Sunday, November 10, 2019

Our signature dish - literally

I got a big laugh out of yesterday’s Pearls Before Swine cartoon, which had the following dialogue in a restaurant:

Waiter: Here you go sir.

Pig: What is that?

Waiter: It’s what you ordered.

Pig: Some man’s name written in mustard?

Waiter: Our signature dish. If you ask me, it’s not worth fifty bucks.

An image of an oval dish came from Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Public speaking only is the seventh most embarrassing situation for Americans

On November 7, 2019 there was a press release at SWNS digital titled Majority of Americans feel pressured to go to work even if they’re very sick that described results from a survey of 2000 Americans done by OnePoll for cough-syrup maker Robitussin. It also showed up as an article in the New York Post.

At the very end of the text was a list of the Top 10 Embarrassing Situations, which I have shown above in a bar chart. Coughing in a quiet place (52%) came first, second was Getting an answer wrong in front of the boss (43%), and third was Forgetting someone’s name (40%). Then at fourth came a tie between Falling asleep in public and Passing gas in public (both 37%), and fifth another tie between Having the hiccups in a meeting and Tripping in public (36%), sixth a third tie between a Child having a temper tantrum in public and Significant other having a temper tantrum in public (34%), and finally seventh Speaking in front of a large group (32%).  

Friday, November 8, 2019

Homophones – cue and queue

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a homophone as:

“One of two or more words pronounced alike but different in meaning or derivation or spelling (such as to, too, and two).”

The homophone queue showed up in a blog post on October 7, 2019 at Fearless Presentations titled Body Language in Public Speaking. The first paragraph said:

“Body language in public speaking is the nonverbal queues that your movements make during communication. Presenters often focus on what they are going to say and their visual aids. However, we often overlook an important part of the speech — body language. In public speaking, if you look poised and confident, your audience will believe you are poised and confident.”

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary a queue is defined as:

“A waiting line especially of persons or vehicles.”

As shown above, that blog post probably meant to say a cue, like Senator Josh Lee shaking his fist. When you watch a queue, you often will see body language cues like frowning and folded arms, indicating people really don’t like standing there.

Later in that blog post they dragged out a myth, which I blogged about way back on July 25, 2009 in a post titled Bullfighting the Mehrabian Myth.   

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Excellent advice on how to deal with a distraction or an emergency during your speech

The November 2019 issue of Toastmaster magazine has an excellent article by Barbara Augello about Dealing with Distractions. It has sections titled:
Ignore or resolve the situation?

How to deal with people problems.

Understand some situations can’t be fixed.

The November-December 2019 issue of Speaker magazine (from the U.S. National Speakers Association) has another excellent four-page article by Tim Richardson titled What Would You Do? How to prepare to handle emergencies when you’re onstage. He has stories about three real-life scenarios, and then discusses Essential Information and Lessons Learned.

On May 30, 2019 I blogged about A very worthwhile article on dealing with presentation distractions. Planning ahead and getting help from both your audience and event organizers can prevent you from having a worst moment.

Images of a big green and a big red pushbutton were adapted from those at Wikimedia Commons.  

Monday, November 4, 2019

What a word means can be completely different in the U.S. and South Africa

One misunderstood word can completely derail a conversation. In the U.S. a napkin is something used to wipe your mouth, while in South Africa it is clothing for a baby’s bottom.

That difference is the basis for a hilarious six and a half minute comedy routine posted on June 24, 2019 at YouTube where Trevor Noah Orders His First Taco. The dialog (at ~3:20) goes as follows:

Taco Truck Vendor: Hey, my friend, your tacos are ready.

Trevor: Thank you, man thank you very much.

Taco Truck Vendor: Yeah, do you want a napkin?

Trevor: I’m sorry, what?

Taco Truck Vendor: Do you want a napkin?

Trevor: And now, LA, this is where it gets weird for me. Because, you see, where I’m from napkins are the things babies wear to hold their sh*t. The thing for your mouth we call a serviette. But I didn’t know that…

Images of a stack of paper napkins and a sleeping baby came from Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Another eight questions to ask people you just have met – other than ‘what do you do?’

At the Harvard Business Review on January 30, 2018 there was an article by David Burkus titled 8 Questions to Ask Someone Other Than “What Do You Do?” They are:

What excites you right now?

What are you looking forward to?

What’s the best thing that happened to you this year?

Where did you grow up?

What do you do for fun?

Who is your favorite superhero?

Is there a charitable cause you support?

What’s the most important thing I should know about you?

Any of them could be asked for Table Topics, the impromptu speaking, one-to-two minute question-answering portion of a Toastmasters club meeting.

The image of a conversation is part of a drawing by Arthur Burdett Frost published August 1891 found at the Library of Congress.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

A thought provoking how to book by Randall Munroe

How can you tell a good idea from a bad one? You can get some data or do some calculations. I have been having fun reading xkcd web cartoonist Randall Munroe’s latest book, How To: absurd scientific advice for common real-world problems. There are 28 chapters beginning with How to Jump Really High and ending with How to Dispose of This Book. For the first one he says you can either devote your life to athletic training or cheat, and the pole vault is a good way to cheat. Randall shows an equation for how high you can get, which comes from the simple energy transfer consideration I have shown above in an image.

Chapter 2 is on How to Throw a Pool Party. For an above ground pool (a circle with a 30 foot diameter) Randall uses the Barlow formula for stress from the weight of water to calculate how deep you can make a pool using aluminum foil (just five inches) or an inch of wood (75 feet).

If you think a border wall is beautiful, then you probably would like Chapter 9, How to Build a Lava Moat (around your home). But, as is discussed in the four-minute YouTube video shown above, this turns out to be a very bad idea.  

My favorite is Chapter 5: How to Make an Emergency Landing (A Q & A with test pilot and astronaut Chris Hadfield). Chris discusses a lot of different situations, including how to find a place to land the space shuttle. Runways for the shuttle are 15,000 feet long (nearly three miles). They carried a book showing every possible emergency runway in the world  and the direction you could land - which Randall illustrated via a cartoon of a book cover titled BABY’S FIRST emergency spacecraft landing.

There also are full-page cartoons discussing How to Listen to Music, Chase a Tornado, Go Places, Blow Out Birthday Candles, Walk a Dog, Build a Highway, and Change a Lightbulb.

The pole vault image came from Pearson Scott Foresman at Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

What do people in Singapore fear a lot or a little?

Speaking coaches often claim that public speaking is the greatest (or really the most common) fear. But that’s often not backed up by survey data. On August 11, 2013 I blogged about how Public speaking was ranked sixth by a survey of workplace phobias in Singapore.

On October 31, 2019 YouGov had an article titled Singaporeans’ greatest fears revealed that reported results from a survey of 1,033 people done in October 2019. They asked whether 15 items were feared a lot, a little, or not (at all).

Results for a lot of fear are shown above in a bar chart. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer version). Drowning (53%) was the most common fear, followed by fire (48%), reptiles (47%), cockroaches (42%), germs (41%). Death and heights (40%) tied for sixth, followed by ghosts (39%), public speaking (35%), spiders (31%), and clusters of holes (25%). Then came enclosed spaces (23%) and a three-way tie between darkness, dentist, and loneliness (21%).

There were some large gender differences – cockroaches were feared by twice as many women as men (56% of women and 28% of men), reptiles were feared by 61% of women and 32% of men, but 40% of both women and men feared death.  

Results for a little fear are shown in a second bar chart. Darkness (57%) was the most common fear, followed by loneliness (56%), clusters of holes and enclosed spaces (both 53%), public speaking (52%), and germs (50%). Dentist and spiders were tied for sixth (49%), followed by ghosts and heights (47%), fire (45%), death (44%), reptiles (43%) drowning (39%), and cockroaches (37%).

Results for the sum (a lot or a little fear) are shown in a third bar chart. Fire (93%) was the most common fear, followed by drowning (92%), germs (91%), reptiles (90%), and a tie of heights and public speaking (87%). Ghosts (86%) were sixth, followed by death (84%), spiders (80%), cockroaches (79%) a tie between clusters of holes and darkness (78%), loneliness (77%), enclosed spaces (76%), and the dentist (70%). At Business Insider Rachel Genevieve Chia discussed these rankings in an article titled What spooks you? Singaporeans’ greatest fears are drowning, fire, and germs, survey shows.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

A fraudulent email from a ‘rotten Apple’

I just received the obviously phony phishing email shown above (but did not bite by clicking the Unlock Account box):

“Apple ID Locked
Your Apple ID has been locked for security reasons, October 28, 2019 PDT. To unlock it you must verify your identity.
You cannot access your account and any Apple Services, Before completing verification, and you have to completing verification before 12 hours or your account will be permanently Locked.”

First, the address was not from Apple. Second, is the unneeded capitalization of Before and Locked in the last sentence. Third is the bad grammar ‘to completing verification’ - an obvious giveaway.   

Monday, October 28, 2019

What occupations and characteristics are creepy?

At Psychology Today on May 19, 2015 there was an article by  psychologist Francis T. McAndrew titled How we decide who’s creepy. Then in 2016 there was a detailed article by Francis T. McAndrew and Sara S. Koehnke titled On the nature of creepiness at New Ideas in Psychology (Volume 42, pages 10 to 15). You can download it here. They did an online survey of 1341 adults at a liberal arts college in the Midwestern U. S. But there were 1029 females, and only 312 males - almost 3.3 times as many females as males. McAndrew also has a bibliography of his writings about creepiness.

As shown above, the four creepiest occupations were clown, taxidermist, sex shop owner, and funeral director.

As also is shown above, the three creepiest characteristics were talking a lot about clothes, being extremely thin, and being dressed too formally for the situation. Based on them you would expect a model to be very creepy - except that the fourth creepiest characteristic was not looking you in the eye.    

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Anatidaephobia – a cartoon fear of being watched by a duck

According to Wikipedia, anatidae is a family of water birds that includes ducks, geese, and swans. Thus the compound word anatidaephobia could mean fear of any of those waterfowl.

But three decades ago that was not funny enough for Gary Larson, so his Far Side cartoon instead much more narrowly defined:

“Anatidaephobia: The fear that somewhere, somehow, a duck is watching you.”

Amazingly others have made that humorous definition both serious and broader, so there is a web page at titled Fear of Ducks Phobia – Anatidaephobia claiming a goose (but not a swan should be included):   

“A person suffering from this condition feels that somewhere in the world, a duck or a goose is watching him/her (not attacking or touching, simply watching the individual).

On August 2, 2018 at Arnold Zwicky’s Blog there was a post titled Advances in phobology which shows the cartoon. Also, on August 12, 2019 at VeryWellMind there was an article by Kendra Cherry titled What is Anatidaephobia?

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

A new survey shows that more U.S. adults fear snakes (64%) than root canals or heights (59%), and speaking in public (57%)

On October 21, 2019 there was an article (and press release) and infographic. by the American Association of Endodontists (AAE) mis-titled Study: this Halloween, people more scared of root canals than spiders, snakes, sharks. As shown above via a bar chart, it actually described what more people were scared of than root canals – which was snakes. Results for eight fears from their survey of 1,000 U. S. adults are shown above. They mentioned that 65% of women versus 53% of men feared root canals.

As shown above in a second bar chart, AAE also surveyed seven activities people would rather do than get a root canal.  

On October 22, 2019 Dentistry Today had an article also mis-titled Root canals top list of patient fears this Halloween. It also showed the infographic listing snakes as the most common fear.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Impact of audience size on presentation style

How you present should change depending on audience size. On November 21, 2017 I blogged about Is a large audience on where a speaker needs a microphone? Is a small audience one where everyone can see a flipchart? As shown above, presenting to 16 people in a board room can and should be way less formal than presenting to 128 people in a university lecture hall (with a stage, lectern, and microphone). Small hand gestures will be visible in a board room.   

At The Illinois Model on April 19, 2019 Lou Hayes, jr. had an article titled Presentation Hack: Impact of Audience Size. Lou described how a usually impressive presenter tried to keep the same style he had used for an auditorium with 500 people in a class with 40 students. It did not work well.

Then he discussed how you can engage more with smaller audiences. He noted you also can change room layouts to other seating types like ‘town hall’ or 'horseshoe' (like a conference room minus the center table), as shown above.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Taking words literally can make you look foolish

Russ Fulcher is the U.S. Representative for Idaho’s first congressional district and sits on the House Committee on Education and Labor. On October 12, 2019 the Lewiston Tribune had an article by Joel Mills titled Fulcher warns about Federal Agencies (also reprinted in the Idaho Press). It reported his comments from a town hall meeting in Lewison which ended with:

“And he said that well-intentioned environmental regulations can backfire. As an example, he pointed out that the U.S. now has to rely on China to supply much of the lead needed for industrial applications because smelting operations like those that once peppered northern Idaho have long been shuttered.

‘Everyone who has one of these has got lead,’ he said, holding up his cellphone. ‘Or anyone who writes with a No. 2. pencil has got lead. We get it from China. So we shut down facilities that were marginally good-bad with emissions, and now we’re buying it all from facilities that have zero precautions.”

But pencil lead isn’t made from metal. You could find that out either in the Wikipedia article or in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary entry. Henry Petroski’s 1989 book The Pencil: a history of design and circumstance explains:

“Although it may incorporate dozens of raw materials, the lead pencil derives its specific name from the one material that it is least likely to contain. The ‘lead’ of today’s lead pencil is really a mixture of graphite, clay, and other ingredients, and even the paint used on the pencil’s exterior is likely to be lead-free in response to concerns raised in the early 1970s.”

On October 16, 2019 an editorial by Marty Trillhaase in the Lewiston Tribune titled Get that congressman a pencil sharpener corrected Mr. Fulcher for not exactly being the sharpest pencil in the box.

There also is no dog in a Hot Dog, and no frog in a Frogmore Stew.  

At least Mr. Fulcher was right about some lead being in cellphones.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Coupling together compound words for the fears of Halloween pumpkins and candy corn

We can easily come up with Halloween-related fears that are too specific to have appeared in the Wikipedia List of Phobias or in the longer The Phobia List. Describing them requires new compound words. (On September 15, 2019 I had blogged about The joy of compound words).

The web site has a page for Fear of Pumpkins Phobia – Cucurbitophobia which claims (without providing a number) that phobia is quite common. But Wikipedia says Curcubita are a genus including squashes, pumpkins, and gourds. has another page for Fear of Halloween Phobia – Samhainophobia. Fear of Halloween pumpkins therefore should be more specifically called samhainocucurbitophobia.

 called candy corn the worst Halloween candy. Lewis Black has a five-minute comedy routine about his disgust of candy corn. What should we call a fear of candy corn? The PhobiaWikia has a page for Caramelaphobia or karamelophobia - fear of candy and another page for Kalampokiphobia - fear of corn. Put them together and you get a specific term – karamelokalampokiphobia.

An image of a pumpkin came from Carol Highsmith at the Library of Congress. An image of candy corn came from Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Most commonly searched fears for 2019 in U.S. states (and DC)

Back on April 13, 2019 I had blogged about the Most commonly searched fears in U.S. states for both 2017 and 2018. On October 9, 2019 there was another blog post at YourLocalSecurity (from the alarm firm ADT) titled Each State’s Most-Searched Phobia with results for this year – both an infographic and an alphabetical list by states.

I have summarized them above in a pumpkin-orange bar chart with fears (and their silly -phobia names). 11 states had fear of holes, 5 each had fear of needles, of public speaking, and of water. 4 had a fear of spiders. 3 had fears of clowns, failure, flying, and snakes. 2 had fears of blood, heights, and people. Just one each had fears of being alone, commitment, and the dark.  

A second bar chart shows the fears reported for 2018. 11 states had fears of people and of spiders, 4 had fear of driving, 3 each had fears of commitment, heights, and needles. 2 each had fears of being alone, of bugs, of dying, or no fears. One each had fears of the dark, everything, love, sleep and success. Holes were not most searched for any states in 2018, versus 11 states in 2019 .

A third chart shows fears reported for 2017. 10 states had a fear of the unknown. 4 had fears of darkness, ghosts, holes, and small spaces. 3 had a fear of spiders. 2 each had fears of clowns, commitment, heights, sharks, thunder and lightning, and vomiting. One each had fears of cats, death, flying, food, needles, public speaking, snakes, and work.    

This year for my state of Idaho needles were most searched, in contrast with spiders for both 2017 and 2018.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Top 10 Anxiety-Inducers for Americans, according to an August 2019 survey done for Endoca by OnePoll

Halloween is less than three weeks away, so it now is time to scare us with surveys about our anxieties and fears. On October 9, 2019 there was an article at SWNS digital titled A shocking amount of Americans think they have an undiagnosed anxiety disorder containing two tables along with both an infographic and a one-minute YouTube video. It also showed up at the New York Post retitled with the word startling rather than shocking. The article reported results from a survey of 2000 American done in August 2019 by OnePoll for Endoca (a CBD oil company).  

The SNWS article has a table listing percentages for the Top 10 Anxiety-Inducers shown above in a bar chart. Work (47%) was first, followed by a two-way tie (44%) for money worries and social gatherings, health issues (43%), conflict (42%), a three-way tie (40%) for meeting new people, my partner, and politics. Then finally came public speaking (38%) and large crowds (36%).  But their text listed different percentages for the Top 3 (indicating a lack of proofreading):
“Perhaps unsurprisingly, work was pinpointed as the number one source for anxiety with almost half of Americans identifying it as the biggest culprit., followed by social gatherings (47 percent) and money worries (45 percent).  

The article has another table listing percentages for the Top 10 Social Media-Related Anxiety-Inducers shown above in another bar chart.

The article had begun by claiming one in five Americans feel they have some type of undiagnosed anxiety disorder. But when you look at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) web site about statistics for Any Anxiety Disorder you will find that ~20% is not shocking at all. An estimated 19.1% of U. S. adults had any anxiety disorder in the past year, based on results from the National Comorbidity Study Replication (NCS-R).     

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Are we headed for a parody inversion or a caricature convergence?

On October 2, 2019 there was a Dilbert comic strip titled Parody Inversion Point in which Dilbert said:
“According to my algorithm, we are heading toward a parody inversion point. That happens when reality becomes so absurd that it is indistinguishable from parody.”

Scott Adams apparently forgot to check a dictionary before putting out that strip. Those are not good word choices. Merriam-Webster says parody means:
“A literary of musical work in which the style of an author or work is closely imitated for comic effect or in ridicule OR A feeble or ridiculous imitation”
Inversion means:
“A reversal of position, order, form, or relationship.”
Can reality get more absurd than parody (as shown above by a dotted line)? I don’t think it can. 

Caricature convergence would be a better phrase since caricature means:
“Exaggeration by means of often ludicrous distortion of parts or characteristics.”
Convergence means:
“the act of converging and especially moving toward union or uniformity.”

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Research should go beyond just scratching the surface

On October 3, 2019 at Medium Canadian life coach Kenn Dixon claimed:
“There has never been a test, nor will there ever be a test developed … that can determine the amount of passion or determination someone has.”

When I saw it reposted at the Public Speaking group on LinkedIn I just laughed at his lack of serious research. That is because I had read a 2016 book by University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Duckworth titled Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. At her web site you can find a page on research with a 12 item grit scale (a test). The full text for magazine article from 2007 about it is here.

You can also watch her six-minute 2013 TED talk (also titled Grit: the power of passion and perseverance). It packs a lot into the length of a typical Toastmasters speech.    

An image of a worker using a wire brush was adapted from this one found at Wikimedia Commons.