Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Toastmasters speech contests: world championship of public speaking

Every year Toastmasters runs a series of International Speech Contests which eventually result in someone winning the World Championship of Public Speaking. Getting there is a long process, as discussed in this video by the 2001 champion, Darren LaCroix. It includes his first comedy club appearance back in 1992.

On Saturday morning I walked a mile down the road to see a Toastmasters International Speech Contest. It was held at the Prairie Dog Playhouse, which is a community theater that produces Musical Melodrama Parodies, like Space Trek. The contest I saw was at the Area level. An Area is a grouping of about five clubs. Two Areas had their contests that morning. I have listed rough estimates for the number of members in each level of the organization, which are as follows:

Club ~25 members

Area A1 (5 Clubs) ~125

Division A (20 Clubs) ~500

District 15 (91 Clubs) ~2300

Region 1 (8 Districts) ~18,400

All Toastmasters (12 regions) ~230,000 members

Our former club president (and current treasurer), Deborah Whitman, won Area A1. An Area contest winner already is in quite a select group, roughly the top 1% of speakers.

There also were area contests for two-minute impromptu speeches, which Toastmasters calls Table Topics.

Last May I attended the District 15 Spring Conference here in Boise. One of the highlights was the District International Speech Contest. It was won by Rich Hopkins, whose speech Glorious Victory is on YouTube. Rich went on to win Region 1 and was a finalist in the World Championship. The district winner is one out of about 2000 members, or roughly the top 0.05%!

On YouTube you also view Amy Samet’s 2007 Region 3 speech, Nothing is Impossible, and Dan Weedlin’s Region 1 speech, Hold on to the Rope.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

National Speakers Association and Speaker magazine

If you would like to find out about how professional speakers do what they do, head over to the web site for the National Speakers Association (NSA). Near the bottom of the left side of that page you will see an image of the cover for the current issue of their Speaker magazine. Click on the image for that issue (March 2009) to see a larger view along with the very detailed navigation menu.

There are many options for navigation. One of the neater ones is that you can point to a featured article on the cover, like “Price Wars: Overcoming Fee Objections,” then click, and you will go directly to that article.

You can navigate forward or backward in a magazine issue to the start or the end |<>| of an issue, or either back or forwards by pairs of pages with the <> keys. You can change the Settings to see a single page view as well. If you click on Archives you can see covers for all the back issues online (to January 2007), and then download them for later viewing offline. You also can use Search to find specific topics.

NSA Professional of Affiliate membership is $425 per year, plus an initiation fee of $175 for a total initial “investment” of $600. Right now I think I’ll pass on that.

Fee objections are nothing new. Back in January 2005 there was an article by Lawrence L. Steinmetz in Springs magazine titled Price Equals Perception. It discusses how to overcome specific objections and turn a price buyer into a value buyer. Dr. Steinmetz gives more detailed advice in his book on How to Sell at Margins Higher Than Your Competitors: Winning Every Sale at Full Price, Rate, or Fee.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Two recent viewpoints on overcoming fear and shyness

Last week two well-known speaking coaches discussed overcoming fear and shyness. Nick Morgan posted about The 5 best ways to conquer your fear of public speaking, which were:

1. Rehearse and practice
2. Engage in positive self-talk
3. Breathe deeply and slowly
4. Work on your unconscious
5. If all else fails, do what the musicians do: take beta blockers

I have discussed Nick’s advice on rehearsal twice previously here and here.

Sims Wyeth posted about Presentation skills for the shy. He discussed whether shyness was more by nature or nurture, and how it could be overcome. Somehow this post acquired a digital stutter. There are about sixty places where spaces between words are missing. Although it is still readable the missing spaces make novel compound words which resemble German more than English.

You can find more of Sims Wyeth’s posts under the Effective-Communication tag at Fast Company.

Monday, March 23, 2009



One of the awesome secret powers that cartoonists have is the ability to invent new words for describing sounds. This morning Scott Adams did it with the Dilbert cartoon shown above.

The third frame in which Dogbert says, “I love having a favorite new word” got cut off. My only question is how to pronounce this latest two-syllable word. Should it be go-ink, or perhaps goy-nk?

Either way, trapdoors have a long history as punch lines for comedy, as shown in this Monty Python sketch about a merchant bank which also included laying off one of their two pantomime horses.

In one of his BC cartoons Johnny Hart revealed that kazango is the sound made when a dinosaur sneezes a flower out so rapidly that it punches a hole right through a tree.

Have you ever been tempted to create a new word to describe something? I sure have. Some of the discussions of the paranormal on the Coast to Coast AM radio show hosted by George Noory are so outrageous that describing them calls for a new term – parastupid. Someone else already has used it to name a web site.

Back in college I actually met a person who invented a prize winning word, but that’s another story.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Who is the most boring public speaker in the UK?

How would you like to pick up your morning newspaper and find that you just had been named the most boring public speaker in the UK? How about being named up in the top five?

On March 11 Cow LLP put out a press release for the text-to speech firm Spinvox titled: “Brits - Bored by Brown and Becks.”

Based on the percentages responding in a poll of a thousand people done in January 2009, they listed the top five worst public speakers as being:

Gordon Brown (20%), the Prime Minister
David Beckham (14%), the football star
Kate Winslet (11%), the movie actress
Chris Moyles (11%), the radio announcer
Prince Charles (7%), the Prince of Wales

The Press Association (analogous to the Associated Press, or AP in the US) promptly snipped it down to sound bit size, and it appeared as a “news” article in the Daily Star and elsewhere. Anna Raccoon quipped that Brown is the new beige. Now, all this really is quite silly. None of these personalities actually is a very boring public speaker. All of them are just in the public eye and therefore “top of mind.” Perhaps Cow LLP should change their name to Bull.

For example, as was noted by Ian Whitworth, Gordon Brown gave an excellent 34-minute speech to a joint session of the US Congress. You can also view a 2 minute excerpt from about the 13:30 mark. He does sometimes slip up though, as when he answers a question by talking about having saved the world rather than the banks.

If you want to see a truly boring speaker, have a look at this 1969 vintage Monty Python clip of John Cleese putting the radio audience to sleep with his reading of the six o clock BBC news. He does a wonderful job of following his training: “Deep breaths, and try not to think about what you’re saying.”

Monday, March 16, 2009

SpinVox proclaims the ten worst moments in public speaking

On March 11, 2009 a British speech-to-text company called SpinVox put out a press release including their list of the ten worst moments in public speaking. Nine of their items have links to YouTube video clips, and the other one links to a newspaper article. The “winners” are:

1. U.S. President George Bush Fool me once, from 2002.

2. Delia Smith, proclaims Let's be Avin’ you!, at a stadium in 2005. Delia hosted TV cooking shows and is the author of many cookbooks. On this clip she is the obviously drunk majority share holder in the Norwich city football (soccer) club, and the fans are the twelfth man. Will Rachel Ray be like this in another twenty years?

3. Kate Winslet, Oh, God, who was the other one again?, from the 2009 Golden Globe awards.

4. Judy Finnigan has an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction at the 2000 National TV awards. (Warning: this clip has a very loud soundtrack!) Back then Judy and her husband Richard hosted the Morning Show on ITV, which was roughly analogous to Live with Regis and Kathy Lee.

5. Gwyneth Paltrow sobs at the 2005 Oscar ceremony.

6. Halle Berry sheds tears and screams at the 2002 Oscars ceremony.

7. Boris Johnson delivers the 2008 Olympic handover speech. Boris is the Mayor of the City of London. Ping pong indeed started as an after-dinner amusement for bored Victorians.

8. Gerald Ratner discusses his 1991 Total Crap speech in a Sunday Times article from 2007. Until shortly after delivering that infamous speech Gerald was the chief executive of a jewelry company, the Ratners Group.

9. Keven Keegan, the manager of Newcastle United, delivers his brief 1996 rant that I will love it if we beat them about rival football team Manchester United.

10. U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, discusses Known unknowns in 2002.

I think they omitted another obvious one – Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 peace for our time speech, which Monty Python referred to as “Britain’s great pre-war joke”.

Their press release also contained results from surveys about boredom and fear, and suggestions for better speaking but that’s another story (or perhaps two).

Friday, March 13, 2009

An example of "Christmas Camouflage" graphics

In a previous post on February 10, 2009 I discussed “Christmas Camouflage” graphics. About 5% of your audience (basically 10% of the men) are color blind and can’t distinguish red from green. These are the folks who will show up for St. Patrick’s Day dressed in a red shirt and green trousers.

I just saw a post from January 8, 2009 on Jeromy Timmer’s Improvement in Practice blog about “What to put in your slides in ’09 (Part 2).” He talked about using a tool called Kuler to create a palette from an image. If you run his example with five colors through the Vischeck tool (which lets you see what a color blind person would) then you will see those five colors become just four, as shown above, because the blue shades at left and center merge. Would you have guessed that would happen?

We all have blind spots like this, and sometimes need to use one tool to check results from another. I have been using PowerPoint and choosing colors without much thought. Until I saw a post about Vischeck I had not considered that red-green color blindness could be an issue in presentation graphics. However, I should have known better based on my previous experience.

About thirty years ago I finished a hitch as a medic in the Air Force Reserve. One weekend a month my duties sometimes included doing vision tests, one of which was for color blindness. It involved flipping though a book of Ishihara plates containing numbers formed from colored dots and asking the subject to read the numbers.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Plan for problems: a ‘bumpy road” speaking experience

My first career involved doing applied research in a laboratory and speaking once a year at technical conferences about the interesting results. Back in 1982 the annual meeting of the National Association of Corrosion Engineers was in Houston, Texas. Most of the sessions were in meeting rooms that held about 40 people, and had downward-pointing, recessed spotlights for easy note-taking.

I went to present a technical paper in a session on the metallurgy of oilfield equipment. Because of the drilling boom they expected a large audience and moved it to a ballroom that could hold about 150 people. This ballroom had no recessed lights. Once the doors closed and the main lights were switched off, the only light came from the 35mm slide projector and a little lamp on the speaker’s lectern.

When I got up to and started my talk I asked for the first slide. There was a bright flash on the screen as the projector bulb burned out and the rest of the room went black. The projectionist had to crawl to the back doors and push one open before he could even find the light switch and change the bulb. It probably took him only two minutes, but as I just stood there it felt like forever.

All my rehearsals had been done with the slides as a crutch. Without them I felt helpless. I wasn’t prepared to wing it and use a blackboard or flip chart as a back-up. Actually the first four slides in my introduction just were text. If I had been less nervous, then I could easily have smoothly started my talk without them.

This post was in inspired by, and appears as a comment on Susan Trivers Great Speaking Coach blog.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

"Show and Tell" with a simple model of a product feature

Back in January I mentioned getting into a rut when trying to trim a long technical paper meant for engineers down to a 10 to 12 minute speech for a nontechnical audience of 15 people at a Toastmasters club meeting. The topic was failure analysis of fire sprinkler heads. I already had a long, detailed PowerPoint presentation and was stuck trying to cut it down.

What I needed was a simple way to explain two different designs used for closing the water nozzle end of a sprinkler head. The old, reliable way is to put a metal cap (like a soda or beer bottle cap) over the end. The newer and much less reliable way is to stick a plug inside (similar to the cork for a wine bottle). The plug was brass, and it had a groove which held a rubber donut (called an O-ring) to do the sealing. I could have added two more images of a soda bottle and a wine bottle to show both designs.

While microwaving a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast I got another inspiration for “show and tell”. I noticed that the 5” diameter cylindrical container for the oatmeal already had a plastic lid similar to a soda bottle cap. The container got emptied and covered with a sheet of colored paper, as shown below.

In the garage I found a leftover chunk of spongy blue packaging foam. It was easily cut to make a plug for the interior. There are gaps on both edges for my thumb and fingers to grab and pull out the plug. So, now I had a working model to show the two different seal designs, as shown below.

The O-ring seal design got used in two different models of fire sprinkler heads from the Central Sprinkler Company. Unfortunately the “cork” tended to get stuck in the “bottle”. The Consumer Product Safety Commission made them recall 8 million Omega sprinkler heads and 35 million GB sprinkler heads. When the dust settled after that mess, Underwriters Laboratories changed their product standard to NOT allow ANY more sliding O-ring seals to be used in fire sprinkler heads.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A “whipped topping” elevator speech: What the heck do you guys really do?

In a previous post I discussed how an elevator speech answers the question of: What do you do, that can help me? Writing a good elevator speech to introduce yourself or your company is hard. Writing a bad one is very easy.

Whipped topping is a substitute for real whipped cream. It’s just a garnish for dessert, so it is not expected to be anything substantial. I recently stumbled over the web site for a corporation that is little more than a bunch of fluffy whipped topping. The following statements have been edited just slightly, and the name has been changed to protect the not-so-innocent.

Under the “About Us” tab there is the following Corporate Description, which could be replaced just by saying: “we do stuff for you.”

Enematec is a top-tier provider of business and technology solutions designed to enhance and maximize the operational performance of its customers through the adaptation and deployment of advanced information technology and engineering services. We are an innovative leader in the design, development and delivery of these solutions to commercial and government sectors, from our offices located in major metropolitan centers throughout North America.

Of course, there also is a Mission Statement:
Enematec’s mission is to be in a leadership position in its industry by providing responsive, high-quality, reliable, technologically advanced, and cost-effective services that enable its customers to meet their business objectives, allow Enematec to enhance shareholder value, and afford its employees the opportunity to realize their professional and personal goals. Enematec supports this mission with dedication, resources and expertise.

Naturally there also is a Vision Statement:
Enematec’s vision is to be the #1 choice of customers for delivery of professional services while maintaining a strong commitment to technological innovation, continuous improvement through total quality management, employee career growth, and respecting the integrity of our customers and employees.

Both the Mission Statement page and the Vision Statement page also repeat the Corporate Description paragraph. All of the above might be better summarized by just saying: “We take your money, do great stuff for you, and still make a profit for us.” Maybe they also should have said: “You can trust us”, but would you believe them?