Thursday, May 30, 2019

A very worthwhile article on dealing with presentation distractions

At the PresentationTeam web site on May 27, 2019 Kevin Lerner published a long (~3500 word) but very worthwhile article titled Dealing with Distractions (subtitled presenting like a pro when the unexpected strikes). He also posted it at LinkedIn Pulse, which is where I first found it . Kevin discussed six types of distractions:

Physical Distractions

Venue Distractions

Technical and Visual Distractions

Audience Distractions

Delivery Distractions

Under Audience Distractions he has a section titled Minimal eye-contact or audience engagement containing the following story (which conflicts with advice we often get) :

“I gave a training presentation a few years ago that really threw me off. The audience did not just lack eye-contact with me…many of them had their heads tilted backward and their eyes closed. They seemed terribly disinterested and downright sleepy. For the first three hours I delivered my program, distracted by this near-rude audience response. 

During lunch I asked my client what was going on with my audience. She replied that many of the audience members were from South Korea and that this is a cultural thing. ‘By closing their eyes they are better able to process my information, without being distracted by the visuals,’ she explained.

It helped me gain my footing - and they were pleased with my program. Still, talking to an audience that could care less about you or your presentation can be distracting and disheartening. Aim to carry on, making your presentation as entertaining and engaging as possible.”

Japanese audiences are similar, as was discussed by Clella Iles Jaffe on page 190 of the eighth edition (2016) in her textbook, Public Speaking concepts and skills for a diverse society:

“Expectations common in the United States are not universally applicable. For instance, Japanese speakers use less direct eye contact, and it is not unusual to see listeners with downcast or closed eyes at a meeting or conference because this demonstrates attentiveness and agreement rather than rejection, disinterest, or disagreement.”

There is a longer discussion by Richard W. Brislin and Tomoko Yoshida on page 285 of  their 1994 book Improving Intercultural Interactions: Modules for Cross-Cultural Training Programs:

“Cultures vary in the methods used to convey involvement and attention to one’s conversation partner. In America, a slight forward lean and eye contact convey an attitude of involvement and attention. In contrast, Japanese may use very different means to convey these attitudes. An American full professor who was making a speech to a large group of Japanese professors and students was concerned during his speech because many in the audience that filled the auditorium were sitting with their eyes closed. He thought, ‘my speech is dying. They’re all falling asleep.’ After his speech was finished, a number of Japanese approached him enthusiastically telling him how much they enjoyed his speech and making comments that showed they had heard every word he said. In Japan, closing the eyes while listening to another, especially a higher status person giving a speech to a large audience, indicates one is giving one’s complete attention to the words of a speaker, not a disinterest in the speaker. Clearly, the American had misinterpreted the closed eyes of the Japanese….”

Some potential distractions are to be expected. Back on January 1, 2012 I blogged that you should Resolve to anticipate “shoelace failures” and plan around them. As is shown above, a shoelace is expected to wear out and fail at the upper eyelet.

AA or AAA batteries in your presentation remote, laser pointer, or wireless microphone can be expected to eventually run out, so you should carry spares.

Markers for whiteboards or flipcharts will run out of ink or dry out. If you don’t carry your own spares, Murphy’s Law says what you will find in a tray at the venue will be awful - light yellow or pink highlighters.

Note cards will get dropped, so they should be chained together, as I discussed in an April 19, 2017 blog post titled You should never have to worry about shuffling or dropping your cue cards.

You also might make up (or adapt someone else’s) checklist of what to take along, as I blogged about in a post on February 1, 2011 titled Is your speech ready for takeoff? Are you sure?

Some items that are not absolutely necessary can increase confidence and simplify your presentation. If I’m using PowerPoint, I carry my own little Targus remote with a built-in laser pointer. I also carry a small lab timer that is much easier to read than the tiny digital display on my wristwatch. Little things like a cube tap or ground adapter will insure that you have power.

In his article Kevin discussed how one morning he had forgotten to take his epilepsy medication, which led to a petite mal seizure during a presentation. Carrying a pillbox holding the medication doses for a week can give a visual reminder making that sort of mishap less likely.

In another post  on February 8, 2011 titled Mistake-proofing your presentation outfit I discussed other ways to give yourself visual reminders. The blister pack holding four dry erase markers I showed previously will instantly indicate if one had run out but not yet been replaced.

The image of a woman with a cellphone came from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

A ridiculous warning sign on the back of a dump truck

On my way home from the supermarket this morning I wound up stopped at a traffic light behind a dump truck with the ridiculous warning sign shown above. The only way to read it from 200 feet back would be with binoculars!   

Seeing it reminded me that a symbolic sign (like that shown above) is used for an equestrian crossing, because before you could process those two words you would get run over by a man riding on a horse.  

The equestrian warning sign came from DrStew82 at Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Is public speaking the number one fear in the world?

No! I’ve been hearing that sort of nonsense for the past eleven years. As shown above, it usually is just an assertion made but not proved or even referenced – an ipse dixit. For example, an article at Lifehack by Kyle Pott titled How to get over your fear of public speaking proclaimed:

“The number one fear in the world, ahead of even the fear of death, is the fear of public speaking.”   

That claim also showed up back in a 2002 book by Pat Williams titled The Paradox of Power: A Transforming View of Leadership:

“Poll after poll has shown that the number one fear we face in life is not the fear of death or snakes or the dark. No, the number one fear in the world is fear of public speaking.”

Other times a reference is hinted at – but does not stand up to scrutiny. Over at VitalityLIVINGCollege Dr. Rangana Rupavi Choudhuri wrote another article about What are the common fears and phobias, eliminate them for good! She said:

“I was surprised to learn that according to the Institute of Mental Health (April 2015), the fear of public speaking is the number one fear in the world – beating the fear of death and spiders. People would rather die than speak in public!”

But the bar chart she showed displayed baseless nonsense, which I has blogged about in a post on December 7, 2014 titled Statistic Brain is just a statistical medicine show.

As shown above, the number one world fear claim is a paper dragon – a Startling Statistic brought up to get attention before going on to describe how that fear can be eliminated.

On February 3, 2014 I blogged about Busting a myth – that 75% of people in the world fear public speaking. In that post I pointed out there is a silly tendency to jump from real surveys of much narrower groups to the entire world. On April 9, 2012 I blogged about how a Poll by Reader’s Digest Canada found fear of public speaking wasn’t ranked first in 15 of 16 countries surveyed.

How would you even go about surveying the entire world? Perhaps a quarter of the people speak English, so you would need to ask question in several different languages. I have not seen such a survey, and doubt that one exists. On October 16, 2014 Pew Global had an article titled Greatest dangers in the world. It only discussed 44 countries about five dangers: AIDS & other diseases, Inequality, Nuclear Weapons, Pollution & Environment, and Religious and Ethnic Hatred.  

An image of Enrico Caruso came from Wikimedia Commons, and an image of the Dragon of Wantley came from the Library of Congress.  

Sunday, May 26, 2019

An unintended power shutdown just waiting to happen

At Computerworld on May 21, 2019 there was a Shark Tank story titled What’s the emergency? It described a control room that had several emergency shutdown buttons (like the one shown above) both inside and also on the wall of the hallway outside.

A moving crew carrying some bulky equipment came down the hall and one fellow accidentally backed into a protruding button – which cut power to the whole building.

That unintended action could easily be prevented. As shown above, the button could be flush with the surface, or even recessed. Or, it could be protected by a clear cover shield that has to be popped-up before the button can be pushed. There also are safety covers for toggle switches.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

An actual top 50 blogs list - and another top 20 blogs list with only 16

Back on February 3rd I blogged about Another confused ‘Top 50 List’ of public speaking blogs. I was irked the the Feedspot blog list titled Top 50 Public Speaking Blogs Every Speaker Must Follow instead had 58 blogs. The May 16th update actually is correct and has 50!

But their May 11th list of Top 20 Presentation Blogs, Websites & Newsletters to Follow in 2019 only has 16.

I still detest having people point a finger at me and tell me what I must do. (The image was borrowed from a 1902 theatrical poster at the Library of Congress).

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

In a 1943 study about twice as many college students feared public speaking as feared having an automobile accident

Thirty years before an endlessly cited 1973 Bruskin survey (that often is quoted to compare fears of public speaking and death) there was a magazine article by Howard Gilkinson in Speech Monographs (volume 10, pages 74 to 83) titled A Questionnaire Study of the Causes of Social Fears Among College Speech Students. There were a total of 432 students in the Fundaments of Speech classes at the University of Minnesota (264 women and 168 men).

In Table II he reported on Intervariable Comparisons: results for two fears – Are afraid of speaking in public and Are afraid of having an automobile accident. As shown above in a bar chart, almost twice as many feared speaking (30.6%) as feared an auto accident (15.5%). He also separated them into fearful and confident speakers based on their response to the 104-item Personal Report on Confidence as a Speaker (PRCS).  

Mr. Gilkinson also asked students how they described themselves and reported percentages for six items. 39.5% described themselves as self-conscious, 19.5% as socially sensitive, 15.7% as observant, 14.1% as thorough, 13.9% as persistent, and just 7.2% as shy. The 7.2% describing themselves as shy is much lower than the 40% reported by Philip G. Zimbardo on page 14 of his 1977 book Shyness – what it is and what to do about it. The six items are shown above in another bar chart.

Mr. Gilkinson reported percentages for eight fear symptoms (reactions) as shown in still another bar chart: 49% for rapid heartbeat, 41% for both tense body and trembling, 25% for sweating, 23% for short breath, 18% for tense throat, and 14% for both dry mouth and tense face.

In Table II he also reported total frequencies for 14 physical fears and 18 social fears. Unfortunately he did not list results for each individual fear. Physical fears were: high places, storms, darkness. Burglars, getting lost, closed places, being poisoned, sharp edges, suffocating, electric shocks, catching contagious diseases, deep water, guns, and taking an anesthetic. Social fears were: committing some sin, dimple, complexion, being small, physical deficiencies, your sex, personal habits, bad effects of heredity, violating religious teachings, speech defects, acts of close relatives, language spoken in your house, clothing you had to wear, nicknames, your name, failures, and being criticized severely. 

An image of an auto accident came from the Library of Congress.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Simply Trumped-Up

I am both amused and appalled to find that our president’s last name shows up in the adjective phrase trumped-up, which Merriam Webster defines as fraudulently concocted; spurious, Cambridge defines as not true; invented and Oxford defines as invented as an excuse or a false accusation.

On April 27, 2019 the Washington Post had an article titled In 828 days, President Trump has made 10,111 false or misleading claims. Politifact keeps a scorecard on his statements, and listed the amazing percentages shown above. They found 70% were Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire. Only 16% were Mostly True or True. The remaining 14% were Half True.

The Trump caricature came from Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

An extremely entertaining flipchart presentation

On February 21, 2019 I blogged about how Flipcharts can be funny. I just found another brief YouTube video by comedian Bec Hill titled What this girl does with a flipchart will SHOCK YOU!

The music is a song whose lyrics she demolishes in another YouTube video titled Bec Hill translates “Non Je Regrtette Rien” (Edith Piaf).

Friday, May 17, 2019

Telling a gigantic story: the B Reactor tour in Hanford, Washington

The Manhattan Project created three nuclear bombs, which lend to the end of World War II. The Fat Man plutonium bomb dropped on Nagasaki had a yield of 21 kilotons, or 21,000 tons of TNT. It weighed 5 tons, so it was ~4200 times more powerful than a conventional bomb.  

Plutonium for two bombs was created in a nuclear reactor – the B Reactor at the gigantic Hanford Engineer Works on the south bank of the Columbia River in Washington.

On May 8, 2019 I took a tour of the B Reactor National Historical Landmark. B Reactor at Hanford was the first nuclear reactor able to operate continuously. (Its two brothers the D and F reactors came a bit later). The tour took four hours, and mine started at 9:00 AM. It began at a visitor center in Richland, Washington. We took a bus trip (an hour each way) out to the reactor site.

On the wall of the corridor there are a pair of blue wall posters that succinctly explain the B reactor and Hanford. Starting in March 1943 95,000 people worked on the site. Construction of B reactor began in June 1943. It started operating at the end of September 1944, and by summer of 1945 it had produced plutonium for two bombs.

At the site you can look at the front face of the reactor and the inlet ends of the fuel tubes. The core is a 36’ high by 36’ wide stack of graphite blocks 28’ deep. A couple thousand aluminum tubes go through it and hold the natural uranium fuel.

The tubes also carried 30,000 gallons per minute of cooling water to remove heat from the fission reaction – 250 million watts. As shown above in a closeup, a maze of piping and valves distributes water to all the tubes.  

The room where you look at the front face of the reactor also has a scale model of the adjacent part of the site. On the overall view I put a red circle around the B reactor. Other buildings for processing the water for cooling dwarf the actual reactor building (#105). There were three systems for providing cooling water. The primary normal one used electric pumps. A backup used steam powered pumps. A third emergency gravity fed system used a pair of large water tanks.

The room also has a another model showing how the graphite blocks were stacked to make the core.

There also is a poster explaining the fission reactions which almost magically create plutonium from natural uranium.

In the control room there’s a console with a chair for the operator. To the right of it is a whole wall full of running time meters that keep track of how long the fuel loaded in each tube was in the reactor.

What Hanford was doing was top secret, and you could get into big trouble by talking about it. Near the control room is a room with a safe which curiously has a roll of toilet paper sitting inside. The woman tour leader told us a story about that. One day a schoolboy told his class that he had figured out what they were making at the site. He’d seen his dad smuggle a roll home, so it just was toilet paper!     

The tour leader told us that the most popular part was a poster showing dining halls on the Hanford site. Along with it there was a list titled A Lot of Workers, A Lot of Food. Everyone could appreciate what was involved in feeding that mass of workers. She said the 30,000 donuts a day were an incentive plan to get people to show up early or on-time for breakfast and then work. If you weren’t early you wouldn’t get one.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

We all make lots of spelling misteaks

We all make lots of spelling mistakes when writing, but usually catch almost all of them. It is particularly embarrassing to leave typos in slide or presentation titles when using PowerPoint or Keynote.

My most typical typo is to capitalize the first two letters in a new sentence, like THe. Some typos will still be words - but other than what was intended, and will not be caught by the spelling checker in our word processing software.

On May 9, 2019 there was a BBC News article titled When spelling goes wrong: famous typos from Trump to NASA. It recounted how the Reserve Bank of Australia misspelled ‘responsibility’ as ‘responsibilty’ on 46 million of their new yellow fifty-dollar banknotes.

I got curious and Googled responsibilty. There were web articles titled both What Is Social Responsibilty for an Organization? and Shoveling: Who’s Responsibilty? Blogging software like Google Blogger (which I use) and WordPress have the post title entered separately. When you are in a hurry, it is easy to add the title just before you post. I long ago learned to write both the title and text in Microsoft Word or Apple Pages so the title also went through a spelling check.

The image of two steaks came from Jon Sullivan at Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

A very recent quote about self-confidence and overcoming fear

On page 56 of the May 11, 2019 issue of New Scientist magazine there was an interview with Tanya Harrison. She is a planetary geologist and director of the NewSpace Initiative for Arizona State University. When asked what the best advice anyone ever gave her, she replied:

“A friend once said: ‘Remember, you know more about the specific thing that you are talking about than anyone else in the room. Be confident in that.’ That really helped me get over my fear of public speaking.”

The cartoon image of a confident female speaker was adapted from one at Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Does verbosity come from having lots of time to kill?

John Cadley writes a humor column called Funny You Should Say That that appears at the back of Toastmaster magazine. For the May 2019 issue it was titled Verbosity with a long subtitle - Why do we use more words than we need when we could say what we mean with fewer words?

John pointed out how we use excess verbiage and say due to the fact that rather than just although, or at this point in time rather than just now. He pointed to the Fearless Flyer newsletter from Trader Joes as an example of prolixity. But he did not theorize about why we get more verbose and kill time when common sense would suggest we instead should be getting less verbose due to the faster pace of modern life.

One possible culprit is radio coverage of professional baseball games. An article at Sports Illustrated by Scooby Axson on October 2, 2017 noted the Average MLB game time rises to record 3:05. That is 185 minutes. At PunditFact on April 6, 2018 there was another article by Louis Jacobson which asked Are there only 18 minutes of action in a baseball game?, and found there indeed were. 18 minutes is a single TED talk! So less than 10% of a ballgame is action. Most of the other 90%  (other than commercials) is filled by a color commentator - a second sports commentator who assists the main play-by-play commentator by filling the time between plays. Typically he adds anecdotes and background about statistics, strategy, and injuries. 

Another possible culprit is talk radio. Rather suspiciously a typical syndicated show (like Rush Limbaugh) also lasts for three hours. In a comedy routine by Lewis Black mistitled Facebook rather than Same Arguments that you can listen to on YouTube he laments (using very bad language):   

“One of the reasons that I feel we that we age in this country is because from the time you’re born until the day you die you listen to the same arguments over and over and over and over again. They never end. They don’t. Major issues - we bang them back and forth all the time. We’re a democracy, and that’s what you do. That’s one of the prices we pay for having a democracy, is to discuss things until our ears bleed.”  

The time to kill image came from a World War II poster of a B-26 Marauders strafing. I was reminded of a 1975 Soundstage TV show titled 60 Minutes to Kill, which can be seen on YouTube. 


Sometimes filling up time has a wonderful side effect. Hugh Masekela’s trumpet instrumental Grazing in the Grass, which hit number one in the Billboard Hot 100 chart, reportedly was created because his album was running about three minutes short of the contracted for 30-minute length.

On March 20, 2019 there was a Sheldon comic that ended by describing an extremely verbose alternative title for the musical Cats

“Adult humans who could be doing something else, who have chosen to dress up in cat suits and sing for you in the dark.”