Monday, August 30, 2010

Do some jumping jacks before you rehearse your speech!

Today I ran across a brief posterous post that referred back to an article by Pete Williams which appeared on the Core Performance web site back on August 5, 2009. It was titled Sidelined by Anxiety, and it contained the following quote from an interview with Dr. Jim Afremow, who is a sport psychologist at Arizona State University:

“No matter how hard you try mentally, it’s difficult to simulate a heightened nervous condition. ‘It’s not enough to say, ‘Okay, there are two guys on base,’’ Afremow says. ‘You need to get your heart rate up. I challenge them to do some intense cardio for a minute. You recreate that feeling of flight/fight and then practice. That way, you learn that body response.’

Afremow says this applies even to public speaking. Instead of just practicing a speech in front of a mirror, do a minute of cardio and then deliver the speech. That way you practice under the raised heart rate you’re likely to have the day of the speech.”

That is interesting advice, to practice like you will play. The image is a partially clothed version of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Vitruvian Man.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Are we in the third era of presenting? Yes, we indeed are!

In her Speaking About Presenting blog on August 12, 2010 Olivia Mitchell asked Are You Ready for the Third Era in Presenting? She identified three distinct eras:

1. Era of the Orator (ancient times to 1990s)
2. Era of the Slide (1990s to the future)
3. Era of the Audience (2000s to the future)

I agree with Olivia that we are definitely in the third era. However, I think things actually began to change much earlier, perhaps around World War I.

One of her critics, David Murray claimed that:

“One of the beautiful things about oral communication is that it resists technological intervention.”

That clearly is utter nonsense. What audiences expect for both length and style has changed repeatedly as a result of technology, as illustrated in my yellow graphic.

First, consider presentation aids. For millennia there was no amplification, so we were in the Stentorian era. When public address systems were introduced early in the 20th century it became possible to speak softly, whether or not you also carried a big stick. Also, the theatrical gestures employed by speakers became less necessary. More recently the presence of live video presented on huge screens gave a stadium-sized audience a close-up view of any gestures.

Second, consider the reusable media a speaker can easily use to add his own material. Two centuries ago all we had was blackboards. More recently we have both audio and video recording. What you have heard or seen can now be saved and passed on.

Third, consider the broadcast media for spreading a presentation instantaneously. Radio, and then television have forever changed the reach of a presentation.

Fourth, consider the recorded mass media for delivering and commenting on a presentation. Newspapers and magazines can describe a text, but miss the nuances a record or a sound film can reveal. Emmylou Harris once said that:

"Talking about songwriting is like doing card tricks on the radio."

Reading a transcript of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is a pale shadow of what a sound film will show you.

Today on his Public Words blog Nick Morgan lamented the disconnect between old styles and current reality when he discussed Public speaking and the audience: we’ve got a problem.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Free ebooks about public speaking and presentations?

You may find them hiding in the databases at your friendly local public library. Isn’t that a pleasant surprise? I’m not talking about ebooks that you can digitally check out only for a month or so. You can keep these forever! The only catch is that you have to download the individual chapters as Acrobat pdf files. You will need to create a file folder for storing each book.

In the Proquest Central database there are four of them. Finding them is not difficult. Either a keyword search or a subject search for “public speaking” or presentations will reveal them when you look in Results under the Books tab.

One is Public Speaking for Dummies by Malcolm L. Kushner (2004, $11.55 at Amazon). The second, also by Kushner is Presentations for Dummies (2004, $15). Somehow both books were listed as being by Anonymous. The third is The Complete Presentation Skills Handbook by Suzy Siddons (2008, $22.76). The fourth is Communicate to Win by Richard Denny (2006, $20). Together those four would cost about $70 if you bought them at

Monday, August 23, 2010

The gesture for fire is the symbol for infinity

Fire can seem almost infinitely bad. The Navy aircraft control signal for fire is shown above. The gesture is the same horizontal figure-eight shape used to represent the mathematical concept of infinity.

Here in Idaho over the weekend we remembered the centennial of the Big Blow Up. Huge forest fires in northern Idaho forever changed the state and the Forest Service. Last October I discussed the story of one hero, forest ranger Ed Pulaski. You can find links to more articles about the fires and the centennial.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Four-minute men, three-minute women, and one-upmanship

On August 19 Scott Berkun blogged about
The four minute presentation and referred to my August 9 post on this blog.

Back during World War I some women took the idea of brief speeches even further. The November 29, 1917 issue of The Idaho Statesman said that in Boise there were ten days of speeches in theaters by ‘three minute women’ organized via the women’s committee of the Council of National Defense and the Four Minute Men.

An article in Volume 23 of Public Libraries (on page 218) said that:

“In Memphis, there has recently sprung full-fledged into being a live organization of ‘Three Minute Women.’ It is already in touch with the Government, and may prove the beginning of a national organization. It addresses groups of women which the Four Minute Men can not easily reach. At the noon-hour in a bag factory, a Three Minute Speech on thrift stamps was the means of selling $55 worth of them to the women employees, who had ignored the movement until that moment.”

In James A. B. Scherer’s book The Nation at War, on page 62 he noted that in North Carolina:

“They have also quaintly organised the women down there; they have what might be called a company of three-minute women, on the principle, I suppose, that women can say more in three minutes than the Four- Minute Men can in four (and say it much more to the purpose). They have put these three-minute women at the telephones; it is easy enough to get the co- operation of the telephone companies. So every day at noon when the North Carolina farmer puts his ear to the telephone he not only gets the latest market quotations on ‘butter'n'eggs,’ and corn and cotton and hay, but ‘central’ drops into his ear at the same time just a little dose of the proper patriotic ’dope’ that Uncle Sam thinks he needs at the moment.”

Where did I find out about the Four Minute Men? In the forum section of the Winter 2009 issue of Rhetoric & Public Affairs magazine Professor Lisa Mastrangelo wrote a 27 page paper titled World War I, Public Intellectuals and the Four Minute Men: Convergent Ideals of Public Speaking and Civic Participation. The Summer 2010 issue carried responses to her essay by four other scholars.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Pre-preparation and other pleonasms

We need to face up to the fact that it would apparently seem we are surrounded on all sides by pleonasms. Some like doing the crossword puzzle with an ink pen while eating a tuna fish sandwich. Others have their PIN number ready for the ATM machine. There also are bilingual tautological place names like Lake Tahoe and the Sahara desert.

Pleonasm is the use of more words in a clause or sentence than are necessary to express the meaning. Pleonasms sometimes add style but mostly waste time. For example, “in spite of the fact” can be replaced by “though” and “owing to the fact” can be replaced by “because.”

This post began from seeing an article yesterday on Critical Public Speaking Pre-preparation by Dale A. Simmons. (It first was published in 2007).The word prepare means to make ready. It comes from the Latin prae (before) plus parare (to set or place in order). Pre-preparation is a pleonasm, but has over fifty years of use to describe food service. The article said that:

“Pre-Preparation is critical to your delivering a good presentation. In Public Speaking the pre-preparation, or lack of, will be noticed by your audience.”

An article should be prepared by proofreading before publication. That article also said:

“Ask a friend over to help, it may cost you’re(sic) a dinner or beer, present it and ask for honest feedback.”

“You really don’t want to read off cue cards or read off you(sic) Power Point presentation.”

“It does not hurt to glance up if you loose(sic) your place.”

“Seating capacity, number of expected participants, size of room and acoustics play a huge roll(sic) on your planned delivery.”

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Joy of cartoons

Presentations and public speaking occasionally are topics for cartoons. On August 7th Dilbert ended a presentation by thanking his audience for their utter apathy.

On July 8th, 9th, and 10th there was a series about public speaking. The first showed Alice becoming completely dehydrated by the thought of public speaking. The second had Asok with a very upset stomach. The third had the boss announce that he was sending Alice, Dilbert, and Asok to a public speaking class. The first cartoon was particularly hilarious to Dilbert fans because Alice, the brilliant engineer, is otherwise physically fearless. She wields the infamous Fist of Death, and also has kicked an Elbonian into his fur hat.

There also have been many Dilbert cartoons about PowerPoint. Last October Brent Dykes showed a collection of them in a blog post.

On July 6th there was a Savage Chickens cartoon about things to fear, both singly and in combination. Last week there was another thing to fear: the door-to-door podium salesman.

Last August there was a Pickles cartoon about combinations of fears. A 2005 Frank and Earnest cartoon imagined how the famous opening line, “Friends, Romans, and countrymen” might have been written. Back in 2003 Rose is Rose even had a Halloween costume related to public speaking.

You can find more cartoons about public speaking here.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A short story with a unique perspective

In his book War Dances Sherman Alexie tells a very short story called Looking Glass. His grandmother described her favorite babysitter on the Colville Indian Reservation - a kind, peaceful old man who used to sit in his rocking chair and braid her hair.

That old man was Chief Joseph, the legendary leader of the Nez Perce. Most know him from his surrender speech on October 5, 1877, ending with the famous words:

“From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”

Friday, August 13, 2010

Add your unique perspective to a topic

I recently received my Advanced Communicator Silver award from Toastmasters International.One requirement for it was to present two educational programs from the Better Speaker Series.

The first one I did was about Using Body Language.
My club library had an older copy of the brochure, which
came with with a set of five bullet-point PowerPoint Slides with the same generic clip art background at the bottom. The slides really were just an outline, and they looked something like this:

I illustrated my spee
ch with a lot more slides, using photos taken from Wikimedia Commons. To explain emotional gestures I added the following two slides. The second one is from that hilarious 1959 science fiction/horror movie, Plan 9 from Outer Space. It shows the crossed arms-over-chest salute that two aliens gave when they reported to their Leader.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The power of brief speeches: World War I and the Four Minute Men

Imagine you were telling your grandfather about those nifty new, brief presentation formats like Ignite, Pecha Kucha, and Lightning Talks. You enthusiastically described how wonderful it was for speakers to be able to get to the point in only 5 to 7 minutes (possibly with precisely 20 PowerPoint slides).

He then would turn to you, sneer, and ask why it took you guys so darned long! Back during World War I (1917 and 1918) his uncle used to speak about patriotic topics for just four minutes at intermissions in movie theaters. This was before commercial radio broadcasting even existed.

Projectionists took four minutes to change films, so he and the other volunteer speakers to those large captive audiences were simply known as the Four Minute Men. (Of course the name also was meant to recall the Minute Men back during the American Revolution). They used just one or two slides. The entire program cost the government just $102,000.

Those volunteers were an important part of the Committee on Public Information, a federal propaganda agency run by a journalist named George Creel. During the war there were about 75,000 Four Minute Men, who gave an estimated 755,000 speeches to a total audience of 314 million people. The average audience was 416 people. On the average everyone in the US got to hear 3 speeches.

The idea for the Four Minute Men began with a group of Chicago businessmen shortly before the US declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. The very first speech was given by Donald M. Ryerson around April 1st in the 1470 seat Strand Theater, downtown. Mr. Ryerson was a Yale graduate in his early thirties who had worked in his family’s metal supply business, Joseph T. Ryerson and Son.

On April 13th President Wilson issued an executive order establishing a Committee on Public Information. Donald Ryerson went to Washington two days later. In ten minutes he explained the idea to Mr. Creel, who initially put him in charge of making the Four Minute Men into a national organization. Ryerson even trademarked the name of the organization. He left for naval officer training in June, and William McCormick Blair took over. They created a structure with a hierarchy of state and local branches.

By June 18 the Four Minute Men had been recognized on behalf of the Treasury Department, the Food Administration, and the American Red Cross War Council. Even more importantly, early in July the executive council of the motion picture industry recognized them as the only authorized agents speaking for the US government in the motion-picture theaters of the country. The introductory slide their speakers used to establish credibility looked like this:

A series of bulletins and newsletters were printed and mailed out to the organization. Bulletin C contained the following advice:

“...In selecting men for speakers try to secure men with various neighborhood or business contacts, who will be acceptable in appearance and general standing to the audiences, and on whom you can depend with reasonable certainty for forceful and accurate presentation of the subject.

Well-known speakers are too accustomed to longer speeches, with room for anecdotes and the introduction, and should be avoided for this service in favor of young lawyers and business men who will present messages within the four-minute limit rather than originate speeches.”

One issue of The Four Minute Men News contained the following exposition about speech delivery. It was written by by Samuel Hopkins Adams, a journalist whose muckraking articles about patent medicines in Colliers magazine led to the Pure Food Act of 1906. Mr. Adams advice sounds quite contemporary:

“Stick to your time allowance. Five minutes means a guess; four minutes makes a promise.

Begin with a positive, concrete statement. Tell them something at the start.

Use short sentences. The man who can’t make one word do the work of two is no four-minute speaker.

Avoid fine phrases. You aren’t there to give them an ear full but a mind full.

Talk to the back row of your audience; you’ll hit everything closer in.

Talk to the simplest intelligence in your audience; you’’ll hit everything higher up.

Be natural and direct. Sincerity wears no frills.

Give your words time. A jumbled sentence is a wasted sentence. You can’t afford waste on a four-minute allowance.

Don’t fear to be colloquial. Slang that your hearers understand is better than Latin that they don’t.

Don’t figure the importance of your job on a time basis. Four hours of thinking may go into four minutes of speaking.

You represent the United States of America. Don’t forget it. And don’t give your audience occasion to forget it.

Finish strong and sharp. The butterfly is forgotten as soon as he departs, but you recall the hornet because he ends with a point.

Finally, and always - Stick to your pledge and the four minute limit.”

The first subject addressed by the Four Minute Men was “Universal Service by Selective Draft.” Then came the four Liberty Loan campaigns in June 1917, October 1917, April 1918, and October 1918, and the Victory Loan Campaign. Other early speech subjects (before October 1917) included Red Cross, Organization, Food Conservation, Why We Are Fighting, The Nation In Arms, The Importance of Speed, What Our Enemy Really Is, and Unmasking German Propaganda.

Donald Ryerson, the very first “Four Minute Man,” survived the war. In 1928 he became chairman of the business begun by his grandfather, and led it into the Great Depression. Sadly he did not live to a ripe old age. On May 8, 1932, in the aftermath of a nervous breakdown due to overwork, he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was only 47. A few years later the Ryerson company was bought by Inland Steel. Ryerson still exists and its successor still sells metals.

There was a 16-page article about the Four-Minute Men in the February 1939 issue of The Quarterly Journal of Speech. Their story also has been told in more detail in a book by Alfred E. Cornebise called WAR AS ADVERTISED: The Four Minute Men and America’s Crusade 1917-1918. Briefer accounts appear on the web here, here, and here.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Lack of preparation can be just as bad as too much preparation

If you do a Google search on “public speaking” one of the top-ten results will be an almost 4500-word long special report on How To Conquer Public Speaking Fear written long ago by Morton C. Orman, M.D.
Dr. Orman listed the following ten principles, most of which are good advice:

"1. Speaking in public is not inherently stressful.

2. You don't have to be brilliant or perfect to succeed.

3. All you need is two or three main points.

4. You also need a purpose that is right for the task.

5. The best way to succeed is not to consider yourself a public speaker!

6. Humility and humor can go a long way.

7. When you speak in public, nothing "bad" can ever happen!

8. You don't have to control the behavior of your audience.

9. In general, the more you prepare, the worse you will do.

10. Your audience truly wants you to succeed."

I disagree with #9. Dr. Orman’s advice on this topic is that:

“9. In general, the more you prepare, the worse you will do.

Preparation is useful for any public appearance. How you prepare, however, and how much time you need to spend are other matters entirely.

Many of the errors in thinking we've discussed so far often creep in to people's strategies for preparation. If you have the wrong focus (i.e., purpose), if you try to do too much, if you want everyone to applaud your every word, if you fear something bad might happen or you might make a minor mistake, then you can easily drive yourself crazy trying to overprepare your talk. In these instances, the more effort you put in, the worse you probably will do.

On the other hand, if you know your subject well, or if you've spoken about it many times before, you may only need a few minutes to prepare sufficiently. All you might need is to remind yourself of the two or three key points you want to make, along with several good examples and supporting facts and . . . BOOM you're ready to go.

Overpreparation usually means you either don't know your subject well or you do, but you don't feel confident about your ability to speak about it in public. In the former instance, you'll need to do some extra research. In the latter, you'll need to develop trust in your natural ability to speak successfully. The only way to do this is to put yourself in the spotlight, over and over again.

Go out and solicit opportunities to speak on your subject in public. Offer to speak free or for a small fee, enough to cover your expenses. If you have something of value to tell others, keep getting in front of people and deliver it. In no time at all, you'll gain confidence. You'll also begin to respect the natural public speaker/communicator within you.”

If you obsessively over prepare and rehearse way too much, then you likely will do worse. In general though, most people prepare too little for public speaking. You definitely need some rehearsing before you speak.

Not being prepared can lead to an undesirable outcome, as in the following cautionary tale about golf (and urination) which may or may not be about the exact same Morton C. Orman. Mike Argento discussed it here and here on his Argento’s Front Stoop blog.

The older man described in the story had the not uncommon problem of an enlarged prostate. Many men with this problem discreetly carry a plastic jar or bottle as an emergency urinal. That man apparently did not. On August 7, 2005 he relieved himself on a tree at the 17th hole of a rural golf course rather than wait and travel the 400 yards to the clubhouse. A nearby homeowner was outraged, and called the Pennsylvania State Police. The golfer was cited for disorderly conduct and fined $25.

His attorney first appealed the case to the York County Common Pleas Court. Then, after he lost, he appealed again to a three-justice Pennsylvania Superior Court panel. The Superior Court overturned the conviction in mid-December of 2006. Those two appeals resulting from a lack of preparation cost that golfer a lot more than a plastic jar would have.

In January Nick Blanchett wrote another long article about fear. It was based on Orman’s advice, but also incorporated several flow charts rather than just relying on a massive text.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Public speaking is the worst social fear for both Swedish and Indian college students

In my last post I discussed how public speaking was the second biggest fear for US college students, surpassed only by the fear of spiders. I wondered how this compared with other college students around the world, and found two other recent surveys of social fears.

In 2007 Maria Tillors and Tomas Furmark published a paper on Social Phobia in Swedish University Students: prevalence, subgroups, and avoidant behavior. You can read the abstract here. They asked a sample of 523 students (34% men and 66 % women) to rate 14 potentially phobic situations on a social distress scale from 0 to 4 where (as in my previous post) 0 = none, 1 = mild, 2 = moderate, 3 = significant, 4 = severe. Results for significant or severe fears from their Table 5 are shown in the following bar chart. (Point to and click on it to see a larger, clearer version).

Speaking or performing in front of a group of people was feared by 18.7% of the sample - much more than any of the other situations.

In 2010 Parag S. Shah and Lakhan Kataria published a paper on Social Phobia and its Impact in Indian University Students. You can read the full text here. They asked a sample of 380 students ( 68 % men and 32 % women) to rate 10 situations on the Liebowitz social anxiety scale from 0 to 3 where 0 = none, 1= mild, 2 = moderate, 3 = severe. Results for moderate or severe fears from their Table 4 are shown in the following bar chart.

Acting, performing or giving a talk in front of an audience was feared by 31.65% of the sample, and again much more t
han any of the other situations.

A significant minority of college students (about 1/5 to 1/3) in these admittedly small samples find public speaking really scary.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

What do US college students fear most? Is it snakes, spiders, or public speaking?

Also, where do heights, rats, small spaces, seeing blood, and meeting new people rank?

Earlier this year Richard W. Seim and C. Richard Spates of Western Michigan University reported the results of a survey in an article on The Prevalence and Comorbidity of Specific Phobias in College Students and Their Interest in Receiving Treatment. Their article appeared in the Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, Volume 24, No. 1, on pages 49 to 58. You can read the abstract here.

They asked 813 college students (42 % men and 58 % women) to rate their degree of fear for a dozen situations on a scale from 0 to 4 where: 0 = no fear, 1 = mild fear, 2 = moderate fear, 3 = significant fear, and 4 = severe fear. The percent of students with significant, severe, and either significant or severe fears are shown on the following three bar charts. (Point to and click on any one to see a larger, clearer version).

Spiders are the bigg
est fear, followed by public speaking, snakes, heights, and rats. Back in 2001 a Gallup Poll of the US found that people were more scared of snakes than public speaking.

Seim and Spates also asked the students to write in other fears they were bothered by, and 19% added one or more. The most common five were:

1.5% - Fear of clowns
1.4% - Fear of the dark

1.2% - Fear of failing school
0.7% - Fear of being sexually assaulted

0.5% - Fears related to vomiting

Apparently no one wrote in that they were bothered by a fear of death, so that old Jerry Seinfeld (and 1977 Book of Lists) cliche is finally disappearing from campus.

For once a nursery rhyme was right. Forget worrying about globalization. Instead worry about tuffetization,. Students have the same old fear as Little Miss Muffet: that a spider will come along, sit down beside you, and frighten you away.