Tuesday, June 19, 2018

British attention spans reportedly range from 6 to 29 minutes

Last Thursday, June 14th, I humorously blogged about What if our attention span really is six hours (21,600 seconds) rather than the mythical 8 seconds? After that I searched at Google for some real statistics. I found a press release at SWNSdigital on December 28, 2017 titled Britain’s average attention span revealed. It came from the Skipton Building Society, but curiously wasn’t also posted at the press releases page on their web site. (It was tweeted about though). Two newspapers used it on that day: The Sun in an article titled Average Brit has an attention span of just 14 minutes, study finds and The Independent in another article similarly titled Average British attention span is 14 minutes, research finds. The press release achieved the objective of getting that organization’s name into newspapers at the end of the year.

The Skipton press release began by claiming:
“The average Brit has an average attention span of just 14 minutes, according to research.”

It listed attention spans for 20 different activities, which are shown above in a horizontal bar chart.(Click on it for a larger, clearer view). They range from a high of 29 minutes for a social situation with a friend, down to just 6 minutes for talking to someone either moaning or with a boring voice, or a story about someone you don’t know. But when I created that chart in Excel I found the SUM was 217, so the average (mean) really was 10.85 minutes rather than 14. Both the median and mode are 10, but none of these three averages hint at how wide the range is. However, the average of 10.85 minutes, or 651 seconds is  over 81 times larger than the mythical 8 second attention span.   

That press release is quite opaque - it omits details: what ages and locations were surveyed, when the survey was done, how many people were asked what questions, whether it was a random sample, and whether it was done over the phone or on the web.  

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Advice from our dads (and moms) – 78 Table Topics questions

Since it’s Father’s Day, I’m going to quote from a June 15, 2018 article at Inc. by Christina DesMarais titled 28 successful executives share the best advice they received from their dads. Those fathers said:

1]   Surround yourself with great people.

2]   Take things one step at a time and everything else will fall into place.

3]   We’re the average of the people we spend time with.

4]   Your name is all you have, so protect it.

5]   You’ll be happier professionally if you love life.

6]   Every stranger can teach you something.

7]   Character counts.

8]   Always do your best.

9]   Be grateful and humble in whatever role you play.

10] Wherever you go in life, there you are.

11] Everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time, just like you do.

12] Leave it better than you found it.

13] Kindness and generosity go a long way.

14] Think big, act with humility and give it everything you have.

15] Break up tense situations by being playful.

16] Business is a team sport and every employee is important to the success of a company.

17] Always shine your shoes.

18] Make sure every note counts.

19] Stay focused, determined and complete things.

20] Attitude is everything.

21] Be generous.

22] Always try to approach conversations with the end goal in mind.

23] Respect others.

24] Never give up.

25] Be industrious in everything you do.

26] No one will do the work for you.

27] Keep a healthy balance.

28] Learn to sell what you love.

For Table Topics, the impromptu speaking portion of a Toastmasters club meeting, you could ask someone to elaborate on one of those pieces of advice.

I also found an August 16, 2017 press release article at the Skipton Building Society by Stacey Stothard titled The UK’s top wise words of wisdom revealed. It had another 50 from both parents:

1)   Always try your best.

2)   If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

3)   Get an education – no one can take that away from you.

4)   Never spend money you don’t have.

5)   If you don’t ask, you don’t get

6)   Eat with your mouth closed.

7)   Put money aside for a rainy day.

8)   Never take sweets from strangers.

9)   Do your best – nothing else matters.

10) Keep your elbows off the table.

11) Never swim on a full stomach.

12) Treat people with respect.

13) There’s no such word as can’t.

14) You never get something for nothing.

15) Don’t put shoes on the table.


17) Practice makes perfect.

18) Look after your pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.

19) Courtesy and compassion cost nothing.

20) Treat others how you wish to be treated yourself.

21) You only get out of life what you put into it.

22) ‘I want’ never gets.

23) Mind your Ps and Qs.

24) Manners maketh the man.

25) Always wear clean underwear.

26) Don’t stare at people, it’s rude.

27) Watching too much TV will make your eyes go square.

28) Be true to yourself.

29) Always hold the door open.

30) Never leave the house with wet hair.

31) Never drink on an empty stomach.

32) Never go to bed on an argument.

33) Look up things you don’t know the answer to.

34) Never go under a ladder.

35) Never give up.

36) Receive compliments gracefully.

37) Don’t wear your coat indoors.

38) Mum knows best.

39) The grass is never greener.

40) Always eat your breakfast.

41) Life’s too short to be unhappy.

42) Always have 2 months rent/mortgage saved.

43) Don’t eat cheese before bedtime.

44) Give compliments easily.

45) Use a hand cream.

46) Don’t eat in the street.

47) Never offer a stranger a lift.

48) Don’t smoke in the street.

49) Never let your petrol tank go lower than a quarter full.

50) Men are very different creatures to women.

But some of them are not true, like #11 to Never swim on a full stomach, and #27 Watching too much TV will make your eyes go square. So you could ask people whether they agreed with the advice too. Pethaps #33 instead should say to Look up things you think you know the answer to.

The painting of a father and son (at Nottingham castle) was posted at Wikimedia Commons by Tshrinivasan.


Saturday, June 16, 2018

Humiliation via YouTube video is the online equivalent to the stocks or pillory

As shown above in an 1895 Puck cartoon, our Puritan forefathers employed public humiliation to punish wrongdoers. Currently our worst moments in public speaking can be displayed online via YouTube videos – which are the modern equivalent of the stocks or pillory.

At the Ragan’s PR Daily web site on June 14,2018 there was an article by Carlin Twedt titled Lessons from public speaking implosions. It embedded five examples from YouTube. In a blog post on March 15, 2018 titled Who was our first businessman President? I noted that:
“…no one is completely useless – they always can be a bad example.”

One of the five Mr. Twedt showed was Michael Bay at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show. He said the lesson for speakers was not to memorize your speech so rigidly that a forgotten sentence, or failed teleprompter derails you. I drew a different lesson when I discussed his incomplete speech in another  blog post on January 18, 2014 titled Riding Shotgun – the Master of Ceremonies Should Protect the Speaker.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

What if our attention span really is six hours (21,600 seconds) rather than the mythical 8 seconds?

There is an often-repeated (but completely baseless) claim that our attention span is only 8 seconds. I blogged about it on January 17, 2017 in a post titled Is the attention span of a marketer shorter than that of a fruit fly? But we know that people do pay attention for 18-minute TED talks (1080 seconds, or 135 times longer). What if they paid attention for another 20 times longer than that, a full six hours?

That topic humorously came up in the recent XKCD comic strip shown above. I thought cartoonist Randall Munroe was kidding – until I followed his hyperlink to an article at the New Yorker on September 26, 2017 by Jia Tolentino titled The repressive, authoritarian soul of ‘Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends.’ I’m not sure you really could find six-hours of discussion about the theory claiming that children’s television show is authoritarian propaganda depicting a post-apocalytptic fascist dystopia.

But, what the heck is a tank engine? That’s explained in an article at HowStuffWorks titled What is a tank engine, as in Thomas the Tank Engine. It’s a switch (or in British a shunt) short-range steam locomotive that carries a water supply in tanks and thus doesn’t need to be followed by a tender (a coal and water car).     

It turns out there have been both newspaper and magazine articles written about Thomas. At The Register on December 10, 2009 Lester Haines discussed how Thomas the Tank Engine drives ‘conservative’ political ideology. At The Spectator on December 30, 2009 there was yet another article by Rod Liddle titled Thomas the Tank Engine is merciless and bigoted – that’s why kids love it. He said:

“Children feel most comfortable in an ordered and clearly demarcated world, a world divided into hierarchies. They have a Manichean view of good and evil and they like to see the baddies get punished, preferably in a thoroughly unpleasant manner. They may also identify with gender stereotypes which conform to the roles they have already been assigned or, more controversially, have worked out for themselves from a very early age. Children, and especially little boys, are conservative, when they are not actually fascists.”

At Slate on July 26, 2011 Jessica Roake at length alarmingly described Thomas the imperialist tank engine. And at The Guardian on July 4, 2012 Sarah Ditum bemoaned The tyrannical world of Thomas the Tank Engine. In reply, at the conservative magazine the National Review, on July 24, 2014 Charles C. W. Cooke wrote In defense of Thomas the Tank Engine. And at The Telegraph on March 28, 2016 Paul Kendall asked Why do so many liberal parents hate Thomas the Tank Engine?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

How much on average does it cost per month to run a household, if you are retired and over 65?

I don’t know, and couldn’t easily find good statistics - which I showed above as two unknowns X and Y. But I easily found the answer to another question - how much does it cost to run a household if you just are 65 or older? There was an article by Dayana Yochim on May 31, 2018 at USA Today mistitled Let’s get real about planning: what an average retirement costs. (It had originally appeared at NerdWallet on May 28th). Also, it was reprinted at MarketWatch on June 5th, where Jane Genova found it and used it in a post at her Speechwriter-Ghostwriter blog titled Households heading into retirement – be prepared to spend average of $3800 monthly. That NerdWallet article actually said:

“According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data, which is based on 2016 figures, ‘older households’ - defined as those run by someone 65 and older - spend an average of $45,756 per year, or roughly $3,800 a month.”

But not everyone older than 65 is retired. On June 20, 2016 there was another article by Drew DeSilver at the Pew Research Center titled More older Americans are working, and working more, than they used to. It reported:

“In May, 18.8% of Americans ages 65 and older, or nearly 9 million people, reported being employed full – or part-time, continuing a steady increase that dates to at least 2000 (which is as far back as we took our analysis).”

In 2000 only 12.5% were employed, and the increase to 18.8% was roughly a straight line. The other 81.2% were retired. When you are researching statistics for writing a speech or a blog post it often is useful to make a simple drawing (or perhaps a Venn diagram) to illustrate which numbers really are of interest and how they are connected.

Would you expect older adults who are working to have less or more expenses than those who are retired? I don’t know. Perhaps they are continuing to work because they need to since they haven’t saved enough to retire comfortably. That might mean they have less expenses to match a lower income. Or they could be Type A personalities – outgoing, ambitious, rigidly organized, highly status-conscious, impatient, and simply unable to let go of a job that has come to define them. That might mean they have more expenses.      

Monday, June 11, 2018

How should you stage a panel discussion at a conference?

I read an article by Rose Eveleth on June 5, 2018 at Motherboard titled Dear conference organizers: you’re doing chairs wrong and subtitled Nearly every femme-identifying person I know, myself included, has wrestled with tall bar stools, director’s chairs, and the dreaded microphone dance. The image of a panel discussion from 2016 for the film High on Crack Street shown above illustrates her problem. Directors chairs placed near the front of a stage are fine for men, but only work for women in slacks or in dresses that are almost ankle length (Amish-friendly or FLDS-friendly). Rose described having worn a knee-length dress and then being very uncomfortable sitting on a tall stool. Later in her article she quoted Trevor Knoblich of the Online News Association who said:

“We want our presenters focused on those important aspects,” Knoblich said. “They shouldn't have to worry that their clothes match the furniture fabric, or that their presentation is becoming an inadvertent sequel to Basic Instinct.” 

You can find the exhibitionist scene from that movie he alluded to in a 35-second video clip at The Sun that is definitely NOT suitable for work. Having your clothes accidentally match the furniture or background is a another problem I blogged about in a September 12, 2016 post titled Dress for success, not like a ninja.  

An older, more modest setup seats the panel behind tables with skirting or tablecloths, as is shown above in an image from a 1982 ComicCon. Who recommends the other setup without tables, and why? An article on May 23, 2013 by Brad Phillips at Mr. Media Training titled Six ways to electrify your next panel discussion did. His third and fourth points were:

“3. Remove The Table: The majority of panel discussions are conducted from behind a long table. Get rid of it. The table is a physical barrier that separates the panelists from the audience. Worse, it diminishes the speakers’ natural body language. Just try gesturing enthusiastically while seated in a hunched-over position at your desk, your elbows attached to the surface. Pretty hard, no?

4. Use Stools or Chairs Instead: I often encourage clients to position stools or chairs at the front of the stage. That set up conveys a more casual and inviting “living room” feeling—which is the reason all of the morning news show use it. This format allows you to use wireless microphones instead of table microphones.”

Rose’s article also mentioned doing ‘the microphone dance’ – about those wireless lapel microphones, with a cable leading to a transmitter (and battery pack) meant to fit on a men’s belt or a skirt, but not on a dress.    

Kristin Arnold was president of the National Speakers Association in 2010-2011, and in 2013 wrote a 38-page book titled Powerful Panels. There is a blog associated for that book, with a post on March 26, 2014 titled Get rid of the white, draped table at panel discussions, and one on April 5, 2014 titled In search of the perfect chair for panel discussions – in which she says:

“I like a tall, well-made, and sturdy director chair. They add an element of informality and conversational tone to the room. The shape of the chair almost forces the panelists to sit forward and be engaged. And, there is a place for your feet.”

Kristin also wrote an article in the April 2015 issue of Toastmaster magazine titled How to moderate a panel discussion in which she again said:

“….You don’t have to settle for the typical long, draped table. Why not spice it up using a popular television-talk-show format?”

Both the skirt-length and microphone issues are mentioned in a better five-page article dated August 2017 from The Urban Institute and titled Best Practices for Moderators. If in doubt, women should bring back-up slacks.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Would you believe an airline pilot who said your flight time will be 1 hour and 27 minutes?

Two days ago Darren Fleming posted an article titled Flight time 1 hr and 27 min on The Official Toastmasters International Group at LinkedIn. It previously had appeared on March 1, 2016 both at his blog and at LinkedIn Pulse.  

He said:

“     I love the precision of flying. The captain makes an announcement that we will be pushing back from the terminal in 4 minutes and the flight will take 1 hour and 27 minutes to reach our destination.
      It gives the feeling of certainty. We know the captain is in control and knows exactly what is happening. They don’t say “I think the flight will be about an hour and a half’, or ‘I believe we’ll be taking off to the South.’ The captain is 100% certain.
     This is not arrogance, overconfidence or anything else. It's ownership. The Captain knows they are in charge and directs accordingly.
      As a passenger, I like knowing that the person flying me through the air is in control. They are not second-guessing or believing we will get there. They know and communicate that and we accept it.
      Do you communicate your message with the same level of authority?”

My thoughts are that the pilot is both arrogant and overconfident - someone who doesn’t know the difference between what a flight time calculator program spits out and reality. Flight time includes three different phases -  climbing to cruising altitude, level flight, and descending to land.

1 hour and 27 minutes rather than 26 or 28 is a precision of about 1.1%. That’s a message communicated with an unjustified level of authority. It assumes that during level flight headwinds won’t change, and he (or she) won’t have to change course to avoid turbulence, or go around a storm. And it assumes he won't be diverted by other traffic during descent prior to landing. An article in the Telegraph titled Are you being told the truth about flight times? by Hugh Morris and Oliver Smith on February 28, 2018 pointed out that it is normal to give high estimates for flight time – the URL says Are-airlines-exaggerating-flight-times-so-theyre-never-late.  

I’d be more likely to believe him if he just said 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

What you can learn about speechwriting for children (and their parents) from Fred Roger’s television show Mister Rogers Neighborhood

At The Atlantic web site on June 8, 2018 Maxwell King had an article about his forthcoming book titled Mr. Rogers had a simple set of rules for talking to children. Nine rules for translating into ‘Freddish’ are:

1]  State the idea you wish to express as clearly as possible, and in terms preschoolers can understand.

2]  Rephrase in a positive manner.

3]  Rephrase the idea, bearing in mind that preschoolers cannot yet make subtle distinctions and need to be redirected to authorities they can trust.

4]  Rephrase your idea to eliminate all elements that could be considered prescriptive, directive, or instructive.

5]  Rephrase any element that suggests certainty.

6]  Rephrase your idea to eliminate any element that may not apply to all children.

7]  Add a simple motivational idea that gives preschoolers a reason to follow your advice.

8]  Rephrase your new statement, repeating the first step.

9]  Rephrase your idea a final time, relating it to some phrase of development a preschooler can understand.

For example: 
“It is dangerous to play in the street”
would become
“Your favorite grownups can tell you where it is safe to play. It is important to try to listen to them, and listening is an important part of growing.”

There also is a documentary film which was reviewed at Rolling Stone by Peter Travers in an article titled ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ is a vital doc that shares Mister Roger’s enduring vision. It also was discussed on NPR. You can watch a trailer for that film on YouTube.

On February 21, 2018 I had blogged about Remembering Fred Rogers and the Children’s Corner. An image of a trolley car was adapted from this one at the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Speakers shouldn’t worry about their audience’s different learning styles

At The Atlantic web site on April 11, 2018 there was an article by Olga Khazan titled The Myth of ‘Learning Styles,’ subtitled a popular theory that some people learn better visually our aurally keeps getting debunked.  

At the Scientific American web site on May 29, 2018 there was another article by psychology professor Cindi May titled The Problem with “Learning Styles. She discussed a recent magazine article by Polly R. Husmann and Valerie Dean O’Loughlin that was in Anatomical Sciences Education magazine titled Another nail in the coffin for learning styles? Disparities among undergraduate anatomy students’ study strategies, class performance, and reported VARK learning styles. You can read the abstract at PubMed. They found that:

Results demonstrated that most students did not report study strategies that correlated with their VARK assessment, and that student performance in anatomy was not correlated with their score in any VARK categories. Rather, some specific study strategies (irrespective of VARK results), such as use of the virtual microscope, were found to be positively correlated with final class grade. However, the alignment of these study strategies with VARK results had no correlation with anatomy course outcomes. Thus, this research provides further evidence that the conventional wisdom about learning styles should be rejected by educators and students alike.”

Nick Morgan briefly discussed learning styles in a November 18, 2014 post on his Public Words blog titled Some myths of neuroscience and public speaking. He said:

“So let go of the idea that you’re required, as a good speaker, to sing to the auditory learners, put up slides for the visual learners, and dance for the kinesthetic learners. That’s bad pedagogy based on bad science.”

But you can’t expect people to learn how to do a dance like ‘The Bird’ from an 8-minute audio recording, like that by Morris Day and The Time. Instead you need to watch their 4-minute YouTube video.   

Monday, June 4, 2018

A presentation slide, presentation, or blog post needs a great headline rather than just a title

On May 29, 2018 at Synapsis Creative Tom Howell had an excellent blog post about The secret to writing slide headlines. I saw it mentioned by Rosie Hoyland in a very brief article on May 31, 2018 at Presentation Guru titled An effective slide begins with a headline. Newspapers (like the tabloids you find at supermarket checkouts) have mastered the art of creating compelling headlines.   

Tom’s first two points were that:
A] Headlines help you stick with one idea per slide

B] Headlines make the argument your slide supports

Then he gave Four Secrets for Writing Slide Headlines:
1.  Say who, what, when, where, and why

2.  Pretend your headlines are the only part they’ll remember

3.  Use simple, powerful language

4.  Use numbers

But presentations (and blog posts) also need headlines, as I have blogged about repeatedly under the label of speech titles.

At the beginning of his post Tom linked to a May 2006 article by Michael Alley et al. in Technical Communication titled How the design of headlines in presentation slides affects audience retention. Unfortunately he didn’t dig deeper and discuss designing assertion-evidence slides. On February 19, 2014 I had blogged about how Assertion-Evidence PowerPoint slides are a visual alternative to bullet point lists.

The tabloid headline Dwarf rapes nun; flees in UFO was the title from a 1985 novel by Arnold Sawislak, which was reviewed in an article at the New York Times titled The unholy grail of Granville Swift.  

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Yesterday’s Dilbert comic strip about motivational speakers

In the first two frames of yesterday’s Dilbert comic Alice says:
“The motivational speaker you hired was great!!! We all decided to quit our jobs and become motivational speakers.”

Other Dilbert comic strips about that topic had appeared on October 29, 2006, May 12, 1995, and May 15, 1993.

In her 2016 book Success Secrets for Today’s Feminine Entrepreneurs: Secrets from Today’s Top Feminine Leaders on Fulfillment, Satisfaction, and Abundance Anita M. Jackson said:
“Mom, Mom! I know what I want to be when I grow up! I want to be a motivational speaker!”

Herman Cain was an unsuccessful candidate in the 2012 U.S. Republican presidential primary, and a successful motivational speaker. But he reportedly said he preferred to be called an inspirational speaker – because only you can motivate yourself.  

UPDATE June 4, 2018

In today's comic when the pointy-haired boss asked how his presentation was, Dilbert replied that:

"The signal-to-noise ratio was impressively low."

But a low signal-to-noise ratio isn't good.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Pausing properly during your speech

Samuel Clemens, whose pen name was Mark Twain, reportedly once had said that:
“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”

One way to think of pauses is the verbal equivalent of punctuation. As is shown above, they can have at least four different lengths, corresponding to commas, periods, paragraphs, and topics (sections). All those lengths typically are not mentioned in discussions of pausing. A post by Keith Bailey on February 12, 2013 at the Decker Communications blog titled Power to the pause mentioned three:
“When there should be a comma, pause for one second. Where there should be a period, pause for two seconds. When you see a new paragraph, pause for three seconds.”

Another post by Noah Zandan on February 19, 2013 at the Quantified Communication blog titled The power of pause similarly said:
“Great public speakers often pause for 2 – 3 seconds or even longer. Punctuation can be helpful for deciding where to insert pauses. We use commas and periods as signs to pause when we are reading. These are the same places to pause when giving a speech. An especially useful strategy is to vary the length of your pauses.”

An article by Patricia Fripp titled Public speaking – the importance of the pause shared Ron Arden’s explanation of three length ranges: ½ to 1 second, 1 to 2 seconds, and 3 to 7 seconds.   

Pauses can be used functions other than punctuation:
At the beginning of a speech

For dramatic effect

After you ask a rhetorical question

After you present data on a slide

For emphasis after you present a key point

After you deliver the punchline of a joke

To recover when you lose your place

Fripp’s article mentioned nine types of pauses, and an article by Esther Snippe on February 7, 2017 at SpeakerHub titled Speak volumes with your silence: 10 ways to use pauses has an infographic with ten.  

A four-minute YouTube video by Darren LaCroix titled Presentation coaching: the pause says that Toastmasters champions paused with purpose. Another four-minute YouTube video by Brian Tracy titled Public speaking tip: the power of the pause is also useful. I was amused by Brian’s constant gesturing, including his use of the ‘sternwheeler steamboat paddle’ gesture - which signals illegal formation in football and traveling in basketball.  

The Twain quote appears in an Introduction by biographer Albert Bigelow Paine to the 1923 edition of Mark Twain’s Speeches. The image of Mark Twain was adapted from a December 16, 1885 back cover of Puck magazine found at the Library of Congress.  

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

‘Et al.’ is a pedantic Latin phrase that doesn’t ever belong in the title of a blog post or a speech

‘Et al’ just is Latin jargon that doesn’t belong in the title of a blog post or a speech. It merely means ‘and others.’ That phrase belongs in a list of references at the end of a scholarly magazine article – where an article has more than three authors, so listing them all would be clumsy.  

But in posts at her Speechwriter-Ghostwriter blog Jane Genova has used it seven times just this year. They were:
May 27, 2018The psychotherapy brand – David W. Harder, et al.

May 2, 2018:  Kathleen Huebner, et al. – No, I do not wish you well

April 17, 2018The law, according to Jones Day, et al.

April 13, 2018Tronc layoff – Why writers, et al., have such tough time exiting comfort zone

March 28, 2018:  Thanh Cong Phan, et al. – perhaps they just wanted to be a “somebody”

February 27, 2018Alexa, et al. – voice tech eliminating traditional brands, consumer choice

February 3, 2018Unlike iGen, our tribe HAD TO meet up in-person – Charlotte Toal, M. Lynn Rickert, et al.

Every week I look at Speaking Pro Central, so I saw her latest post with it on their list of Trending Articles. It’s practically a tidal wave of pomposity!

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Celebrating the 10th birthday of this blog

This blog began ten years ago. Currently there are over 1550 posts and 1.35 million page views. Its use of Google Blogger was inspired by seeing Cleon Cox’s blog for his Job Finders Support Group in Portland, Oregon.  

I had agreed to be the Vice President – Education for The Capitol Club Toastmasters in Boise starting in July. They met at noon on Wednesday, not far from the main Boise Public Library downtown near the river. The Albertson Library at Boise State University was walking distance from the public library. I was learning about public speaking via magazine articles and books from both libraries.

My first post on May 26, 2008 said:

“Welcome to Joyful Public Speaking. This blog will discuss going from fear to joy. It will include tips and hints, links to articles and blogs, and brief reviews of relevant books.”

Quite a few older links I used in my posts now are dead or need to be changed.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Cognitive biases and the frequency illusion

We may think of ourselves as basically rational, but really have a long list of cognitive biases. The list at Wikipedia divides them into three categories (1) decision-making, belief and behavioral biases, (2) social biases, and (3) memory errors and biases. A selected few of them would make a good topic for a speech at a Toastmasters club, or a public speaking class. 

One is confirmation bias:
“the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's preexisting beliefs or hypotheses.”

Watch a recent YouTube video shown above, with a tall geyser that confirms (based on our seeing Hollywood movies) - what should happen when a vehicle hits and breaks a fire hydrant just above sidewalk level. The video was made in Manhattan Beach, California.

But that’s just what happens with a wet barrel hydrant – a type used in Hollywood and other very warm places. It isn’t what happens in colder parts of the U.S. though where dry barrel hydrants are used. There usually will not be any geyer. Another YouTube video shows how dry barrel hydrants are made. The valve mechanism actually is located underground below the frost line. When the hydrant is hit above ground, the long rod which operates that mechanism just detaches.    

Now that I’ve mentioned fire hydrants, you will start seeing them, and have another bias – the frequency illusion:
“The illusion in which a word, a name, or other thing that has recently come to one’s attention suddenly seems to appear with improbable frequency shortly afterwards.”

If you live in a city or town, then fire hydrants really are all around you. But you probably were not paying any attention to them. There are Clow brand hydrants at both ends of the block my house is on. Within walking distance in other housing developments there also are Mueller and Waterous brands.

Over two decades ago I looked at a “traffic hydrant” which was designed so the ground level flange connection would break away rather than the hydrant body. That design used four necked down bolts which unfortunately corroded severely from road salt. When the hydrant valve was opened one day, the bolts failed and the body flew upward like a rocket. On January 25, 2015 I blogged about A simple prop made from PVC water pipe fittings.

This post was inspired by the May 23, 2018 Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic strip about the frequency illusion.  

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Statistic Brain web site now requires a ~$20 per month subscription. There are better ways to spend your time and money.

The last time I went to the Statistic Brain web site I was surprised to find that they have changed their business model and no longer allow public access. Instead they offer Student Access (for $9.99/month), Standard Access (for $19.99/month), and Business Access (for $99.99/month).

They have a web page on OUR METHODOLOGY (subtitled How Do We Ensure Accurate Data). Based on the oft-quoted example of their (top ten) Fear/Phobia Statistics page, it is NOT how they did their research. What they actually did was create a lie to match a Jerry Seinfeld joke. So, my mental image for them is that of a disreputable saloon, as shown above.   

An early version of that web page archived by the Wayback Machine is shown above. I blogged about it on December 7, 2014 in a post titled Statistic Brain is just a statistical medicine show. A more recent version with those baseless numbers showed up again on May 8, 2018 in a post by Jessica Teteak titled I’ll take death over public speaking at the Rule the Room Public Speaking blog.

What are some better ways to spend your time and money than a subscription to Statistic Brain? First, visit your friendly local public library and get a card. Ask the librarian about how to use their database collection. Second, visit your nearest state university library and see what options they have for visiting residents. You may be able to get an inexpensive card. I discussed using university libraries in a pair of blog posts. One from August 7, 2017 is titled Spotting fake news and finding reliable information for speeches. Another from February 24, 2015 is titled How to do a better job of speech research than the average Toastmaster (by using your friendly local public and state university libraries). Third, if you graduated from a university, look at the web site for their library. They may even have remote database access for alumni, like Brown University does.

The image of a saloon was modified from one at the Library of Congress.