Thursday, February 25, 2010

What can you say in the time it takes to soft-boil an egg?

More than you might imagine. On July 24, 2009 Joan Detz gave a Thorough Speech on Brief Speechmaking, subtitled Mastering the Three-Minute Speech: Advice for Your Speaking Success. Her audience was the National Conference of State Legislatures, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Joan has written the following four books:

It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It (2000)
Can You Say a Few Words (1991, 2006)
You Mean I Have to Stand Up and Say Something (1986)
How to Write and Give a Speech (1984, 1992, 2002)

You can read the text of her speech here or download it in the October 2009 sample issue of Vital Speeches of the Day. Her twelve points were to:

1. Expand your definition of a speech.
2. Do your math.
3. Focus your message.
4. See if you can tie your message into the date in history.
5. Make adjustments based on audience demographics.
6. Be specific.
7. Watch your pronouns.
8. Give it some style.
9. Use a light touch of humor.
10. Fix your delivery problems.
11. Consider your A-V options.
12. Don’t run overtime.

Under No. 2, do your math meant that you should know your speech rate in words per minute. The US average is 140, but it varies widely. However, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was only 268 words, so even at a leisurely 90 words per minute you could fit it into three minutes.

Under No. 4, she mentioned three historical events that occurred on July 24. Regarding No. 5, there is another event celebrated in Utah called Pioneer Day.

Under No.10, fix your delivery problems, she mentioned that you might read books, take classes, get coaching, watch C-Span, join Toastmasters International, etc.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Finding your niche

Everyone needs to have a marketing niche, or two. Replacing shovel handles may be a narrow niche, but it might not be a tiny one. The sign shown above is in Meridian, which is west of Boise and at one edge of Ada County. There are about 1200 farms in Ada County. Adjacent Canyon County has almost 2000 farms, the most for any county in Idaho. How many shovels does a farm use?

An article in the May 15, 2008 issue of Business Week discussed how Best Buy found some unexpected marketing niches, like a retiree club near Mooresville, North Carolina (for digital TV sets), and sailors from Eastern European ships visiting their Baytown, Texas store (for Apple iPods and laptop computers).

Fear of public speaking is one topical niche for this blog. If you scroll to the bottom of the page and click the label for Surveys you will see 15 posts ranging from humorous to serious.

Susan Friedmann has been on the board of the National Speakers Association and is a Certified Speaking Professional. She has carved out a career niche in speaking, writing, and blogging about niche marketing. In 2007 Susan published a book on Riches in Niches (How to make it BIG in a small market). In 2009 she published another, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Target Marketing.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The power of thinking and presenting with images versus mere words

Images are far more powerful than words alone. Using them we can catch things we otherwise might miss.

Take a metaphorical seat in my car, and let’s take a brief drive through the beginning of Bert Decker’s last blog sermon titled Disguised Decay. The headline is a quotation stating that:
“Status quo is disguised decay. - Pete Wilkinson”

Bert begins by preaching that:
“The truth is, status quo is a facade. You’re either improving or decaying. Some have put it that you are either growing or you’re dying. True. There is no in between.”

Really? That false dichotomy is the mental equivalent of standing at an intersection and only seeing the two pedestrian lights for WALK and DON’T WALK:

Well, since we’re already at an intersection, why can’t there be three possibilities, just like a traffic light? Yellow is in between!

Then in the third paragraph he glibly shifts from discrete to continuous by starting out with how:
“We’re all moving along the continuum of effective communicators.”

Does the continuum mean that my speaking competence versus time can change like my altitude? My route might bring me up into mountains or down into valleys. My route also could be level, along a plain or plateau. Out here in the Intermountain West we have miles and miles of
“in between.”

Then he proclaims that: “Even when you reach your goal as a communicator, the journey continues.” We can easily show this by adding a series of higher and higher goals to the previous image:

Bert continues with how: “Perfection is a dangling carrot, serving as a motivator to lean forward and do it. Whatever you have achieved, there is always more work to be done.”

He illustrates that thought by finally using an image of a hand reaching diagonally upward toward a suspended carrot. That vegetable did not seem too high to reach. The hand had not grasped it yet, but might. For me that image and metaphor did not work at all. The next goal should clearly require climbing further before you can reach it. Anyhow, I always associate carrots either with real horses or with Bugs Bunny cartoons.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Communicating versus just speaking

Two weeks ago in her Ah, Um, Er blog Sara Marks posted about Speaking but not Communicating. She noted that when she joined Toastmasters she already was a good speaker, but a poor communicator. Sara asked why we, as Toastmasters, can’t do better at communicating this part of the mission of the organization.

I was heartened to see that yesterday’s Ogden (Utah) Standard-Examiner contained an article titled Raising a Toast to Toastmasters, and subtitled Organization Teaches Communication and Public-Speaking Skills.

The distinction between speaking (talking at) and communicating (talking with) is not new. I recently found an article on The Art of Lecturing which was published sixty years ago in the British Medical Journal. Professor G. Patrick Meredith concludes it as follows:

“In short, the art of lecturing, like any other art, must be learnt through the painful experience of practice and criticism. It will then become evident, through this empirical process, that lecturing is a living art, an art of moving the thoughts and feelings of human beings, an art in which, while the talk and the topic are in the foreground, there is a background of interaction between personalities, of historical achievement, and, in Medicine, of movement towards a proud participation in the most humane of labours.”

He devotes an entire paragraph to vitality: “….intense, creative man-to man contact – a contact of both learning and personality.”

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Why is your audience nodding off?

Any speaker would prefer his audience to be alertly nodding rather than nodding off (and snoring like hibernating bears).

I recently found an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that discussed the Incidence of and Risk Factors for Nodding Off at Scientific Sessions. It identified the following ten risk factors in a table, (and reported their odds ratios in decreasing order of significance as follows):

1) Monotonous tone (6.8)
2) Tweed jacket (2.1)
3) Losing place in lecture (2.0)
4) Poor slides (1.8)
5) Failure to speak into microphone (1.7)
6) After mealtime (1.7)
7) Dim lighting (1.6)
8) Warm room temperature (1.4)
9) Early morning (1.3)
10) Comfortable seating (1.0)

Monotonous tone topped the list for obvious reasons. However, I would not have expected that tweed jackets would be second.

They also provided a curiously detailed figure illustrating how the number of nodding off events per lecture varied with the length of the lecture. When you look carefully at the figure, you can see that it represents the head of a sleeping audience member in silhouette:

The tabulated risk factors should be taken with a very large grain of salt, since the article just is a rare example of scientific humor about presentations.

Yesterday on his Overnight Sensation blog James Feudo discussed Three Painless Ways to Avoid the Boring Talk.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The joy of pareidolia

People are skilled at finding patterns. Sometimes we find patterns that are not even there. Pareidolia is a recent word for the erroneous or fanciful perception of a pattern or meaning in something that is actually ambiguous or random, like the “man in the moon” or a soapy constellation. You need to be clear when you create graphics for a presentation, or else people just will fill in the blanks.

We are wonderful at finding human faces, both in profile and looking straight at us. Part of the brain even is dedicated to perceiving faces. It is called the fusiform face area. All it takes to get us started is areas that suggest eyes and a mouth, like this pan shown here by Phil Plait, which suggests the Stay Puft marshmallow man. Plait’s blog has a category devoted to examples of pareidolia.

Shane Killian has a three-part Bogosity video series about pareidolia for both sight and sound. Adam Buxton gives humorous video examples here and here of how reading mangled subtitles can bias the understanding of lyrics from religious songs.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Add visual interest to your public speaking presentation with balloons, and other inflatable props

Balloons and other inflatable objects are inexpensive, easy-to-carry props that can perk up a presentation. They are sold at a wide variety of places like toy stores, party supply stores, and pool stores. You can inflate them quickly with a $15 foot pump. After your speech you might give one away as a memorable door prize.

For example, consider the following menagerie of metaphors:

1) The elephant in the room
2) Having to swim with the sharks
3) Being up to your posterior in alligators

Although fear of speaking can be regarded as “the elephant in the room” you should embrace it. For about $6 you can buy a 33-inch elephant balloon at Amazon, Target, or balloon suppliers that you can hug.

Both sharks and gators are sold as inflatable pool toys. There even are inflatable dinosaurs! You can get a 41-inch mylar shark balloon that you can hold up, or an 68-inch shark pool float that you can ride on.

Hearts are a popular symbol for Valentine’s Day. You can order an inflatable one from Archie McPhee. They also have inflatable turkeys and fruitcakes!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Isn’t the slide deck where the passengers play shuffleboard on a cruise ship?

It should be! So, why is the file containing the images for a presentation still called a slide deck?

“Slide deck” likely was management consulting slang that escaped into the mainstream. That terminology once made some sense when presenters used overhead projectors. The tall stack of rectangular images (variously called transparencies, viewgraphs, vuegraphs, vugraphs, acetates, films, or foils) actually resembled a gigantic deck of playing cards.

Back then a presenter needed an attaché case just for carrying a slide deck around. Shuffling cards is routine, but shuffling a slide deck would be a disaster. The cart for an overhead projector needed two distinct surfaces for carefully stacking them before and after they were shown.

Last year Christopher Stevenson ranted about Why I Hate PowerPoint and the People Who Love It. He similarly said that:

“I hate anyone who refers to a presentation as a slide deck. I just do. It's not 1973 anymore, we don't have slide decks, we stopped using overhead transparencies over a decade ago. I'm sorry you didn't get the memorandum.”

Can someone come up with a better name for a PowerPoint (or Keynote, or Impress) presentation file?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Is the point of your presentation perfectly clear?

Sometimes the message for a presentation is perfectly clear. Other times it gets lost in the details. Almost everyone in the US instantly knows what this iconic vehicle is promoting. While walking home from a Toastmasters club meeting on August 19, 2009 I saw this 27-foot long Oscar Mayer Wienermobile parked in the lot of the Residence Inn in Boise. The vanity license plate in the front window even says "WEENR." Don’t you wish you had a prop like this?