Tuesday, June 23, 2009

You are not alone: fear of public speaking affects one in five Americans

by Richard Garber, Ph.D., ACB and Michael Kroth, Ph.D., ATM

For people who are trying to improve their speaking skills, fear may be the most important factor influencing the decision to attend that first Toastmasters meeting. Where does fear of public speaking in the U.S. rank compared with fear of other social situations? Does it get the “gold medal” in the “Olympics of Fear?”

Some people still quote a survey of 3000 people from 1973 that was mentioned back in 1977 in the Book of Lists. However, there is a very large, but almost unknown, survey of the public which was published just last year. It is one result from a large ongoing mental health program called the National Comorbidity Survey (NCS). Their first survey of 8,098 people in the U.S. was conducted between 1990 and 1992, and results on social fears were published back in 1998.

About a decade later a second study called the National Comorbidity Survey – Replication (NCS-R) was conducted. This survey of 9,282 people was conducted between 2001 and 2003.

Data were analyzed, and those results on social fears finally were published in January 2008. You can read the entire article by A. M. Ruscio et al. here. Social fears are shown in the following bar chart:

First, 21.2% reported a fear of public speaking/performance, which was larger than any of the other 12 specific categories. Second, 19.5% reported a fear of speaking up in a meeting/class which is a similar question answering situation that Toastmasters will recognize as the impromptu speaking portion of their meeting known as Table Topics. Only 11.5% feared a dating situation, so almost twice as many people feared public speaking as feared going out on a date. The lowest specific category was using a public bathroom, which was feared by just 5.7% of Americans.

Fear of public speaking is the most significant social fear for residents of the U.S. Fear of speaking up in a meeting or class is a very close second. Both affect about 1 in 5 Americans. Toastmasters, the best way to overcome both of those fears, remains the number one antidote. Don’t be snake bit – tell everyone how they can feel confident and competent behind and, yes, even in front of the podium.

Richard Garber, PhD., ACB Is Vice President-Education for Capitol Club Toastmasters in Boise, Idaho.

Michael Kroth, PhD, ATM is an Assistant Professor at University of Idaho in Adult and Organizational Learning. He is the author of Career Development Basics, Transforming Work: The Five Keys to Achieving Trust, Commitment, and Passion in the Workplace, and The Manager as Motivator.

The above article is a revision of the article that appeared yesterday in the Summer 2009 issue of The Pulsebeat, the electronic newsletter for District 15 of Toastmasters International.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A speech needs a skeleton before it can stand up.

A structure from an outline is part of the basic planning process for creating a speech. Eventually that structure must be converted into a sequence of words and images.

There are many approaches to planning and outlining. Andrew Dlugan has one, and Susan Dugdale has another.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A graphical bullseye

In the latest issue of American Scientist magazine there is an article, That’s Funny, that discusses two examples which show how what we emphasize can make it either easy or hard to find data in a graphic. A complicated example uses the famous bullseye chart shown here. It very concisely depicts which of 3 antibiotics are best targeted to control growth of bacteria in glass lab culture dishes (in vitro).

Three columns in the table at the right also show results for those 3 antibiotics: penicillin, streptomycin, and neomycin. Each entry in the table shows the concentration of antibiotic required to stop bacteria from growing (the minimum inhibitory concentration, acronymed as MIC). Values for the MIC cover a huge range: from 0.001 to 850. The fourth column in the table shows whether the bacteria are colored by Gram stain when viewed with a microscope.

The chart shows how Will Burtin plotted the data in 1951 on a logarithmic circular chart, like a rifle target with a bullseye. The outermost ring is an MIC of 0.001, followed by 0.01, 0.1, 1.0, 10, 100, and 1000. In the bullseye chart the response to Gram stain is color coded as purple for positive and orange for negative.

The article points out how other graphics are required to show some puzzling behavior exhibited by a few of those types of bacteria.

Geographical graphics

The latest issue of American Scientist magazine has an article titled That's funny that discusses two examples which show how what we emphasize can make it either easy or hard to find data in a graphic. One example uses the two US maps shown here.

The map on top has captions showing commodities that are produced in each state. A series of maps on the bottom instead are blackened to show the states that produce each commodity. When you look at the upper left in the top map, you will see that my state, Idaho, produces phosphate rock (used to make fertilizer).

There is no map on the bottom to show which other states also produce phosphate rock. When you look around starting from Idaho you almost immediately can find that its two adjoining states of Montana and Wyoming also prod
uce phosphate. What other state produces phosphate? It probably took you five or ten seconds to find that the answer is Florida. The graphic shown below makes it easy to find Florida.

In fact, Florida produces most of the phosphate in the US, as is discussed in a recent Scientific American article: Phosphorus Famine: The Threat to Our Food Supply.

Monday, June 15, 2009

F Minus: the joy of single panel cartoons

There is a wonderfully-strange daily single-panel cartoon called F Minus, which is written by Tony Carrillo. I look at it online very week. Sometimes his caption has to tell a lot of the story, as shown below:

F Minus

When you click on the image you will see that the “space alien” is just a cyclist with an aero helmet and sunglasses.

Last Friday he showed a presentation mishap involving a balloon drop (which I pointed out to Breaking Murphy’s Law"):

F Minus

In Carrillo’s cartoon world the animals sometimes are running things, as in the following one that reminds me of Gary Larson’s The Far Side:

F Minus

Monday, June 8, 2009

Seeing what is not there – but should be

One of the hardest things about preparing a speech is the critical ability to step back, look hard, and see what is missing. It is easy to revise what you already have written. It is much harder to see else what should be there – but is not.

Are you missing something, like a stirring opening, a grand finale with a call to action, or a compelling story to support one of your main points?

A few weeks ago I got a lesson on this topic when I started up the drip irrigation system for our yard. It has a pump (inside a gray plastic dog house, as shown above) that draws water from a canal that runs through our backyard. There is a filter inside of a clear plastic jar (see the yellow arrow) located just past the pump. The outside of the jar has threads at the top, like a sturdier cousin of a jar for mayonnaise or peanut butter. It screws onto a white plastic lid glued into the PVC piping. Last season we had noticed that the filter was leaking a little. I tried tightening the jar then, but it still leaked. It was not serious because the water just ran on the ground and back into the canal.

This season I was determined to figure out why it leaked. First I unscrewed the jar and looked to see if there was a gasket on top of it. There was not. Next I got out a mirror and a toothpick to check if I could see or feel a gasket on the bottom of the white plastic lid. However, there was not one there either. When I looked more closely at the outer rim on top of the jar I saw a ledge, so I suspected that there should have been an O-ring (a black rubber donut) around there.

I took the jar and drove a couple of miles west to Grover Electric and Plumbing Supply. Their replacements had an O-ring seal sitting on that ledge. They also had separate replacement O-rings. I bought one and installed it. Now the filter no longer leaks.

Sometimes missing O-rings are VERY critical. Eastern Airlines flight 855 left Miami for Nassau on the morning of May 5, 1983. The Lockheed L-1011 airliner was carrying 162 passengers and 10 crew members. After just a half-hour they had to turn back because the low-oil warning lights for all three jet engines went on. They landed in Miami with only one engine running. Right after they landed the other two engines caught on fire. Fortunately no one was injured or killed, but it was a very near miss.

An NTSB investigation revealed that the magnetic chip detectors for the oil systems (as shown below) on all three engines had been installed without a pair of O-ring seals. Previously a maintenance supervisor always had given the mechanics the chip detectors with the O-rings already added.

Apparently they stored the chip detectors in their parts bins without the O-rings, because the rubber has a limited shelf-life. That day the mechanics went to the parts bins and got the detectors themselves. They did not realize that those two seals were missing, and proceeded to install them on all three engines.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Like trying to fill a dog dish with a firehose

A good analogy can help your audience to understand something strange or complicated, or both. The metaphor in the title of this post refers to an explanation by the astronomer Antony Stark of why most galaxies, including ours, have sudden periods where stars form (starbursts).
When a highly dense ring of gas is drawn toward the black hole at the center of a galaxy, its mass will exceed the ability of the black hole to consume it. Then the gas will be ejected suddenly in a starburst. Tony explains it in a newspaper story here. He is shown walking to work at his telescope located down at the South Pole in the NOVA TV program Monster of the Milky Way. Look at the beginning of Chapter 7: Fate of the Milky Way.
I recalled that analogy a week ago in describing the new Star Trek movie, which seemed to be trying to cram in way too much stuff into the story, including some black holes. By the way, Tony is my brother-in-law.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Cluttering is not the same as stuttering

In my previous post on filler words I mentioned that some people have a problem with speaking smoothly that is called cluttering. I linked to the Stuttering Foundation’s brochure on cluttering which begins by stating that:

“Like stuttering, cluttering is a fluency disorder, but the two disorders are not the same. Cluttering involves excessive breaks in the normal flow of speech that seem to result from disorganized speech planning, talking too fast or in spurts, or simply being unsure of what one wants to say. By contrast, the person who stutters typically knows exactly what he or she wants to say but is temporarily unable to say it. To make matters even more confusing, since cluttering is not well known, many who clutter are described by themselves or others as ‘stuttering.’ Also, and equally confusing, cluttering often occurs along with stuttering.”

Jenny Loehr shows the fundamental difference between the two with this cartoon.

In the March 2009 issue of the ASHA Leader Judith Maginnis Kuster discussed cluttering in her article titled: Cluttering: The Other Fluency Disorder. She gives a lot of useful web links. (I got to the Jenny Loehr cartoon from her list). She also links to the International Cluttering Association (ICA).

Ms. Kuster also links to an article where Joseph Dewey describes his personal experiences with cluttering. Mr. Dewey wrote a guide at Amazon.com:So you’d like to...um...stop...you know…like…using filler words. He also runs an online Yahoo support group mentioned on the ICA web site.