Saturday, September 30, 2017

Tips and icebergs

In my previous blog post on September 28, 2017 titled Alan Alda on public speaking tips and rules of three I quoted how he didn’t much like tips. I don’t either. Tips often are so vague they are  useless – not even half truths. A comical illustration is in a YouTube video clip from Monty Python’s Flying Circus showing a mythical children’s TV program called How to Do It. John Cleese describes how to play the flute:

“Well here we are. You blow there, and you move your fingers up and down here.”

That tip just is the tip of an iceberg. There’s a lot more going on underneath the water. Both parts of an iceberg (or at least Antarctic ones) have useful jargon names. Page 48 in a 2011 book by Vijay P. Singh, Pratap Singh, and K. Haritashya titled Encyclopedia of Snow, Ice and Glaciers explains:

“The floating upper side of the ice, projecting over the water is termed the ‘hummock’; while the downward projection of the ice, which is hidden beneath the seawater, is termed the ‘bummock.’ These bummocks are dangerous for ships navigating in Antarctic waters.”

On February 1, 2017 I blogged about Incomplete and useful advice about recordings of your speech rehearsals. I noted that David McGimpsey had vaguely said to:

“….If you have time, record yourself (video or audio). You’ll find areas where you need to elaborate and give additional information. You’ll also find areas you can cut.”

More detailed and useful advice came from Fred E. Miller, who said you can view the video, just listen to the sound, or view the video with the sound off (to see gestures, etc.).

At her Speak Up for Success blog Jezra Kaye lists 100 Top Public Speaking Tips, each of which is a separate post with enough detail (bummock) to be useful.

The Arctic iceberg image came from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Alan Alda on public speaking tips and rules of three

I have been enjoying reading Alan Alda’s new book If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face (My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating). I got it from my friendly local public library. In Chapter 11 he discusses tips and rules of three. Watch the 5-minute YouTube video from Big Think titled 3 Ways to express your thoughts so that everyone will understand you. Here is his text from pages 98 and 99:


Even though I don’t much like them, I have to admit that tips can sometimes be useful. Here are a few that have been good to me.

      The Three Rules of Three

1] When I talk to an audience, I try to make no more than three points. (They can’t remember more than three, and neither can I.) In fact, restricting myself to one big point is even better. But three is the limit.

2] I try to explain difficult ideas three different ways. Some people can’t understand something the first couple of ways I say it, but can if I say it another way. This lets them triangulate their way to understanding.

3] I try to find a subtle way to make an important point three times. It sticks a little better.

But even though I’ve discovered a few tips that have helped, for my money, tips tend to be anemic when they don’t come fortified with experience, or with a vivid story that lets you enjoy a vicarious experience.

I was once asked to write a list of tips on how to communicate well, and I resisted. I finally hammered out three, but they were so snarky I never sent them in:

1}   Beware of tips. Tips are intellectual and often mechanical. They don’t transform you. An experience transforms you. There’s a stretch of road I’ve driven down many times where I used to ignore the speed limit sign. One afternoon, I got a speeding ticket and I never ignored the speed limit again. The sign was a tip. The ticket was the experience.

2}   Make a personal connection with your audience. Look them in the eye and speak to them as if they’re a close friend and not a multitude. This is, of course, impossible to do just by reading this tip, Experience is what transforms you. (See Tip 1.)

3}    If you can, experience improvisation. It will focus you on the other person. Improv games allow most of the tips about public speaking to become second nature, rather than forced and mechanical. A common tip advises you to vary the pace of your talk. Improv puts you so in touch with the audience that varying your pace happens automatically. You do it without thinking, which is the only way it will be effective. Trying to follow tips, rather than letting behavior emerge from the experience of improvisation, can actually make a talk more wooden. You see it in the pauses speakers make when they try to apply the tip to pause every few sentences. During these mechanical pauses, the air is dead. But when an improviser takes a pause, something meaningful is happening. She pauses because she’s watching the audience to see if they understand her, and she’s actually thinking of what she ought to say next. The pause is filled with something that’s happening between her and the audience. She’s alive.”

Three other videos based on the book are:

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Alan Alda on movie jargon

Early this month I saw a September 5, 2017 post by Nick Morgan on his Public Words blog titled Alan Alda on improv, empathy, and his new book. That book is titled If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face (My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating). I got it from my friendly local public library, and have been enjoying reading it.

Chapter 20 is titled Jargon and the Curse of Knowledge. On pages 188 and 189 Alan says:

“There are actually some nice things to say about jargon. First, of course, we have to recognize that there probably isn’t a line of work that hasn’t developed its own jargon. If you walked onto a movie set and someone asked you to ‘go get the gobo on the Century over there, and while you’re at it bring back a half apple and a kook – and hurry up, this is the Martini shot,’ you might be a little puzzled. Among other things, you’re being asked to get a couple of things that cast shadows, The gobo casts a hard shadow and is attached to a Century stand, manufactured by the Century Company and bearing its name. The kook or cucoloris, is a board with a patterned cut-out for casting feathery shadows. A half apple is a small platform about the size of half an apple box. Cameras, lights, and height-challenged actors can be placed on them. And the Martini Shot is the last shot of the day, after which everyone goes home and has a martini.

The point of running through all this arcane etymology is that, although jargon often proceeds from misty origins, it usually has a specific and useful meaning. Sometimes one word can stand for five pages in plain English. If people in the same field share a knowledge of that meaning, they’re not going to use five pages if one word will do, and they shouldn’t be expected to. Speaking jargon to the right person can save time and also lead to fewer errors. ‘Bring me the gobo’ is probably less prone to error than ‘Bring me the black fuzzy thing over there.’

But the other person does need to define the jargon in the same way you do. I heard about a meeting in Washington where a group of nanoscientists were being brought together with a group of neuroscientists in the hope they could collaborate on new ways to study the brain. Before they could even get started, they wasted hours in a cloud of confusion because they couldn’t agree on the meaning of one word: the word probe.”

When I looked up Apple Box on Wikipedia I found another level of movie jargon. As shown above, a full apple box is 20” wide by 12” deep by 8” high. When something in a set will be placed on an apple box, the crew needs to specify an orientation for it. The lowest height (8”) sometimes is called LA, the middle height (12”) is called Texas (or Chicago), and the tallest (skyscraper) height (20”) is called New York. But there are regional variations, so they might also be called Queens/Brooklyn/Manhattan.    

The word gobo has two other meanings along with the one Alan mentioned. A related one, shown above, is a movable partition used in a recording studio for blocking sound (rather than light).

But in an Oriental grocery store gobo means a vegetable - burdock root (Articum lappa), as shown above.

From May 31, 2017 there is a 7-1/2 minute YouTube Video in which Alan discusses Good communication 101: Mirroring, Jargon, Highfaluting Words.

Images of an apple box, a sound gobo, and a burdock root came from Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

A new, simpler, better flag for the city of Pocatello, Idaho

Design matters, whether it’s a city flag or a PowerPoint slide. Back on May 14, 2016 I blogged about that Looking at flag design will change how you make PowerPoint slides. I ended by mentioning a blog post on April 15, 2016 by Adam Cotterell of Boise State Public Radio titled How a TED talk and a public radio host shamed Pocatello into changing its city flag. Back then they had started looking. This week they finally announced their new flag, which is shown above along with the old one. An article by Cydney McFarland in the Idaho State Journal on the same day titled Pocatello starts effort to improve derided city flag had noted that:

“The current flag, designed as a logo in 1999, was never fully authorized as a flag but just ended up as one. However, the flag – which used to fly only outside the wastewater treatment facility – doesn’t fly anywhere in Pocatello, though the logo ‘Proud to be Pocatello’ can be found around the city.”

An article on September 20, 2017 by Shelbie Harris in the Idaho State Journal titled Pocatello no longer has the worst city flag on the continent said they had chosen the new flag from over 700 submissions. It’s quite an improvement.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

How much of Scott Mautz’s discussion of a survey on fears should you take seriously – some or none?

On September 12, 2017 there was an article by Scott Mautz at the Inc. web site titled 11 Famous failures that will inspire you to success. (It also appeared the next day as a post on his blog. And it is on page 28 in the Google Books preview of his Find the Fire: Ignite Your Inspiration – and Make Work Exciting Again). He began with a startling statistic about fear of failure: 

“Nothing debilitates us as much or is as scary as a fear of failure.

In fact, research indicates that our fear of failure tops the list of our phobias with nearly one in three people having a fear of failure (31 percent), ahead of our fear of public speaking or fear of spiders (30 percent each) or even our fear of the paranormal (15 percent).

A close fifth was our fear of another Transformers movie being made.”

The last one is obviously meant to be humorous, but the others seemed serious. I didn’t recall seeing those numbers before, so I clicked on his link for that research, which led me to a press release from October 14, 2015 titled Research reveals fear of failure has us all shaking in our boots this Halloween. It said that Linkagoal had a survey of 1,083 American adults done by the commercial polling firm YouGov. The press release talked about fears, not phobias. Back on October 11, 2011 I blogged about What’s the difference between a fear and a phobia? That press release listed the percentages shown in the following bar chart:

Compare them with Scott’s Top Five list:

His begins with fear of failure (31%) rather than fear of horror films (32%). He also adds fear of public speaking (30%).  

I try to get detailed results from a survey, so I searched on Google but couldn’t find them for Linkagoal. Instead I found a blog post titled What scares us most: spiders or failing? Linkagoal’s Fear Factor Index clears the cobwebs that showed an infographic with another top five fears list with horror movies first (but that added fear of flying at 20%):

I emailed Scott Mautz as follows:


How did you decide that fear of failure tops the list? The press release about research you linked to in your second paragraph instead says it was fear of horror films. And, it says nothing about fear of public speaking, so where did you find that 30% statistic?

An infographic in a blog post from Linkagoal lists the Top 5 Most Scariest Things, which were: Horror movies - 32%, Failure - 31%, Spiders - 30%, Flying - 20%, and Ghosts -  15%. Public speaking isn’t on that list either.

Richard Garber

He replied:

Hi Richard-

thx for taking the time to engage with your question. I should have made it clearer in the article that the top fears we humans have comes from a cross section of a number of sources, not just the one I linked to. Also, important to note that what humans find scary and what they have a fear of are two different things.  For example, for certain watching scary movies is very scary to adults.  But it does not rank at the top for what humans are afraid of- they are not afraid of watching scary movies- they're afraid of failing.  Hope this helps. 


Based on that evasive and condescending reply, I don’t think ANY of Scott’s discussion of the Linkagoal survey should be taken seriously. How fears rank can be stated either as what more people fear (like Scott did, in units of percent) or in terms of what people fear more (on a scale from say one to ten, via something psychologists call a fear survey scale). Back on October 23, 2012 I blogged about how Either way you look at it, public speaking really is not our greatest fear. That post linked to another one from October 13, 2012 titled In a 1992 study of U.S. university students, fear of public speaking ranked sixth for men and eighth for women. In that study fear of failure really was ranked first. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Please spare a few moments to take Dave Paradi’s survey on Annoying PowerPoint

Every two years Dave Paradi does a survey about what things in PowerPoint presentations annoys people. Please take a few minutes to fill out his current one, which is here until September 24.

On September 11, 2017 at Indezine Geetesh Bajaj blogged about The Annoying PowerPoint Survey: Conversation with Dave Paradi.  

I discussed results from his last survey in a November 3, 2015 blog post titled Dave Paradi’s 2015 Annoying PowerPoint Survey again found the most common annoyance was speakers reading their slides, and earlier ones in a June 10, 2015 blog post titled Don’t annoy us by reading your PowerPoint slides.

The image was modified from one titled 3 minutes intermission while changing pictures found at the Library of Congress.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Please avoid clichés, like What gets me out of bed in the morning…

Chapter 26 of the May 2017 book Al Franken, Giant of the Senate is titled What Gets Me out of Bed in the Morning. He laments that a lot of people in the government keep telling us things like:

“What gets me out of bed in the morning is making sure our veterans have good jobs.”

“What gets me out of bed in the morning is seeing to it that every child in America has a world-class education.”

“What gets me out of bed in the morning is doing everything I can to see that our electric grid is secure.”

Al Franken says instead that what gets him out of bed just is having to pee. Me too!

He also laments clichés like:

“…robust letters calling for robust funding to ensure (another cliché) a robust response to a pressing (ugh) problem.”

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The De-jargonizer – a tool for communicating science clearly

Recently I saw a brief article about a computer program called the De-jargonizer for identifying jargon. Details are described in a magazine article by Tzipora Rakedzon, Elad Segev, Noam Chapnik, Roy Yosef and Ayelet Baram-Tsaba titled Automatic jargon identifier for scientists engaging with the public and science communication educators which appeared in PLOS ONE in February 2017.  

I tried it out on the ending of a speech by President Donald Trump on tax reform from August 30, 2017 with the results shown above. Program instructions say:

“Results are displayed both by color and by percentage. Words in black are common words, words in orange are mid-frequency words, and words in red are jargon. The table on the right presents the number of words in the text and the results: the number of words and the percentage of words for each frequency (high, mid and jargon).”

This isn’t the only tool. Back on September 21, 2013 I blogged about Funneling your big ideas through a small vocabulary and discussed the Up-Goer Five Text Editor.

The illustration really shows a wool picker from an old Scientific American magazine.

Monday, September 11, 2017

If you value your lives, be somewhere else

That was governor Rick Scott’s properly serious crisis communication message last week, as discussed on September 8th in an ABC news article titled Florida governor urges residents ahead of Hurricane Irma: ‘You’ve got to get out; you can’t wait.

Contrast his message with one from talk radio personality Rush Limbaugh, who on September 5th instead ranted about My Analysis of the Hurricane Irma Panic. By September 8th instead the Washington Post reported Rush Limbaugh indicates he’s evacuating Palm Beach days after suggesting Hurricane Irma is fake news. Yesterday Politifact discussed his statements and their implications in an article titled In context: what Rush Limbaugh said about Hurricane Irma before evacuation.

He’s gotten negative publicity from halfway around the world. Today Callum Borchers had an article in the Sydney Morning Herald titled Rush Limbaugh evacuates Palm Beach days after suggesting that Hurricane Irma is fake news. Meanwhile from Los Angeles Mr. Limbaugh whined about how it was One of the greatest smears of my career.

My title came from the punch line of a speech from the science fiction television series Babylon 5.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Not everything a world champion says is a pearl of wisdom

On August 25, 2017, in Vancouver, Manoj Vasudevan won the 2017 World Championship of Public Speaking with his speech Pull Less, Bend More. Toastmasters International put out a news release and a 3-minute highlights YouTube video clip. Later they put out a video of the whole speech.

There is an unfortunate tendency to treat everything the champ says as an unquestionable pearl of wisdom. But back on February 17, 2017 I took him to task with a blog post on Bursting a hilariously overblown claim that 99% of the world fears public speaking.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Three main dimensions and four questionable quadrants for vocal variety

If you don’t put some variety into your speaking voice, then your audience will get bored and fall asleep. Two YouTube video examples from movies illustrate how much difference vocal variety can make.

In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Ben Stein plays a high school economics teacher who calls the roll with a boring monotone drone. His student’s replies of “here” convey way more emotion than anything he does.

Contrast that with Meg Ryan who plays Sally in When Harry Met Sally. In the famous delicatessen scene she puts a load of emotion into the word “yes.”

Rate, volume, and pitch are three main dimensions of vocal variety.

But rate, volume and pitch may appear under other names, typically all beginning with the letter p, as a silly organizational device.  

Rate (or pace) can range from slow as molasses to faster than an auctioneer. The December 2016 issue of Toastmaster magazine had a brief unindexed Advice from the Pros article by Bill Brown titled Don’t Race the Pace. On July 31, 2017 Gavin Meikle had a longer article titled Vocal Variety Tip Part 2 – Perfect Your Pace. On September 1, 2017 September 1, 2017 Christian O. Lundberg had an article at at Pinnacle Persuasion titled Speech myths busted: Speed kills? Or, what is the best rate for a compelling presentation.

Volume (intensity, loudness, power, projection) can range from a whisper to a shout. The March 2017 issue of Toastmaster had another article by Bill Brown titled The Most Common Technique – Volume. On July 18, 2017 Gavin Meikle had another article titled
Six Elements of Vocal Variety and How to Master Them Part 1 – Volume.

Pitch (frequency) can range from low to high. In the February 2017 issue of Toastmaster Bill Brown had an article on Reading a Prepared Text that suggested adding pitch up or down markings. On September 5, 2017 Gavin Meikle had an article titled Vocal variety tips, part 3 – pitch and resonance.

The May 2014, issue of Toastmaster has a two-page article by Craig Harrison on Hearing Voices (use characters, personas, puppets and animal sounds to boost your vocal variety.

The Toastmasters International basic manual on Competent Communication covers vocal variety in the sixth speech project. Andrew Dlugan discussed it on November 1, 2009 in a post at his Six Minutes blog on Toastmasters Speech 6: Vocal Variety. Toastmasters International covers vocal variety in their very detailed manual on Your Speaking Voice (Item 199, 22 page pdf).

The National Communication Association has a 49 page pdf document called
The Competent Speaker Speech Evaluation Form  2nd Edition 2007. Vocal variety is one of eight competencies considered in their evaluation:

“Competency Six: Uses vocal variety in rate, pitch, & intensity (volume) to heighten & maintain interest appropriate to the audience & occasion.”
Songs provide great examples of vocal variety, like the soaring electropop of Something Just Like This. Using vocal variety also can spice up a potentially boring subject like a weather forecast. The National Weather Service has an eight-minute YouTube video by Brooke Bingaman on Creating Vocal Variety.  

Four questionable quadrants for vocal variety

In Chapter 11 of his 2014 book, How to Deliver a TED Talk, Jeremy Donovan showed a chart with four quadrants for rate and volume. But he didn’t provide a reference for its source. Back on November 11, 2010 Rory Vaden had a blog post at Southwestern Consulting on 4 Voice Quadrants.with some different titles. A November 21, 2011 article by Cal Habig on Vocal variety in preaching: an important part of influence discussed Vaden’s blog post with a four-slice pie chart.  

Sunday, September 3, 2017

When you hook an outdated and misstated statistic onto a completely bogus one, you get a new myth


At LinkedIn Pulse on August 18, 2017 there was an article by D. John Carlson (Skeptic and Strategist) titled 74% experience speech anxiety that also was posted on his web site.  

It began by claiming that:

“A survey of 5.3 million Americans found that 74% suffer from speech anxiety.”

Both those numbers actually came from the Fear of Public Speaking Statistics web page at Statistic Brain. 74% is listed for Percent of people who suffer from speech anxiety, but 5.3 million is listed for Number of Americans who have a social phobia.

In a blog post on July 15, 2012 titled Another bogus statistic on the fear of public speaking I noted that the 5.3 million just was an outdated statistic. In another blog post on December 7, 2014 titled Statistic Brain is just a statistical medicine show I noted that the 74% was bogus, and it didn’t come from the National Institute of Mental Health as was claimed. There never was a colossal survey of 5.3 million Americans.

Mr. Carlson’s About web page claims that he:

“is well known for debunking myths, testing assumptions, questioning intuition and distinguishing fact from fiction – delivering the benefits of objective, critical at lateral thinking to maximise return on investment.”

But this time he wasn’t skeptical at all. Instead he created a new myth.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Do you really need to crush your presentation?

Their authors apparently think I would use their meaning for the word crush – to subdue completely. But the mental image I get is of the mortar and pestle shown above – since I instead first think of crush as to reduce to particles by pounding or grinding. Logitech probably didn’t imagine their remote being used as a pestle, but I did.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary web page for the transitive verb crush lists the following five meanings:

1] a) to squeeze by force or pressure so as to alter or destroy structure.  
1] b) to squeeze together into a mass.

2] to hug or embrace.

3] to reduce to particles by pounding or grinding.

4] a) to suppress or overwhelm as if by pressure or weight.
4] b) to oppress or burden grievously.
4] c) to sudue completely.

5] to crowd or push.

Watch what words you put in the title of your speech, article or blog post.