Saturday, August 31, 2019

Poetry and songwriting are the opposite of verbosity

On May 11, 2019 I had blogged about Does verbosity come from having lots of time to kill? The opposite of verbosity is making every single word count - so you can tell a story in about five minutes. Poets and songwriters can do this brilliantly. Recently I have been listening to the Bruce Springsteen studio album Western Stars. A YouTube video of the upbeat song Tucson Train is shown above. Bruce’s lyrics tell most of the story just in the first and third verses:

“I got so down and out in Frisco

Tired of the pills and the rain

I picked up, headed for the sunshine

I left a good thing behind

Seemed all of our love was in vain

Now my baby’s coming in on the Tucson train….

We fought hard over nothing

We fought till nothing remained

I’ve carried that nothing for a long time

Now I carry my operator’s license

And spend my days just running this crane

And my baby’s coming in on the Tucson train”

Another sadder song, Chasin’ Wild Horses has mournful pedal steel guitar along with the strings and  horns. You can listen to it here on YouTube. Lyrics in the second through fourth verses tell most of that cowboy story:

“Left my home, left my friends

I didn’t say goodbye

I contract out to the BLM

Up on the Montana line

Chasin’ wild horses, chasin’ wild horses

We’re out before sunup, in after sundown

There’s two men in the chopper

Two under saddle on the ground

In the evenings we’d hop in the pickup

Head into town for a drink

Make sure I work till I’m so damn tired

Way too tired to think

You lose track of time

It’s all just storms blowing through

You come rollin’ ‘cross my mind

Your hair flashin’ in the blue

Like wild horses, just like wild horses

Just like wild horses”

What could you edit out of the story you are telling?

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Clip-on ties are for when safety is more important than fashion

In Shark Tank at Computerworld on August 23, 2019 there was an article titled Life-saving sartorial advice that discussed an employee beginning a career with a gigantic company who manufactured computer equipment. He was maintaining that equipment, and was advised by an old-timer mentoring him to get some snap -on (clip-on) ties to wear with his uniform of a white shirt and suit. What happened next?

“It only takes a few weeks for fish to learn the wisdom of the old-timer’s advice. He goes on a call to sort out a malfunctioning card sorter, which he does, and then he leans over it to watch it do its thing. That’s when his tie gets too close to the moving parts. It’s instantly ripped from his neck, and then wraps around the rollers and brings the sorter to a screeching halt.”

My first job back in 1977 was in the Ann Arbor research lab of the Climax Molybdenum Company. Engineers were expected to wear ties, and for safety’s sake to tuck them inside our lab coats when working with shop equipment like bandsaws or hacksaws. As shown above, I acquired an assortment of clip-on ties. Police and security guards also wear clip-on ties so they don’t get strangled by any of the angry people they deal with. Public speakers usually don’t have to worry about people being that angry.  

Clip-ons are not the only alternative to regular ties. As shown above in an engraving with five Celebrated English Chemists wearing bowties, chemists traditionally wore them to prevent dipping the end of a tie in the liquids the handled. (My father was a chemical engineer and he also wore bowties).

The Safety First sign came from Wikimedia Commons, and the engraving of Celebrated English Chemists came from the Library of Congress.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Celebrating 1,500,000 page views

This blog just passed a milestone of getting a total of over 1,500,000 page views. That number is over twice the population for the Boise metropolitan statistical area (730,426), which is the 80th largest in the U.S.

Where were my viewers? All over the world! The bar chart shown above lists the top ten countries, which have 76% of the total. Just 42% were from the U.S., 12% from France, and 8% from Russia, etc.   

I have published 1768 posts, so an average one would have 848 views. The most popular post had 22 times the average. The five most popular posts [number of views], title, and date are:

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Web links for finding 666 Table Topics questions for Toastmasters club meetings

Table Topics is the impromptu speaking section of a Toastmasters club meeting where members get to give a one to two minute answer to a question. That section uses questions asked by the Table Topics Master. Where does he or she get those questions?

In my July 7, 2019 blog post titled Club officers in Toastmasters (VPPR and VPM) should use all the brains they can borrow I had mentioned Lark Doley’s Golden Knowledge Base. Her web  page on Club Meetings lists a .docx file for D46_101 Ideas for Great Table Topics_Mark LaVergne and a .pdf file for D08_365 Sample Table Topics_John. Elsewhere there also is a .pdf with the 101 Ideas.

In my February 24, 2018 blog post titled Were you recently visited by the Table Topics Bunny? I mentioned that a search for Table Topics questions should also use the phrase “icebreaker questions”. At Conversation Starters World you can find a web page with 200 Icebeaker questions (and also a .pdf version).

The image of a Triumphant cartoon woman was modified from one at Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, August 23, 2019

In a 1984 New York Times article with a list of ten fears, did death come third (after public speaking)? No.

On my bookshelf I have a copy of the 2011 second edition of Andy Lopata and Peter Roper’s book  titled …and death came third (The definitive guide to networking and speaking in public). The back cover says that:

“In 1984 a New York Times Survey on Social Anxiety placed death third in the list of people’s biggest fears. The top two responses were walking into a room full of strangers and speaking in public.”

Similarly the first paragraph of the introduction claimed:

“In 1984 a New York Times study on Social Anxiety asked people what they most feared. Death came third. The top two fears were walking into a room of strangers and public speaking.”

Recently I searched the New York Times to find that study. There was only one 1984 article on social anxiety including a survey.  It was an article on December 18, 1984 by Daniel Goleman titled Social Anxiety: New Focus Leads to Insights and Therapy. Just below the title was a small box titled Situations Causing The Most Anxiety with a bar chart listing percentages for ten fears and the following explanatory text:

“In surveys of several hundred men and women, these situations were reported as producing the most anxiety. The research was done by Warren Jones at the University of Tulsa and Dan Russell at the University of Ohio College of Medicine.”

My version of that bar chart is shown above. Death wasn’t third - or anywhere else on that list. The fears (and percentages) are: A party with strangers (74%), Giving a speech (70%), Asked personal questions in public (66%), Meeting a date’s parents and First day on a new job (59%), Victim of a practical joke (56%), Talking with someone in authority  (53%), Job interview (46%), Formal dinner party (44%), and Blind date (42%).

Either Mr. Lopata or Mr. Roper could have checked a microfilm copy of the original article before concocting their book title. Apparently they relied instead on fallible secondhand information or memory. When I first found a database version several years ago, there just was the text - but not the bar chart graphic with those numbers.   

On March 2, 2013 I had blogged about how I read it in a book, so it must be true. That post discussed an incorrect version of Jerry Seinfeld’s comparison of the fears of public speaking and death - where death supposedly also came third (rather than second).

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Failed communication

Sometimes normal procedures simply don’t work in an emergency. In Shark Tank on Computerworld there was an article on August 12, 2019 titled Messages pending.

A company had a third-party managed services provider (MSP) looking after their servers. The morning after a stormy night one of the company’s information technology (IT) employees noticed his email had not updated since 1:00 AM. He found the power had been off too long for the batteries in the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to keep their email server running. He got that server running again after the power came back on.

Then he checked his cell phone for missed calls and text messages, but found none. He contacted the MSP and asked why he had never been notified of a problem. They said their normal notification method was via email. That promptly got changed to cell phone and text message.

My graphic used icons for a laptop and email server from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Hook your audience with a creative opening

On August 18, 2019 there was an article at Forbes by Esther Choy titled What your audience wants most from your presentation. She described three methods for grabbing attention:

"Conflict is the clash of forces or needs going in opposite directions….

Contrast is the juxtaposition of opposite qualities like heavy and light, plentiful and meager or active and apathetic….

Contradiction goes against your audience’s expectations."

The image of goldfishing came from a 1914 Puck cartoon at the Library of Congress.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Please take Dave Paradi’s 2019 Annoying PowerPoint Survey

Every two years Dave Paradi does a survey on what annoys people about PowerPoint presentations. You can find his eight question 2019 survey here. It is open until September 21. This is your chance to pipe up about what irritates you and should be improved.

If you were thinking about using PowerPoint, then you might look at this article from August 13, 2019 at Inc. by Geoffrey James titled Jeff Bezos, Mark Cuban, and Tony Robbins don’t PowerPoint. The do this instead.
The image of an annoyed audience was adapted form a March 11, 1908 Puck cartoon at the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Making the stage your visual aid

The August 2019 issue of Toastmaster magazine has an article by Bill Brown titled Use the stage as a visual aid and subtitled how to enhance your message by moving with precision and purpose. He described three ways (which I have expanded on):

1]  Reenact a personal story or illustration.

2]  Incorporate the image of a continuum, or scale.

3]  Use your creativity.

For the first way he mentioned having seen Craig Valentine (the 1999 Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking) tell a story about being on a tour boat. Craig had used one part of the stage to represent the bow and another for the stern, as shown above. Bill told another story about working at a radio station, and moved around to three stage areas representing his boss’s office, the newsroom, and the studio.  

For the second way Bill described an expressiveness scale which ran from monotone to raving lunatic. Or, as shown above, it could be a time line. (I got that idea from a four-minute YouTube video by Craig Valentine titled Public speaking secrets: 2 reasons for movement on stage.)

For the third way Bill discussed using the stage as an imaginary map of the U.S. showing where a couple had moved – from Detroit to Boston to San Diego.

The stage also can have abstract but real props added. On August 22, 2008 I blogged about Give ‘em props. In that post I noted how Ellen Hermens described a speaker who placed a paper circle on the floor and stood on it to show ‘this is my point of view.’ Then he stepped away and took a critical look at that point of view from another angle. (That’s a simple version of the red carpet circle at center stage for a TED talk). Another point of view might be represented by a loop of inexpensive yellow polypropylene rope.  

In another blog post on January 17, 2017 titled Using imaginary or abstract visual aids I described how an airport was represented by paper cutouts and yarns (or ropes).

Craig Valentine’s tour boat also could be abstractly represented using 1” wide strips of yellow poster board, as shown above. If you make 45 degree miter cuts at one end, and then tape two pieces together, you will get an L that can be unfolded to make a stern corner of Craig’s boat or a corner of Bill’s room.  

Use your imagination, and you will find lots of ways to make the stage a large visual aid for your speech. The stage curtain came from a gif by KDS444 at Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Which radio stations are people in Boise listening to?

On Friday, August 9, 2019 the Scene entertainment guide at the Idaho Statesman had an article by Michael Deeds titled Not again, Boise! Your favorite radio station is on AM. A bar chart with the 23 stations he listed from the Spring 2019 Nielsen Audio ratings is shown above. Michael noted that those rating shares are a logjam - no one station comes close to dominating. An AM news-talk station, KBOI 670, (50 kw) had the biggest, 5.4, share. It was followed by a three-way tie at a 4.5 share by FM stations: KSRV (variety hits, “Bob FM”), KQBL (country, “The Bull”) and KKGL (classic rock, “The Eagle”). The Facebook page for KSRV has the slogan We Play Anything – a non-format. Presumably that makes up for not having the usual nickname based on their call letters. The public radio and NPR news-talk station KBSX tied for fifth place – better than I would have expected. Another less powerful AM news-talk station, KIDO 580 (5kw) only tied for ninth place with the classical music FM station KBSU (Boise State University).

I added up the shares for the six top formats based on a word or two, and listed them in another bar chart. They were Country (12.8), Hits (12.5), Rock (12.4), News-talk (12.0), Adult contemporary (9.7), and Contemporary hits (8.0). Wikipedia has a web page on Adult Contemporary (AC) Music which says there are subtypes of hot, modern, smooth, soft, rhythmic,  and urban. The Wikipedia web page on Country Music says some subtypes are alt, bro, neotraditionalist, outlaw, and truck-driving. Mr. Deeds didn’t bother with that.

I have a dozen FM stations on car radio buttons and my iPod. They include those three AC stations. I have both AM news-talk stations on my car radio, and the FM one. But I have none of those four country stations. Also, I ignore one AC station (KXLT) between Thanksgiving and Christmas because then they only play Christmas music.  


Thursday, August 8, 2019

It might feel O.K. – but still be completely wrong

Suppose that you were getting ready to print a handout for your presentation, but found your toner was low. You unplugged the cable on the back of your printer so you could pull it out. Then you put in a new toner cartridge, and plugged the printer cable back in. But now it didn’t work. What could have gone wrong?

You might have incorrectly plugged your printer cable into the network jack. At Computerworld in Shark Tank on there was an article on August 2, 2019 titled There are only so many shapes which described that sequence. As is shown above, the USB Type B plug used for the printer can physically fit into an 8P8C Ethernet network jack. (I have shown the end of a plug and an inline coupler).

It feels right, but it does not look right at all. The jack is much wider than the plug, and has a different shape. Also, that type B plug has four pins on the interior, while the network jack has a row with eight pins at the bottom. Nothing matches electrically.

How could you prevent that problem - eliminate having a worst moment? If you are not using the network jack, then you could put a piece of masking tape or black electrical tape over it as a lock out device. Back on February 18, 2011 I had blogged about More on mistake proofing: lock out what you don’t want to happen.

Conversely it is possible to misassemble metric and inch dimensioned bolts and nuts that may look right but won’t feel right. The mixed combinations shown above in two tables (from an article by Guy Avelon) will be too loose and not have the expected strength.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Was that really a million or a billion?

Yesterday at her Speechwriter-Ghostwriter blog Jane Genova posted briefly about The $300 print textbook – the end is near. Her second paragraph about a publisher began by claiming:

“Since 2013, Pearson’s revenues had declined from $2 billion to $1.3 million.”

That would be a catastrophic drop of more than 99.9%. Clearly $1.3 million just is a typo, and she should have said $1.3 billion. Careful proofreading would have caught it. (The M key is just two spaces to the right of the B key).

That article by Eric Johnson in recode on August 2, 2019 titled “The $300 textbook is dead,” says the CEO of textbook maker Pearson which Jane linked to discussed a drop to $1.3 billion, a 35% decrease.

The article also mentioned annual sales of both 10 million and 100 million books. If we assume that an average book sold for $100, than sales of 10 million would multiply to a revenue of $1 billion, so the former sales number likely is correct.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Beta blockers are the last thing you should try to treat anxiety about public speaking

Sometimes I find an overenthusiastic, poorly researched, cheerleading article touting a product as the greatest thing since sliced bread. On June 5, 2019 there was such an article by Zara Stone at Ozy titled This startup wants to make you a better public speaker. It described Kick, which was peddling internet (telemedicine) prescriptions for a beta blocker pill, propranolol.

First, what is a beta blocker? A Mayo Clinic web page explains that:

“Beta blockers, also known as beta-adrenergic blocking agents, are medications that reduce your blood pressure. Beta blockers work by blocking the effects of the hormone epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. When you take beta blockers, your heart beats more slowly and with less force, thereby reducing blood pressure. Beta blockers also help blood vessels open up to improve blood flow.”

Another web page at Medline Plus discusses why propranolol is prescribed, precautions, and its side effects.

Zara Stone’s Ozy article claims that:
“Public speaking tops the most-feared list for many in America, affecting 26 percent, according to a 2018 Chapman University survey — that’s higher than the fear of flying, clowns and animals combined.”

But if you look at the Chapman article listing the fears for 2018 (for which no link was provided in her article) you will find Corrupt government officials are ranked as  #1 (73.6%) while Public speaking is way down at #60 (26.2%).

She also discussed the Musicians Health Survey that according to her found:

“66 percent of classical musicians said beta blockers improved their performance”

But the survey really said that 72 percent tried them, while 6% tried but found them not effective. Of those 66%, 37% tried and found them very effective, and 29% tried and found them just somewhat effective.

That survey also compared effectiveness for fifteen different treatments in a chart that followed immediately after the one with the 66 percent improvement statistic. I replotted it above. Note that while 92 percent found beta blockers effective - almost exactly as many, 91 percent, found that just experience (desensitization) was effective.  

Back on October 25, 2017 there was another far less rosy article about Kick by Rebecca Robbins at STAT titled Anxious about a big speech? This startup wants to calm you down – with a cardiac drug you pop like a mint. Her article notes that other drugs now are prescribed for social anxiety disorder, not just to block adrenaline. Rebecca quotes Boston University psychologist Stefan Hoffman as bemoaning:

“Bringing up propranolol is resurrecting a dead body.” and “That’s a horrible idea. It’s a horrible idea.”

An earlier article from 2011 at the Consumer Reports web site titled How to treat stage fright quoted Franklin Schneier, M.D.:

“Taken an hour before a performance, beta-blockers will reliably decrease symptoms like a pounding heart and a trembling voice or hands…But a moderate level of anxiety energizes a performance, so beta-blockers may actually reduce performance quality in people who are not very anxious. Also, people often become psychologically dependent on them and feel they need them and feel they need one before every performance, rather than learning skills to manage their anxiety.”

At Slate on June 25, 2019 there was still another article by Shannon Palus with the cautionary title Beta blockers were a miracle cure for my stage fright (then they took over my life).

Yet another article by Daniel McGinn on August 4, 2017 in The Atlantic titled Can this drug cure performance anxiety? included a story about his having told a friend about beta blockers. That friend wanted to borrow some of his, but Daniel instead supplied him with some vitamin B12 pills. His friend then raved that the pills were magic - although they really just were a placebo.

On April 16, 2018 at his Public Words blog Nick Morgan posted about What to do about public speaking fear when nothing else works, and mentioned beta blockers.

The image of sliced bread came from Timdogrulez at Wikimedia Commons.  

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Should you file magazines alphabetically or chronologically?

On my iMac I have an archive of  Acrobat .pdf files with issues from both Toastmaster and the National Speakers Association's Speaker magazines. When I started my Toastmaster archive a decade ago, I thoughtlessly put the issues for each year in a file labeled with the month first.

After I few years I realized this was silly, since I couldn’t easily tell whether I had missed downloading an issue. So I relabeled and switched to chronological order –  the order used automatically by the operating system. (I added a three-letter abbreviation for the month).

And then I began by listing the year, got rid of those yearly files, and put a whole decade into a single file. For the NSA Speaker there were ten issues a year, so I used the starting months for JanFeb and JulAug.  

Toastmaster has an archive that goes back to 2012. More recently they added a gallery with another  huge archive going back to 1930. When I looked there I noticed that the issues for each year were roughly in alphabetical order.  

It is rather silly to use strict alphabetical order for arranging books by their titles. If you did, then there would be huge clusters starting with A, An, and The.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Who is the least racist person?

On July 30, 2019 President Donald Trump amazingly told reporters that:

“I am the least racist person there is anywhere in the world.”

Clearly he is unable to deal with nested categories, as shown above in a Venn diagram. Donald might be the least racist person in the White House, but not in the District of Columbia (which contains lots of clergy and other helping professions), or the U.S., or the world.

And the previous day there was another article by Bess Levin at Vanity Fair titled Historical fiction: Trump claims he was right there with first responders on 9/11. She noted that the Washington Post has tallied that he’d told 10,111 lies between when he was inaugurated on January 20, 2017 and April 27, 2019. To put that into prespective, an  article by Chris Cillizza at CNN Politics on June 10, 2019 pointed out that Donald Trump lies more often than you wash your hands every day. On April 4, 2019 at The Guardian an article by Richard Wolffe asked Why did Donald Trump say his dad was German? He lies so much he doesn’t know the truth.

Our president therefore is awarded a red, white, and blue Spoutly for repeatedly spouting nonsense.