Sunday, June 30, 2019

Magazine article on how to prepare and deliver a great talk

The Federation of European Biochemical Societies publishes The FEBS Journal, which recently had an excellent seven-page Words of Advice article by Rita Gemayel and Seamus J. Martin on How to prepare and deliver a great talk. The first gray box in it had advice on being a good audience member. The second gray box had seven items of bad advice, the first two of which are:

“Do not rehearse your talk. Spontaneous talks are much better, just like spontaneous pension plans and spontaneous climbs of Mount Everest. What could possibly go wrong?

Never start a presentation from scratch. Just cobble together slides from old presentations and explain any key missing diagrams in words as it occurs to you. The audience will figure out what you mean, even if you do not really know what you want to say. Or what you mean. Either way it will be fun, right?”

After telling us what not to do they proceeded to give good advice. Way back on June 24, 2008 I also used the format of telling what NOT to do in a post titled Don’t be a “Flip Chart Charlie”. The Uncle Sam poster previously appeared in my 2016 New Year’s post titled Remember that only YOU can prevent bad presentations.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Jargon Poisoning

Wednesday’s Dilbert cartoon is titled Jargon Poisoning. In the first frame someone said:
“Let’s plan a huddle to ideate around that opportunity.”
Dilbert replied:
“Gaaa! I have jargon poisoning!”

Thurssday’s cartoon titled Jargon Canceling Headphones prescribed a solution – headphones which translated jargon into normal words. But nothing came out of them for:
“Let’s stay in our swim lane while the tiger team gets buy-in on the verticals.”

Presumably the translation process would use a dictionary like Lucy Kellaway’s Guffipedia, which I blogged about on December 16, 2015 in a post titled Jargon and guff.

An image of a Death Skull came from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

A comment with a suggestion about homophones

On June 24, 2019 I received an email from Alejandra Villalobos commenting that she had enjoyed reading my November 12, 2009 blog post titled Stage freight and other true typos or yakwirms. In that post I had linked to the English-language Wikipedia page on Homophone. Alejandra said English is not her native language, and reading Wikipedia had helped her learn.

She recommended an article by Katherine Torgersen at Website Planet on June 6, 2019 about homophones titled Are you talking aloud? Or is talking allowed? Watch what you write, to make sure it’s right. Examples there (shown with humorous illustrations)  include: chile-chili-chilly, which-witch, brake-break, bare-bear, exercise-exorcise, bear-beet, pea-pee, flea-flee, whine-wine, aisle-isle-I’ll, throne-thrown.

Linking to Wikipedia pages has both advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that links to their pages usually are stable, in contrast with web sites from persons or organizations that get lost from sites being reorganized. Another is that some pages describe the history of very specific terms, like a subtype of thrown being Defenestration (throwing someone out of a window).

A disadvantage is that some Wikipedia pages are rather shallow. For example, the page on Stage fright says nothing about how common it is. On August 12, 2015 I blogged about how There’s really no mystery about how common stage fright is.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Overcome the Curse of Knowledge by bringing numbers down to earth

Experts may be like Icarus in the painting shown above illustrating that Greek myth. We can soar so far above our audience it is difficult to see their earthbound view. Nick Morgan said this on April 25, 2019 in a post at his Public Words blog titled How can you make a technical subject interesting?:

“You’re too deep in the field to remember, but the interests of a general audience are so primitive by your standards that they don’t speak your language, they don’t understand your numbers, they don’t hold their breath over what you find controversial, and they don’t recognize the stars in your sky. So you need to start, not with your expertise, but with your beginner’s mind.”

Chip and Dan Heath’s 2007 book Made to Stick discussed it as The Curse of Knowledge. They said:

“Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has ‘cursed’ us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create our listeners state of mind.”

 On May 17, 2019 I had blogged about Telling a gigantic story: the B reactor tour in Hanford, Washington. That nuclear reactor produced the plutonium for the Fat Man bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan which led to the end of World War II. It was located on the south bank of the Columbia River. I mentioned that the fission reaction generated 250 million watts (Mw), and they circulated 30,000 gallons of cooling water per minute through the aluminum tubes holding the uranium in the core to remove that heat.

How could I bring 250 million watts to life for my hometown of Boise? An electric two-slice toaster uses around 850 watts, and a toaster oven uses 1200 watts. In 2017 Boise had a population of  226,570 people. Imagine if everyone in town simultaneously left on a toaster or toaster oven!

And how could I explain what 30,000 gallons per minute means? Current showerheads have a flow rate of 2.5 gallons per minute. The capacity of Taco Bell Arena (just renamed ExtraMile Arena) where the Boise State Broncos play their basketball games is a bit more than 12,000. Imagine all 12,000 people taking a shower at once.

My career as an engineer has made me so familiar with metric prefixes for thousands (kilo or k) and millions (Mega or M) that I don’t even have to think about them. I have to think just a little about the prefixes for billions (Giga or G), trillions (Tera or T) and quadrillions (Peta or P).  

A ratio might the best way to compare two things. The Wikipedia article about the Fat Man bomb said it had a yield of 21 kilotons (of TNT), and that the bomb weighed 10,300 pounds. That is 21,000 tons of TNT and the bomb weighed 5.15 tons. Then the ratio is 4078. That is, the nuclear explosive was 4078 times as powerful as a conventional TNT bomb. 

Some numbers are difficult because they truly are huge. On July 15, 2011 I blogged about the Kennecott Bingham Canyon open pit copper mine west of Salt Lake City in a post titled What can we say about a really big hole in the ground? The Wikipedia article says every day they dig up 450,000 tons of ore and haul it away using a fleet of 64 giant dump trucks that each carry a load 255 tons.

In my blog post I noted that the daily load was described as a multiple of 50-ton humpback whales. But humpback whales are not part of our everyday experience. Have you ever been at a whale crossing? But most people have sat in a car waiting at a railroad crossing and seen 110-ton hopper cars of coal in a train. 450,000 tons corresponds to 4091 of those hopper cars, or roughly a hundred trains each with 40 cars! Similarly, each of those 255 ton dump trucks carries ~2.3 times what a hopper car does.

Why do they dig up so much material at Bingham Canyon? Wikipedia also says the mine produces 300,000 tons of copper per year, which converts to 821 tons per day. Divide that by 450,000 and you get that the ore only contains 0.183 % copper. (There are other more precious metals as well).  

Some numbers just sound big until you ask what a person’s share of them is. Back on August 17, 2011 I blogged about How to make a large number incomprehensible – or comprehensible. I discussed an article which said that in the U.S. we use 5.7 billion gallons of water per day to flush the toilets. But when you divide that among a population of 308 million it becomes 18.5 gallons a person per day. That article had claimed 5.7 billion gallons was incomprehensible - it isn’t. It’s about 9% of what goes over Niagara Falls. If I were discussing this here in Boise I would instead compare with Shoshone Falls.

Costs based on the calendar can be expressed several ways. Netflix doesn’t say they charge me $189 per year – it’s billed as $13.99 per month. Charities like Shriners or Wounded Warriors Project don’t advertise $228 per year – it’s just $19 per month. Coast to Coast AM has an Insider program that lets you listen to an archive of radio shows for $54.99 a year – which they say is only 15 cents a day.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Making a flipchart easel or banner stand for your Toastmasters club

When you look at web sites like Amazon or Wayfair, you will see that you can buy a bewildering variety of flip chart easels for prices ranging from about $60. Fancier ones also have whiteboards (as shown above) and may even be magnetic.

But if your club has more time than money (and some crafty members), you might prefer to make rather than buy. At YouTube I found a four-minute video by Andy at westvalley411 on How to make an easel for a flip chart (and why) for $20.00 in 30 minutes. He mentioned it might be useful to have the legs fold. The Brushy Fork Institute at Berea College has instructions for Building a folding flip chart easel. If you prefer plastic, PVC pipe also can be used. At The Owl Teacher there is an article on using 3/4” PVC pipe in a DIY easel for your classroom.

Toastmasters International sells a $110 black portable stand (Item 324) for holding a 35” wide by 47” high club banner. Our club instead uses a $25 banner stand bought from Amazon. At the Instructables Living web site there is an article on using 1 /2” PVC pipe to build A simple banner stand. That design uses a five-way cross fitting that you can buy from Formufit to make an x-shaped base. District 53 Toastmasters has another base design using only tees and elbows. To find their .pdf file just search on Google for the phrase “Toastmasters_Banner_Stand_Instructions”.     

Images of a flipchart easel and a crosscut saw came from Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Be careful when you count out your points

At The Buckley School web site on May 10, 2019 there was a useful article titled Questionable presentation advice:  count out your points. Enumerating your ideas is useful because it shows your plan and guides your audience from one idea to the next. As shown above by the auctioneer selling a pitchfork, when you have just four points it is easy for both the audience and you to get a handle on each of them.

There are pitfalls though. First, a speaker might promise some number of points but not deliver them distinctly so the audience becomes confused.

Second, the speaker might fail to deliver all the points he said he would. (That might also come from bad planning).

Even worse he might keep adding additional ones. There is a classic comedy sketch on Monty Python’s Flying Circus where the Spanish Inquisition appears and their leader says:

“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. Our chief weapon is surprise, surprise and fear, fear and surprise. Our two weapons are fear and surprise, and ruthless efficiency. Our three weapons are fear and surprise, and ruthless efficiency, and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope. Our four…Amongst our weapons…”   

Third, when there are multiple speakers on a program the tendency to enumerate can be contagious and its repeating bore the audience.

Fourth, the speaker might promise an overwhelming number of points (perhaps 24) and actually deliver them. Then, as shown above, the speech will have a structure like a comb. Without more of a hierarchy the audience can get hopelessly lost. Back on March 22, 2011I blogged about Speech geometry: lines, circles, forks, and combs.

The auctioneer image came from the Library of Congress.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Is it true that Idaho teens aren’t working, even though jobs are plentiful? Not recently!

On June 7, 2019 at the Idaho Freedom Foundation web site Mr. Wayne Hoffman posted an article titled Jobs are plentiful, but Idaho teens aren’t working. That article was republished on June 10, 2019 as an opinion column in the Idaho Press. The first two paragraphs stated that:

“Though their population has increased, there are fewer Idaho teenagers in the workforce than there were 20 years ago. In 1998, more than 25,000 Idahoans between the ages of 14 and 18 were employed, two decades later, about 24,500 Idaho youngsters earn a paycheck, according to government data.

That four percent drop in the number of young employees today versus 1998 is amplified by the fact that Idaho’s population was 1.2 million then, and 1.7 million now. The state’s total workforce has grown by 35 percent.”

But a drop of 500 from 25,000 to 24,500 is a decrease of 2%, not 4%. Wayne should ask an Idaho teen to show him how to calculate percentages.

Is that a realistic description of teen employment in the state? Mr. Hoffman did not bother to specify where in the government he got the data from. Actually it comes from the U.S. Census and is on a web page for the QWI Explorer.

The tables shown above describe how employment has actually changed from 1992 to 2018 for eight age groups in Idaho.

They also are shown as a series of line graphs. Look at the light green line for Ages 14 to 18. It looks like a roller coaster. After the Great Recession employment for all eight groups increased linearly.   

I replotted just the data points using an Excel spreadsheet. As is shown above, employment peaked twice - in 2000 (26,886) and in 2007 (26,721). It also had two minimums in 2004 (22,189) and 2011 (13,576). The latest point for 2018 (24,559), and one for 1998 (25,051) [green arrows] Mr. Hoffman cherry-picked to compare teen employment do not do the data justice. From 2013 to 2018 it increased linearly, by an average of 1731 per year [as shown by the dotted red line]. What teens actually have been doing recently is increasingly going to work. Mr. Hoffman’s ‘drop’ came from cherry-picking just 2 points two decades apart, and ignoring the complicated details of what went on in between them. He equally well could have started 25 years ago at 1993 (20,812). Then he would have said employment rose by 18% rather than dropping by 4%. (The average for all 27 years is 21,859 so the 1993 number is more representative than the higher 1998 one).    
After Mr. Hoffman ‘viewed with alarm’ that alleged drop, he went on to ‘point with pride’ at his own teen employment. But a look at all the data instead leaves us with the title of a 1965 song Pete Townshend wrote for The Who – The Kids Are Alright.   

Sunday, June 9, 2019

A hilariously overinflated pie chart

At the web site there was an article on June 3, 2019 titled Parents get MORE STRESSED about an UNTIDY HOME than anything else (including the health of their children and lack of sleep). It reported results in percent from asking ~4000 members of that community what their stress triggers were. But the text instead claimed to have asked about the biggest stress trigger or fear:
“Only 16% of parents stated that their biggest fear was losing their child in a crowd…”

Results were reported in the eight-slice pie chart shown above (to which I have added a syringe to indicate overinflation). That is because that chart is overinflated to a total of 273.6%. The two largest slices for Untidiness of house (60.8%) and Lack of sleep (55.2%) add to 116% - while all the slices should only add to 100%. Look at the angle of slightly less than ninety degrees covered by the dark green slice for Untidiness of house. It really represents 22.2%, which is what you get when you divide 60.8 % by 2.73. People had reported on several triggers rather than just their biggest trigger.

Back on December 22, 2013 I had blogged about ‘tis the season for pies and artistic charts about them, and discussed another pie chart that totaled to an absurd  271%. This one is even worse.

Those Childcare results should have instead been reported via a horizontal bar chart, as is shown above. The syringe image came from the Database Center for Life Science at Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Jef the Cyclist shows us how NOT to open your speech

Yesterday’s Pearls Before Swine cartoon had minor character Jef the Cyclist writing a speech to kick off his campaign for mayor. But Pig told him there might be a problem with his first line:

“Dear lardos with no self-discipline.”

As is shown above, Jef views us non-cyclists as scum or commoners. He once was going to give a brief talk titled ‘Why I’m better than you’ at a Conference of the Self-Righteous.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Qualifiers are one place where filler words come from

Today’s xkcd cartoon by Randall Munroe has the biggest cluster of qualifiers I have seen.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Don’t just tell us that something happened – tell us what we can do about it

On May 29, 2019 at her Speechwriter-Ghostwriter blog Jane Genova posted about Fortune Setting Up Paywall – Risky Business. She linked to a Wall Street Journal article from that same day titled Fortune to add paywall in bid to diversify revenue stream, and also to her January 28, 2019 article at O’Dwyers titled Paywalls: the high stakes.

Those of us who sometimes read articles from that ninety year old business magazine are more interested in what we can do about that paywall – like perhaps being able to leap right over it (as is shown above).  For now we can, since local public libraries (like those here in Idaho) carry Fortune in the Business Source Premier database at EBSCOhost. There are nine articles posted on June 1, 2019 from the latest Fortune 500 List. I previously discussed using libraries in a May 12, 2018 post titled A door past the Vanity Fair magazine paywall, and on December 23, 2017 in another post titled How to build a bad presentation – describe a problem but not a good solution.

Jane still is a poster girl for superficial research and thoughtless writing.

The image was adapted from one in The Comic History of Rome showing Remus jumping over the Walls found at Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Don’t forget to smile at your audience!

At the Inc. web site yesterday there was an 1150-word article by Thomas Koulopoulus titled One thing that you can do right now to make your next speech extraordinary (no practice involved).

In brief, his advice just is to smile at your audience. Similarly, the 20-page instructional booklet (Item 201) from Toastmasters International titled Gestures: Your Body Speaks reminds us on page 14 that:

“The key to conveying friendliness is remembering to smile.”

An image of a smiling stuffed Cheshire Cat came from Daniel Schwen at Wikimedia Commons.