Last August I blogged about Fighting wildland fires: Hotshots, helicopters, and whatever else it takes. On August 24th the Associated Press posted an article titled Crews battling 35 large, uncontained wildfires in the west.

One of those was the Pioneer fire here in Idaho. It began back on July 18th, about 8 miles north of Idaho City. As of yesterday it covered 160.5 square miles, which made it the third largest fire listed on Inciweb. It still was only 38% contained. It is located on rough terrain and is hard to reach even with dozers. Resources assigned to fighting it included 1847 people: 45 crews, 13 helicopters, 89 engines, 9 dozers, 36 water tenders, and 7 masticators. There is a large set of photos showing that firefighting effort. 

Much of the firefighting was done the old-fashioned way by crews like the Sawtooth Hotshots.

Airplanes also were involved, ranging from single-engine tankers (possibly an Air Tractor AT-802) up to the gigantic three-engine DC-10 Airtanker. There even was a video showing Canadian CL415 flying boat water bomber that reloaded by scooping water from a reservoir.  

What is a masticator? As shown in a brief YouTube video, it looks like an tracked excavator fitted with a cutting assembly that chews up brush and small trees.

The table shown above lists the fifty largest fires. Only the Range 12 fire in Washington (275.9 square miles) and the Hot Pot fire in Nevada (191.1 square miles) are bigger than the Pioneer fire. The spectacularly quick growing Blue Cut fire in southern California’s San Bernardino National Forest (56.7 square miles) was the 11th biggest, but got lots of publicity because it was not far from Los Angeles.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Each and every day is a holiday

If you are an emcee, you may want to add interest (and fill up some time) by pointing out what holiday today is. Yesterday’s Pearls Before Swine cartoon by Stephan Pastis lamented:

Rat: “I’m tired of every day being a commemoration of something. So I declare August 24 ‘International Day That Celebrates Nothing Day.’ “

Pig: “Can’t. It’s Waffle Day.”

Goat: “Waffles have their own day?”

Pig: “Two actually.”

Rat: "It’s Out of Control!”

Rat is right. August 24th is National Waffle Day, and in Sweden March 25th also is Waffle Day

For today there are four choices:

National Kiss and Make Up Day
National Secondhand Wardrobe Day
National Senior Citizens Day
National Whiskey Sour Day

The waffles image came from the National Cancer Institute.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

What great listeners really do

There is an excellent article about What Great Listeners Actually Do by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman that was posted at the Harvard Business Review web site on July 14, 2016. Four main findings are:

1]  Good listening is much more than being silent while the other person talks.

2]  Good listening included interactions that build a person’s self-esteem.

3]  Good listening was seen as a cooperative conversation.

4]  Good listeners tended to make suggestions.

That article also discusses six different levels of listening.

For more detail, look at a 14-page chapter by Jenn Q. Goddu on Listening Effectively at the Public Speaking Project textbook web site.

The Walls Have Ears image was modified from one at Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Six steps to presenting an excellent speech

Recently I found an interesting PowerPoint slide about the speech preparation process titled Teaching Communication Preparation Circular Model on a web page covering My Teaching Speech Class Tips for Instructors at Jim Peterson‘s Speech Topics Help website. He illustrated the following five steps using arrows in partial circles:






I liked that Jim showed a meandering series of steps rather than the usual  bullet point list or boxes linked by straight arrows. I disliked that he forgot to include Rehearsing as a necessary step before Delivering.

So, as is shown above, I redrew his slide with that missing step included, and an even more meandering path from Selecting (a topic) to Delivering (the speech).

Friday, August 19, 2016

Don’t tell your audience either an overly broad statistic or a wishy-washy statistic (or both)

It is unfortunately common for those peddling public speaking training to spout startling statistics about how public speaking is the #1 or greatest fear. (It really is not).

An article by Court Stroud on August 2, 2016 at the Huffington Post titled Speak Easy: An Interview with Oratory Coach Peter Danish began with:

“What’s scarier than spiders, snakes, and even the zombie apocalypse? Public speaking, which consistently ranks #1 on the list of America’s fear and anxieties.”

His overly broad claim ignored the well-known Gallup poll article by Geoffrey Brewer from back on March 19, 2001 titled Snakes Top List of Americans’ Fears.

Another recent article on the Dale Carnegie blog titled Four Ways to Conjure Confidence by Liz Scavnicky-Yaekle dated August 4, 2016 began by claiming:

“Do you wish you felt more confident when speaking one-on-one or to a large group of people? If so, you aren’t alone. According to the Wall Street journal, public speaking is the #1 fear in America.”

That’s a worthless appeal to authority since it did not identify who wrote that newspaper article, its title, when it had appeared, etc. On December 12, 2015 I blogged about her earlier claim in a post titled When did the Wall Street Journal say that public speaking is the #1 fear in America? (It was in an article by humorist Joe Queenan).

The introduction for the 2006 updated edition of the Dale Carnegie book, Public Speaking for Success instead had claimed: 

“When people are asked what their greatest fear is, the most frequent response is dying and the second most frequent is speaking in public.”

The funniest fear appeal I’ve seen recently was made by Eric Fettner in a blurb for a workshop that appeared both at OutEducated and San Francisco Internet Startups. He repeated the #1 fear claim - and then added the wishy-washy ‘near the top’: 

“Is, public speaking, presenting and communicating to groups or talking to your boss is intimidating?  I already know that for most of us, it is.  That’s because the fear of public speaking or social phobia is the number one fear of every survey list, asking men and women “what do you fear most?”.....near the top of every list!”

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Can you find a quiet place to live just via an online search?

No way. On August 13, 2016 at her Speechwriter-Ghostwriter blog (Mary) Jane Genova wrote about E-Rentals - No longer do you have to invest time, money in flying out there to lease. She claimed:

“If it's a temporary rental we need, that can be done digitally. No, we don't need to spend the money and time to fly out to wherever to have a roof over our heads in our new lives.

When it comes to relocation, we can go about leasing an apartment or even a house via the Internet. The whole process can be electronic. After all, we will likely not stay in any initial housing option. After we get to know the area, work, and build a social network, we may decide our address should be in another part of the city. Or even outside that city.”

Her advice about research is hilariously superficial and incomplete. Some of what is missing can be summarized via a 1987 comedy movie title: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Here are examples I ran across in my career and vacation travels. A careful look on Google Earth can help avoid those three problems, but you still need to be there and stop, look, and listen for others.


For a couple years I lived outside of Northbrook, Illinois in an apartment complex located between the diagonal Milwaukee Avenue and I-294, the Illinois Tollway. When I looked at the apartment I saw that the back of the complex bordered the Tollway, but my building was not objectionably close to it. Early on the first Sunday morning spent there I found what I’d missed. My building was right under the takeoff path from the main runway for the Chicago Executive Airport  NW. A twin engine business jet headed southeast at low altitude can be surprisingly noisy.  


Under the Train Horn Rule engineers are required to use horns to signal they are approaching a public grade crossing. A couple years ago for a vacation we stayed at a motel in Sandpoint, Idaho. The AAA  Tourbook notes that:

“One of the West’s great railroad towns, Sandpoint is known as ‘The Funnel’ for the major rail lines that converge there. More than 40 trains a day draw rail fans to the city. A brochure, ‘A Rail Fan’s Guide to Sandpoint’ is available from the chamber of commerce.”

Sure enough, freight trains blew their horns within earshot at about 3:30 AM and 4:30 AM.

Automobiles (and Trucks)

Tractor trailer rigs with diesel engines usually have compression release engine brakes, commonly known as Jake brakes. They make a loud, chattering “machine gun” exhaust noise when slowing on downhill runs. Some cities ban Jake brakes, but I could sometimes hear them on the Illinois Tollway from my apartment near Northbrook. Poorly muffled cars and motorcycles also can be miserable.

Barking Dogs, etc.

When we initially went hunting for a rental house in Boise, we rejected several otherwise reasonable places based on hearing loudly barking dogs in adjoining back yards. Obnoxious neighbors with loud car stereos also can be objectionable. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Time To Be Fearless - an inspirational speech for International Youth Day

On August 12th Mr. Andy Rabens spoke at the closing of the 2016 Youth Assembly at the United Nations in New York City. His manuscript is in DipNote, the U.S. Department of State Official Blog, and his as-delivered text is here. He discusses three fears:

1. Fear of Our Own Voices

2. Fear of Each Other

3. Fear of Taking Action

For the first fear he unfortunately stated an old Jerry Seinfeld joke (that I blogged about last March) as if it was the result from a survey:

“The first fear that many of us face is the fear of our own voice. Does anyone know what the number one fear of people around the globe is? The number one fear of people across countries, cultures, religions, and age groups? Public Speaking. And the number two fear is death.”

Saturday, August 13, 2016

A good magazine article on public speaking with a surprising blind spot

Back on January 22, 2014 I blogged about Don’t just get on the bandwagon! Find your own speech topic and approach. In that post I mentioned the huge free PMC full-text magazine article database. Recently I looked there and found a good article by Patrick C. Friman titled Behavior Analysts to the Front! A 15-Step Tutorial on Public Speaking which appeared in the October 2014 issue of Behavior Analysis magazine on pages 109 to 118.

What is that blind spot? A lack of proofreading. Both the author and editor missed that the article really lists 16 steps, two under the number 4. Those steps are:

1]    Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

2]    Study People Who Are Good In Front of the Room

3]    Prepare the Room (and Yourself in the Process)

4]    Capture Their Attention

4]    Make the Journey to the Front of the Room Count

5]   Take Control of the Introduction

6]   Dress for the Occasion

7]   Stand Up Straight and Smile

8]   Your Voice is a Sophisticated Instrument. Play It Well

9]   Show Up

10] Have a Backup Plan

11] Use Slides - Do Not Let Them Use You

12] Tell Stories

13] Say Something Important

14] Do Not Go Over Your Time Limit

15] Concluding Remarks

An image of two blindfolded food aroma testers came from the Library of Congress.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Saying ‘Look’ isn’t a good way to begin answering a question

On August 9, 2016 at the Playbook page for the American Management Association (AMA) Beth Noymer Levine wrote about Not A Good ‘Look...’ Avoid This Public Speaking Faux Pas. She was irritated by political commentators using that word frequently. It is self-centered rather than audience centered.

When I read her article I began laughing, since back on July 19th Stephan Pastis had a more specific Pearls Before Swine cartoon on that topic. His dialogue was: 

“Rat: Want to play a drinking game with me?

Goat: What is it?

Rat: You drink a beer every time a CNN political analyst begins their answer with the word ‘look’.

Goat: O.K. I’ll play for a few minutes.

Goat: (lying drunkenly on his back) Curse yoo, David Gergen.”

Another way you can irritate your audience is to tell them to Write This Down.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Just words alone won’t always work. Sometimes you need simple graphics too.

Back in high school physics class I learned about vectors (which have both a magnitude and a direction) for expressing quantities like velocity and force. You cannot discuss them just using words. If you try to, the results are incomplete and misleading. For example, back on June 3rd Seth Godin blogged about an analogy between flight and business in a brief post titled Add engines until airborne:

“That's certainly one way to get through a thorny problem.

The most direct way to get a jet to fly is to add bigger engines. And the easiest way to gain attention is to run more ads, or yell more loudly.

Horsepower is an expensive but often effective solution.

The challenge is that power is expensive. And that power is inelegant. And that power often leaves behind a trail of destruction.

When in doubt, try wings.

Wings use finesse more than sheer force. Wings work with the surrounding environment, not against it. Wings are elegant, not brutal.”

As shown above, there are both horizontal and vertical forces acting on an airplane.  The engine provides thrust which is opposed by drag. Wings provide lift, which is opposed by weight.

How do you add more wing for takeoff? Partly deploy the Fowler flaps from the trailing edge of the wings. If you fully deploy them, you will add a lot more lift but also a lot more  drag, which is what you want for landing. See the article on How Airplanes Work at HowStuffWorks.