Friday, April 28, 2017

You shouldn’t use an obscure word just because you can

On April 25, 2017 at Speechwriter-Ghostwriter Jane Genova blogged about Alleged Police Brutality – TV Cop Shows Should Be Scripting More Objective Content on Issue.

Her second to fourth paragraphs said:

"As lawyer-journalist Kathyrn Rubino reports at, SCOTUS denied certiorari to the case concerning Houston police officer Chris Thompson and Richard Salazar-Limon.

Essentially the 2010 case involves the allegation that Thompson shot unarmed Salazar-Limon with no provocation. As s result of the wounding, the suspect became a cripple.

In that decision, Justice Sonya Sotomayor dissented. She was joined by Justice Ruth Baker."  

Most people wouldn’t know the difference between a certiorari and a topiary, or the acronym SCOTUS. Translating to plain English - the Supreme Court of the United States decided not to review that case. But there is no Justice Ruth Baker on the court. Jane meant to say Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She could be much clearer if she actually proofread her blog posts.

Jane also had opened by talking about the TV show Blue Bloods but instead used an out-of-date stock photo for Criminal Minds. That’s silly since just on April 21 she had blogged about Blue Bloods and used a logo.  

The image of an elephant topiary by Erin Silversmith came from Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

How the speech timer at Toastmasters club meetings could provide useful feedback – comments and replies

On April 17th I blogged about How the speech timer at Toastmasters club meetings could provide useful feedback rather than just warning signals – introducing the 21st Century Timing Cards. How they would be used for a 5 to 7 minute speech is shown above.

I only received one comment on this blog. Cleon Cox, III from the Portland, Oregon area just said:

Well done Dr. Garber.”

Cleon runs the Job Finders Support Group, and is a Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM).  

On April 18th I pointed to that post at The Official Toastmasters International Group on LinkedIn. There were another nine comments made there (cut into paragraphs for readability), which I will share with you here along with my replies to them.


Mike Rafferty, DTM:

There are many other speech lengths besides 5-7 and 4-6 minutes, even in just the CC manual. Sounds overly complicated for something that can be very simple.


Mike: Yes, doing something useful is just slightly more complicated than doing something that’s almost useless.

For the CC manual the only other speech length just is 8 to 10 minutes for Project 10, Inspire Your Audience. It is easily handled just by changing the interval between cards to 2 minutes rather than one minute (and otherwise doing it like the Icebreaker).

Using a two-minute interval also would cover the 8 to 10 and 10 to 12 minute speeches in the Speeches by Management Manual. For the last 12 to 15 minute one, the interval between cards would have to be increased to 3 minutes.

For the Storytelling manual the 7 to 9 minute speeches for the first and fifth projects are a slight problem. There we might use a two-minute interval and display three progress cards before the green at seven minutes. If the Timer explains what he will be doing, then the Speaker shouldn’t be confused.


Teri McDonald, DTM:

Paper is not 21st century. Even though your method gives feedback every minute, it feels an archaic in the digital age. There are great digital tools available for free. I like Timer4TM.


Teri: When the battery on your Android smartphone dies (or catches on fire), it becomes just a dumb brick. You ALWAYS need to have a backup, like Timing Cards. And my method gives feedback at least three times before the green card, not just once per minute. For Table Topics it is every quarter minute, and for Evaluations it is every half minute.


Tim Ramage:

It's an interesting idea. It is nice to have feedback prior to the minimum threshold. Timing of a speech comes down to preparation. A speaker, especially a beginning speaker, should have already prepared to the point that the speech timing is solidified prior to presenting it.

Preparation is a cornerstone of Toastmasters and mentors should be sending that message consistently to their mentees. By the time the green card appears, the prepared speaker knows the material well enough to have a solid idea how to wrap up. That includes beginning speakers. Of course nervousness can derail preparation and timing, but the idea behind preparation is to help assuage the natural nervousness. Provided the club provides a supportive environment, going over time isn't a is something to learn from and improve for the next speech.


“Story Gordon” Hill:

We use a light system and have considered adding a fourth light, a lightning bolt, that is also wired to a speaker's ankle as a terminal reminder, "You're done!" :-D

Gordon: In auto racing there is a Black Flag that means get off the track and go to the pits.
I blogged about it back in 2011. A black timing card (the cover) would tell a speaker that he is so over.


Cliff Milligan, DTM:

Sounds like you are trying to compensate for poor preparation. If you've actually practiced your speech you should know where you are supposed to be at the Green, Yellow and Red markers. If you go over by 45 seconds it isn't the end of the world.

I don't want or need someone tracking every minute of my speech. Sounds like a helicopter parent to me. Speakers should be prepared to cut their speech short if they are running long. We had a new member do their Ice Breaker last meeting and when they were finished with their material they still hadn't hit the Green. I had worked with them beforehand and though the speech could be short and suggested having another section to add if the Green hadn't appeared yet. That is known as good preparation and working with their mentor.

In some of the advanced manuals you have 40 minute speeches. Seems to me like you would need a 5" binder to hold all the various permutations of your card displaying.

REPLY (in two parts)

Cliff's example with an Icebreaker speech illustrates the problem with lack of feedback that I'm trying to solve with these revised Timing Cards. A nervous speaker will be faster in the club than in his rehearsals. If he had those three points of feedback before getting to the Green warning signal, then he might have slowed down. (And I think he meant to say thought rather than though).

I said the Timer could provide useful feedback. If you DTMs don't need it, then just tell him to stay with the old Timing Card format, which we also might call Speech Contest Mode. Go look up the Fact Sheet from July 2015 to June 2016. The annual retention rate of Toastmasters members was only 55.4%. That means that if you started out with 25 members in a club you kept 14 but lost (and then hopefully replaced) 11. That's a lot of new members. Some of them will be nervous and inexperienced.

Cliff: No, you would not need a 5" binder to hold all the various permutations of the cards. It would take less than 20 pages to list all 85 manual speeches (plus Table Topics). Look at the lists from the Boston and Dallas Sunrise clubs.

The rules for displaying either three or four black & white progress cards coming before the Green card can be compactly stated in the following format.
Time to Green card (minutes):[time between progress cards(minutes)].
Here is the list for almost all of them 1:[1/4]. 2:[1/2]. 3:[3/4]. 4 and 5:[1]. 6, 7, and 8:[1-1/2]. 10:[2]. 12 and 15:[3]. 19, 20 and 22:[4]. 26:[5]. 28 and 31:[6].
The fifth project for Specialty Speeches, Introduce the Speaker, has the whole meeting as a time limit. If that was an hour, then it would be 60:[12].


“Story Gordon” Hill:

My goal is to finish in the middle (one minute to go). It gives those who go long some time.


David Lewtas:

If it ain't broke, don't fix (re-fix) it! This topic sounds like someone is bored and trying to create an answer when there really is no question.

Sure, the digital age has been foisted upon us, but that should not automatically take over everything. Many young people don't know how to WRITE their name, and for some people's, it is not readible in any manner of interpretation. Shame on them! Why isn't cursive handwriting taught in many schools?

Back to the digital question: Many people are ADDICTED to their "phones" for all their records and information. Then they cry when it's lost, with no hard-copy back up on phone numbers, etc. Many drive like maniacs when looking at them and they kill innocents. That is mis-usage of course.

Yes, if you need more timing signals, forget it; just LOOK at the timer lights or cards as you are supposed to.


David: The topic of my post was cardboard cards – not anything remotely digital. Your comment sounds like a bad parody of a Table Topics answer. Was this rambling rant REALLY the best you could do after over FIFTY YEARS in Toastmasters? So Sad!

I’m going back to YouTube to watch Carrie Newcomer perform Don’t Push Send.


Kelly Ellenz:

I always wish we had an option of a display timer, like they have at Ted Talks. Those first speeches, I was a person who spoke much faster presenting than practicing, And waiting for the green card actually gave me MORE anxiety. Now a 5-7 minute speech is a breeze, and I give them with 1-2 practice runthroughd. And can adapt on the fly. So, while I do agree this can be coddling. I think many new members neeed a little coddling. Speaking alone is a lot, then having an evaluator, time, ah counter, etc., it all compounds the stress. I think working toward more blind timing over time is a good goal. Most professional speakers get X minute warnings near the end. But when you're first starting out, why not eliminate unnecessary stress, and work on improving the most important parts of speaking - speak clearly, stay within time, eliminate filler words, etc. and all of this can be done with a timer shown or more warning cards.

Of course, speakers who want to compete would want to pass.

Leslie Alvarado:

Oh my goodness David Lewtas, I was just so sure you were going to end your comment with, "AND GET OFF MY LAWN!!!"  Richard Garber, I agree this would be very helpful for us newbies. I just gave my second speech two weeks ago, and it felt like an eternity to get to the 5 minute mark. I thought the timekeeper had lost track, which I've seen happen before. It was definitely a distraction.



It is useful to think of the added feedback from these 21st Century Timing Cards in analogy with training wheels on a bicycle. They can be very helpful for beginners, but not needed by those with more experience.

Cliff Milligan claimed that if you practiced your speech, then you should know where you are supposed to be when you get to the warning signals. So did Tim Ramage.

Conversely if you have not been able to practice your speech, then you should not know where you are. But I also showed the cards being used for the impromptu Table Topics and speech Evaluations, both of which are done without practice. 

Mike Rafferty and Cliff Milligan had complained that I was making things complicated. If I had wanted to, then I would have called for there to always be four progress cards spaced equally before the green card. Their spacing in minutes just would have been the time for the green card divided by five. So, for a four-minute speech the spacing would have been 4/5 minute or 48 seconds, and the cards would be shown at 0:48, 1:36, 2:24 and 3:12. For a seven-minute speech the spacing would have been 1.4 minutes, with cards shown at 1:24, 2:48, 4:12, and 5:56.

The image of a bicycle with training wheels is from Wikimedia Commons, and the gears are a colorized version of an image from Openclipart.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Oral storytelling is the old way of teaching

Lately I am trying to come up with four more speeches for the advanced Toastmasters International manual on Storytelling. I just looked up storytelling at PubMed Central, and found a long, interesting magazine article by Michelle Scalise Sugiyama at Frontiers in Psychology titled Oral Storytelling as Evidence of Pedagogy in Forager Societies. The abstract contained an unfamiliar word to me: ostension, which according to the Oxford dictionary means:

“The action of showing, exhibiting, or making manifest; exhibition, display, manifestation; an instance of this.”

The article abstract (broken by me into two paragraphs) says:

“Teaching is reportedly rare in hunter-gatherer societies, raising the question of whether it is a species-typical trait in humans. A problem with past studies is that they tend to conceptualize teaching in terms of Western pedagogical practices. In contrast, this study proceeds from the premise that teaching requires the ostensive manifestation of generalizable knowledge: the teacher must signal intent to share information, indicate the intended recipient, and transmit knowledge that is applicable beyond the present context. Certain features of human communication appear to be ostensive in function (e.g., eye contact, pointing, contingency, prosodic variation), and collectively serve as ‘natural pedagogy.’

Tellingly, oral storytelling in forager societies typically employs these and other ostensive behaviors, and is widely reported to be an important source of generalizable ecological and social knowledge. Despite this, oral storytelling has been conspicuously overlooked in studies of teaching in preliterate societies. Accordingly, this study presents evidence that oral storytelling involves the use of ostension and the transmission of generic knowledge, thereby meeting the criteria of pedagogy.”

In 2011 Michelle wrote a longer review article for the same magazine titled The Forager Oral Tradition and the Evolution of Prolonged Juvenility. The abstract (broken by me into four paragraphs) says:

"The foraging niche is characterized by the exploitation of nutrient-rich resources using complex extraction techniques that take a long time to acquire. This costly period of development is supported by intensive parental investment. Although human life history theory tends to characterize this investment in terms of food and care, ethnographic research on foraging skill transmission suggests that the flow of resources from old-to-young also includes knowledge.

Given the adaptive value of information, parents may have been under selection pressure to invest knowledge – e.g., warnings, advice – in children: proactive provisioning of reliable information would have increased offspring survival rates and, hence, parental fitness. One way that foragers acquire subsistence knowledge is through symbolic communication, including narrative.

Tellingly, oral traditions are characterized by an old-to-young transmission pattern, which suggests that, in forager groups, storytelling might be an important means by which adults transfer knowledge to juveniles. In particular, by providing juveniles with vicarious experience, storytelling may expand episodic memory, which is believed to be integral to the generation of possible future scenarios (i.e., planning).

In support of this hypothesis, this essay reviews evidence that: mastery of foraging knowledge and skill sets takes a long time to acquire; foraging knowledge is transmitted from parent to child; the human mind contains adaptations specific to social learning; full assembly of learning mechanisms is not complete in early childhood; and forager oral traditions contain a wide range of information integral to occupation of the foraging niche. It concludes with suggestions for tests of the proposed hypothesis."

 An 1866 painting by Carl Gessler titled Spannende Geschichten (Exciting Stories) was cropped from a version at Wikimedia Commons.  

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

You never should have to worry about shuffling or dropping your cue cards

All you have to do is to punch a hole in one corner and fasten them together, as is shown above using a ball chain. That image came from my December 15, 2014 blog post titled Don’t paint yourself into a corner.

Other types of fasteners can be used, as shown above. Ball chain and notebook rings are easily opened. But, if you don’t have them you could instead use nylon cable ties, as discussed at the end of an old article

Yet another type of paper fastener is the Treasury tag. A modern version (shown above) is the molded polypropylene T-Tag, that is hilariously misnamed since it is shaped like a letter H rather than a T.  

This post was inspired by a Presentation Blogger blog post with the overblown title of Cue Cards Will Destroy Your Speech that David McGimpsey put at the Toastmasters LinkedIn Group on April 15, 2017. David had claimed:

“When you use cue cards as prompts you are forced to look down regularly. You are forced to shuffle. Even worse, you are forced to read!”

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Might you need an expression transplant?

Tony Carrillo’s April 15th F Minus cartoon was captioned:

“Well, Mr. Barnes, it looks like you may be an ideal candidate for an expression transplant.”

His April 3rd cartoon showed an angry driver in rush-hour traffic. 

Some other good examples of expression are shown in a June 7, 2016 article by Alan Hoffler at MillsWyck Communications titled The importance of facial expressions in public speaking.

The image of Sneering and Defiance is from a classic illustration in Charles Darwin’s 1872 book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals found at Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, April 17, 2017

How the speech timer at Toastmasters club meetings could provide useful feedback rather than just warning signals – introducing the 21st Century Timing Cards

If you attend a Toastmasters International club meeting, you will hear the Timer describe his role. Along with using a stopwatch for timing, he (or she) silently signals the Speaker (or Table Topics Speaker, or Speech Evaluator) when they have reached three times:

A]  The minimum specified time (green).

B]  The middle of the time range (yellow).

C]  The maximum specified time (red).

This typically is done using the $ 2.50 flipbook of hand held 6” x 8” Timing Cards (Item 901), which simulate a traffic light. Some clubs instead have fancy manual light boxes like traffic lights, which you can buy for $130 at Amazon or on eBay, or even more expensive automatic timer-controller light boxes.

For example, for the eight five-to-seven minute speeches in the basic Competent Communication manual the green card is shown after five minutes, the yellow card is shown after six minutes, and the red card is shown after seven minutes. But why do we do this?

Toastmasters have been seduced by speech contests and traffic lights.

The rules for speech contests say that:

“Timers shall provide warning signals to the contestants, which shall be clearly visible to the speakers but not obvious to the audience.”

Traffic lights are such a powerful early 20th century idea that we forget to ask why the Timing Cards that simulate them also are being used in regular club meetings. Those warning signals are reasonable for the experienced speakers entering contests.

But they are insufficient for helping inexperienced speakers learn how to manage their time. Consider what might happen to an inexperienced, nervous speaker giving a five-to seven-minute speech. He walks up to the lectern and shakes the Toastmaster’s hand. Just before starting to speak he meant to push the start button for the stopwatch function on his wristwatch, but instead he either missed or hit it twice - so his stopwatch isn’t running. Now he doesn’t know how much time he has left. He’d like to have some feedback, but the Timer hasn’t been told how to do that before five minutes have passed (5/7 ths or 71% of the time). That is way too late, so that speaker justifiably feels both confused and misused. 

If you had a project manager that behaved as shown above, then you’d probably go to his boss and tell him that guy is demented and you don’t want to ever work with him again.

In a blog post on January 11, 2011 titled Timing lights for speakers, I discussed how we could make a progress bar light (as shown above) that would extend the traffic light idea to provide useful feedback once per minute, or more than twice as much as a traffic light. (That post was the fifth most popular one on this blog).

We can update the Timing Cards for the 21st century  to inexpensively provide the same feedback as a progress bar light. We will start with a black cover card followed by a series of four cards that display a white progress bar moving from left to right, as is shown above. Then come the green, yellow and red cards previously used. That prototype was made from poster board with white paper attached using two-sided tape. Tops of the cards were gang punched with four holes for 1” notebook rings. The card size was slightly enlarged to 7” x 9” to efficiently use up the 22” x 28” standard size for U.S. poster board. Elsewhere the A5 paper size might instead be used for cards. Materials for a set of these eight new cards will cost less than $5.    

As shown above, both lower corners of these 21st Century Timing Cards cards are beveled in ¼” steps so they are easy to flip over. (That modification is worth adding to your existing cards.)  

These new cards also can be held on an easel (like a miniature flipchart), as shown above. The vertical support is a 3/8” thick piece of 1-1/2” wide pine supporting a ¼” diameter wooden dowel rod. 

The sequence for using that series of eight 21st Century Timing Cards is shown above for a five-to-seven-minute speech.

For a four-to-six-minute Icebreaker speech, we just skip over the fifth all-white card, as shown above. 

For a one-to-two-minute Table Topics speech, or a two-to three-minute Speech Evaluation we also skip over the fifth all-white card and flip the black and white cards every quarter or half minute, as shown above.

I believe that these updated cards are a useful improvement for providing effective feedback to all speakers during club meetings. (They also give the Timer more useful work to do). Consider using them in your club, and tell me what you think. We can keep using the green-yellow-red warning signals just for speech contests.

The image of Taylor Reeh sitting behind a desk came from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

How to tie your shoelaces is a good topic for a demonstration speech

Back in 2011 there was a three-minute TED talk by Terry Moore on How to tie your shoes that you can watch at YouTube. The Wikipedia article on shoelaces mentions that there are two common ways of tying them – the square knot or the less effective granny knot.

Although a lot has been written, there always is more to be learned. On April 11th there was a news article from the University of California at Berkeley titled Shoe-string theory: Science shows why shoelaces come untied. Back on September 23, 2015 there was another article at Gizmodo by Jennifer Ouellette titled What’s the best way to tie your shoes? Physics may have the answer. You can read the article she referred to about Untangling the mechanics and topology in the frictional response of long overhand elastic knots.

Special bubble laces like the New Balance Sure Laces shown above are one way to reduce the annoying need for re-tying.

An image of Jeremy Brockie, forward for the New Zealand All Whites football team, came from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

An unimaginative personal injury law firm couldn’t find how to email Uber

On April 7th at the Above The Law web site there was an article by Kathryn Rubino titled When All Else Fails, Try Twitter. It described how the Butler Tobin firm contacted Uber via Twitter after those gorillas said they were unable to find an email address - even on the Uber help page. There also was a blog post about that article at Jane Genova Speechwriter-Ghostwriter titled Since Websites Don’t Provide Email addresses…

But I had no trouble finding an address that quickly would get the attention of Uber. I started from their general Help Page, and then clicked the link at the bottom of the column labeled More. That took me to another page with a list of items under Legal and privacy. One of them is Press inquiries, which says:

“Members of the media are invited to contact us by email:
Please let us know if you’re working on a deadline. We will respond as quickly as possible.

A cleverer attorney just would have guessed an address starting with either press or legal.

Eric Kilby’s image of a gorilla scratching its head came from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

How a poorly researched blog post can hold back your career

On March 8, 2017 at SketchBubble Ashish Arora blogged about How Fear of Public Speaking Can Hold Back Your Career. His seven reasonable tips were to:

Be Gentle with Yourself

Be Yourself

Don’t Focus on Being Perfect



Retrain Your Self-Sabotaging Mind

Get the Audience Involved

But he opened his post with this credibility destroying nonsense:

"If you suffer from a fear of public speaking, you are definitely not alone. In fact, fear of public speaking often lands in the top five of the biggest fears that humans have. In some surveys, it even lands in the number one slot, with death coming in at a close second!"

When you click on his link to the Washington Post article about the first Chapman Survey on American Fears, you will find no mention of death. If you dig further and look at the Chapman press release, you’ll find that they only listed public speaking in the top five, not first.

Where did the claim that public speaking is number one with death a close second really come from? It’s a nonsensical Fear/Phobia Statistics web page, which I blogged about in a post on December 7, 2014 titled Statistic Brain is just a statistical medicine show.

The image was adapted from a tuberculosis test poster at the Library of Congress.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Fun on April Fool’s Day 2017

It’s April Fool’s Day, so you can believe even less than usual of what you read. USA Today had an article about Our favorite April Fool’s pranks: Bob Evans Beauty, Honda Horn Emojis. The Telegraph (UK) had an article on April Fool’s Day: all the best fake news and pranks. Both mentioned Honda Horn Emojis, which resemble the universal car horn language from the CBC comedy radio show This is That which I blogged about in a post on November 16, 2016 titled A TED talk parody from This is That. The Telegraph also mentioned a new carbonated drink, Coca-Cola Helium.

In 2014 I blogged about how Sorry, but Zero Gravity Day is just an old April Fool’s Day joke and the next day about Goodbye Glossophobia – an April Fool’s Day satire.

Mystery novel author John Sandford has a whole series of April Fool’s phony covers for “new” books in his Prey series. My favorite is Lettuce Prey, which has a dust jacket blurb opening with:

“Lucas Davenport's been a law officer for almost thirty years, and he thinks he's seen it all. Multiple murders, sex offenders, psychopathic loners, spree killers, political operatives. People getting orders from God. People getting orders from aliens. A communist chimpanzee pimp. The list, he thought, was getting a bit stale.”