Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Is your company name like a boy named Sue?

Many entrepreneurs have started by making their last name part of their business name. For some that may have been a bad idea, like the infamous law firm of Dewey, Cheetham and Howe mentioned on the Car Talk radio show.

Shel Silverstein’s novelty song “A Boy Named Sue” was a country hit record for Johnny Cash. The first verse says:

“Well my daddy left home when I was three
And he didn't leave much to ma and me
Just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze.
Now, I don't blame him cause he run and hid
But the meanest thing that he ever did
Was before he left, he went and named me ‘Sue.’ "

I found three examples of bad sounding firm names for speakers located in the Dallas – Forth Worth area.

Back in 1980 Dianna Booher, CSP, CPAE named her business communication and productivity firm Booher Consultants. Thirty years, 44 books, and many articles later you still have to wonder about continuing to use a name pronounceable as “boo her.”

Randy Schwantz is a sales trainer in the commercial insurance industry. Currently his firm is known as The Wedge Group, but once it was called Schwantz and Associates. Schwantz is a Yiddish euphemism for penis.

Linda Swindling, JD, CSP currently runs a speaking, training and consulting company called Journey On. She once worked for a law firm with the usual practice of listing last names of their lawyers: Withrow, Fiscus and Swindling.

There is an even worse Midwestern example. Tom Raper has a recreation vehicle business located off I-70 in Richmond, Indiana, which is right between Columbus, Ohio and Indianapolis, Indiana. Mr. Raper called his company Raper RVs. It has a phone number of (800) RAPERRV, and a web address of

December 30, 2010 Update:

When I looked up the raper as a last name on Google, I found it was an Old English spelling for describing a roper (a person who makes rope). How did Tom's ancestor get through immigration without getting told to change it?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Impromptu speaking, Table Topics, and the other NFL

Toastmasters meetings incorporate an impromptu speaking portion called Table Topics. Very recently Andrew Williams even created a whole web site about it, called Table-Topics Tips.

College and high school debaters have competed in longer impromptu speaking and extemporaneous speaking events, and there is a literature about how to do it. For example, San Diego State University has a pair of web pages written by Andrew Wood on Thesis Development in Impromptu Speaking and Argument Construction in Impromptu Speaking.

If you ask most US residents what the acronym NFL stands for, they will reply it’s the National Football League. High school debaters will instead tell you that in the other NFL the F is for Forensic. The National Forensic League publishes a magazine called The Rostrum. Page 35 of the March 2010 issue has a five page article by Robert Carroll about Organizing an Impromptu Speech Using Unified, Dialectic, and Critical Analysis. You can find more Rostrum articles about impromptu and extemporaneous speaking here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Getting a hand on your impromptu speech

I just saw an excellent, very simple way to keep track of where you are going during an impromptu speech, like Table Topics at a Toastmasters meeting. It was described by Lori Gracey and Megan Moe-Lunger in an article on The Handi-Speech: Teaching Inmpromptu Speaking which they presented at the 2009 annual convention of the National Communications Association.

Here’s how to do it. First, close your left hand to seize the topic.

Now open your fingers, one by one to reveal:

1. The introduction (your thumb)
2. Your first point (index finger),
3. Your second point (middle finger),
4. Your third point (ring finger),
5. The conclusion (your pinkie)

Very handy!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

According to LG, people fear public speaking even more than cleaning, dentists, or doing taxes

On April 8th LG Electronics put out a press release about their spring cleaning survey, which said that:

“With warmer weather comes the annual ritual of spring cleaning, and many Americans report that cleaning their home is one of their most dreaded activities – second only to public speaking, according to a new national survey of American consumers.”

Then the press release went on to discuss various appliances but never mentioned the specific percentages from an online survey of 1000 people.

Mark Mathis, III checked further and in a July 8th post in his Mark On Marketing Blog
stated that the percentages were:

Public speaking -50%
Cleaning home - 43%

Dentist - 41%
Doing taxes - 28%

Friday, September 17, 2010

The joy of college newspapers

College newspapers have a fresh attitude compared with the daily fish wrapper produced by “professionals” that lands on your doormat each morning. What’s wonderful about them is that, just like academic politics, the stakes are so low.

Sometimes there is sophmoric humor, like Public Speaking: How to Fake Your Own Death. In the Rocky Mountain Collegian on September 8th Jonathan Kastner gave some tongue in cheek advice including:

"....Keep in mind that it’s mostly about how you look, not what you say.

....Wrap yourself in aluminum foil to really make your arguments shine.

....Eat right before you go onstage in case you get hungry during the speech.

....A nice cold soda will keep you calm and focused."

Other times there is an serious approach, complete with a scary statistic. In the Ball State Daily News on September 1st there was a feature article by Meira Bienstock about how Fear of Public Speaking is Going Down but the Anxiety Remains. She claimed there was a Gallup poll which revealed that:

“While still high, the fear of public speaking has gone down by 5 percent in the past 10 years.”

I can’t find one which says that. There is a 2001 Gallup poll which shows a 5% decrease to 40% from the 45% found in their 1998 poll. But, that is not 10 years and the data are old news compared with the survey of college student fears I discussed in a post on August 1st. It looks to me like Meira didn’t bother to check the information she got from an instructor, Gayle Houser.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

If the Mehrabian myth was true...

You probably have seen a pie chart like the one above accompanying an explanation that research (or science) has shown what a large percent of your message is conveyed by body language (55%), rather than by tone of voice (38%) or mere words (7%). Last month Max Atkinson blogged about how:

“....If true, for example, it would mean that anyone who is unable to see a speaker’s facial expressions, whether because they are blind, in the dark, listening to a radio or talking to someone on the telephone, would only be able to understand 45% of what was said to them.”

Since less than half the message was conveyed, both those inventions (and the phonograph) would have failed miserably. Consider this alternate Bizarro history:

1. Alexander Graham Bell found that no one was interested in using his 1876 telephone. He went back to working on speech and hearing, and died in obscurity. Live personal communication finally became popular a century later with the fiber optic networks and Picturephones.

2. Thomas Alva Edison had hoped that his 1877 phonograph would be used both for dictating correspondence and recording famous speeches. Instead it only found a pathetically tiny niche market as a novelty for amusing dogs. Later Edison lamented that the phonograph was the dumbest idea he’d had since his first patent for a vote recorder.

3. In 1920 commercial radio broadcasting also failed. The publicity photo of a girl listening to a story remained just a dream. Radio only found a minuscule market for delivering instrumental music at funeral parlors. Network broadcasting had to wait another quarter century for television to be perfected.

That improper generalization of how oral communication works has already been debunked in magazine articles, in Wikipedia, and in a hilarious video.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Myths of preparation and expertise

Today Seth Godin blogged about the Myth of Preparation. He had a prettier graphic than the one shown above. On mine I have labeled three stages of preparation for a craft of trade: apprentice, journeyman, and master. They will result in quality that might be terrible, mediocre, or great. That is not what Seth calls the three stages though. He instead says:

"There are three stages of preparation. (For a speech, a product, an interview, a sporting event...)

The first I'll call the beginner stage. This is where you make huge progress as a result of incremental effort.

The second is the novice stage. This is the stage in which incremental effort leads to not so much visible increase in quality.

And the third is the expert stage. Here's where races are won, conversations are started and sales are made. A huge amount of effort, off limits to most people, earns you just a tiny bit of quality. But it's enough to get through the Dip and be seen as the obvious winner."

When I read his words I was puzzled. Why didn’t he take a minute to check a dictionary and find out that novice is a synonym for beginner? His word use today was not expert at all!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Punctuate your delivery!

In the October 29, 1982 issue of Marketing News, Thomas G. Cushing warned against falling victim to the Grandfather Clock syndrome:

“When you sit down in a room where there is a grandfather clock ticking, you initially hear it because it’s making noise, but after a while you don’t hear it anymore because it’s ticking at the same rate and same tone.”

If you get absorbed in what you are doing you may wind up speaking at a constant pace and boring your audience with a monotone drone. Instead you should punctuate your speech by varying both the pace and pitch. Lisa B. Marshall discussed it last year in this podcast.

Consider the difference between the following two signs outside of a tennis court:

One of my father’s college friends added the punctuation.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Small and large props

On September 7 Denise Graveline blogged about Using a sheet of paper and other ordinary things as props. Here are three more places where you can find small, inexpensive items for props:

1. Dollar stores. The 14-inch long plastic toy scissors shown above ($1) came from the toy aisle of my local Dollar Tree. It is too blunt to cut through red tape, which could be a metaphor for corporate problems. (On Amazon you can get $50 giant scissors that will cut ceremonial ribbons).

2. Party supply stores like Zurchers. A little monster finger puppet was used to represent anxiety in this previous post. He only cost about a quarter, and there were several styles and colors in the bulk bins. You could pass them out to an audience at the beginning of a speech.

3. Toy stores. When I spoke to insurance claim adjusters about lamp analysis after vehicle accidents, I used an orange plastic Slinky to represent the filament of a headlight.

There also are large, expensive props used by corporations for marketing. At the Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic rally last week there was a 90,000 cubic foot red hot air balloon with the Coca Cola logo. The Coca Cola Balloon Team also brought a 154 foot high Coke bottle balloon!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Top 5 fears in the United Arab Emirates & Saudi Arabia

An article published on August 23rd called What’s Your Fear Factor? described the results of a survey of 1700 people. Fear of heights was first, but this may be related to Dubai recently having the tallest building in the world, the 2717 foot (828 meter) Burj Khalifa. Fear of public speaking came in third.

The survey was done for Crest toothpaste and Oral-B toothbrushes as a follow up to an oral hygiene education campaign.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

How ideas can fly

This blog just passed a milestone of 300 posts.

On Friday my previous post about how you should Do Some Jumping Jacks Before You Rehearse was mentioned on the Breaking Murphy’s Law blog in a post called called Heart to Heart. Today I was marveling about how an idea from a psychologist in Tempe, Arizona could fly around the world and wind up as a headline on Alltop - Top Speaking News.

Here is the sequence of people and locations, with the usual six degrees of separation:

1. Jim Afremow

2. Pete Williams

3. Corey M. Lee

4. Richard I. Garber


5. Olivia Mitchell
New Zealand

6. Lee W. Potts

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Thoughtless advertising

After the April 22nd blowout, explosion, and huge Gulf environmental mess from the Deepwater Horizon platform, we should have expected the phrase "blow out" to no longer be used for describing sales. Printed flyers have a long lead time. We might forgive seeing blowout in Memorial Day ads.

Yesterday’s email included the Labor Day gem shown above. Note the fire ball in the background. Why wasn’t the wording changed to something more thoughtful?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Credibility, bogosity, and blown fuses

What will happen if you overload your audience with information they do not believe is credible?

In a blog post on July 14th titled Is Your Presentation Tripping the Circuit Breaker? George Torok described what will happen. They will react like the wiring in your house would, and mentally disconnect from you either by blowing a fuse or tripping a circuit breaker.

One example he gave was a speaker incorrectly assuming he knew:

“The speaker said, ‘Write down two running shoe brands and I bet I know what you picked,’ He picked Nike and Adidas. Both are well known brands, however I wrote Asics and New Balance because I’m a runner. When he told me that I was wrong in my pick the breaker in my mind tripped and he lost me as a listener.”

I also would have picked New Balance, because they sell shoes in the B width that fits my narrow feet.

The opposite of credibility is bogosity. It is a recent word that comes from computer science, and may have originated in artificial intelligence groups at universities like Carnegie Mellon, or perhaps Stanford.

Bogosity is measured with a mythical scientific instrument called a bogometer. Early analog bogometers had a needle on a scale. “You just pinned my bogometer!” meant that an incredibly bogus statement had overloaded it, and stuck the needle at full scale. Of course, recent bogometers have digital readouts.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Beware of invisible gorillas

People cannot pay attention to everything they see. When you use an information graphic in a presentation, you should let your audience know where they should focus their attention. On August 3rd Dave Paradi showed how to reveal one portion at a time.

This year two psychologists, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons published a book called The Invisible Gorilla and other ways our intuitions deceive us. The first chapter is titled “I Think I Would Have Seen That.” It discusses inattentional blindness and eyewitness testimony. Page 6 describes how:

“When people devote their attention to a particular area or aspect of their visual world, they tend not to notice unexpected objects, even when those unexpected objects are salient, potentially important, and appear right where they are looking.”

They ran an experiment in which subjects were shown a video as a Selective Attention Test. Their subjects were asked to count how many times a basketball was passed by one team of three people. Half the subjects missed that the video also had a person in a gorilla suit walk by and thump its chest. A follow up video shows the related Monkey Business Illusion. They also did a Door Study in which a person was asked to give directions to a stranger outdoors on a college campus. Again, half the subjects did not notice that the stranger had been replaced when two people walked between them carrying a door.

London Transport has a series of commercials about being aware of cyclists. One contains a Phone Joke Test.

Back when I was in college some other psychologists at Carnegie Mellon University did a similar gorilla experiment. During a lecture a person in a gorilla suit ran into the room and pretended to shoot the lecturer. Then students were quizzed about what they just had witnessed. One question asked what type of firearm was used. Some witnesses said it was a revolver. The gorilla actually had been armed only with a banana. The gunshot sound effect was provided by another experimenter with a starter pistol.