Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rehearse your speech until you’re at least oyfol

On September 12th C. McNair Wilson blogged at Dynamic Communication Workshops about becoming an oyful speaker. He made up oyful a few years ago. It’s an acronym meaning On Your Feet Out Loud. You’re not rehearsing effectively if you aren’t oyfol.

Mr. Wilson’s acronym made me laugh because oyfol sounds almost like awful, and the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Oy as a Yiddish word used to express exasperation or dismay. Oy is short for the phrase oy vey.
Once you get on your feet and rehearse your speech out loud, you can begin to really improve it. I’ve discussed more details of how you should rehearse back in 2008.

The image of a speaker is from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Social fears in learning situations: a survey of students at the University of the West of England

In February 2009 Phil Topham reported on Feeling stupid: A survey of university students’ experience of social anxiety in learning situations. A sample of 300 students were asked which of nine learning experiences caused them anxiety, embarrassment or inhibition: never, occasionally, or frequently. Those experiences were:

A. Presentations
B. Seminars
C. Group project work
D. Work experience/placement
E. Practical sessions
F. Talking to staff
G. Lectures
H. Using shared IT facilities
I. Using the library

Main results are shown below in three bar charts. Click on them to see larger, clearer versions.


Most students never experienced anxiety about using the library (57%) or shared IT facilities (54% ). Also, about 41% never experienced anxiety about lectures.


Over half of the students occasionally experienced anxiety about talking to staff, and in practical sessions or group project work. 


Most students frequently experienced anxiety about presentations (83%). About half as many (42%) were anxious about seminars. Only about 8% frequently experienced anxiety about using the library or shared IT facilities. 


How did they manage anxiety from these learning experiences? Not very effectively, as shown above. Many adapted safety behaviors (75%) or coping strategies (65%). About the same amount tried avoidance (37%) as the obvious of prepare/practice (35%). Almost a third tied to minimize attention to them by location (34%) or behavior (28%) - while 33% tried to completely avoid the event. 


As shown above, most sought help for anxiety from friends (80%) or family (52%), while less than 20% sought help from tutors or lecturers (14%), counseling service (13%) or their general practice physician (13%).

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Should you give a knockout eulogy?

On September 4th Diane DiResta blogged about How to Give a Knockout Eulogy. She actually just gave one excellent example. Her blog is titled Knockout Presentations, so naturally she used knockout in her title. When I hear the word knockout, I picture an unconscious, downed boxer. So, for me, her title was almost across the line between tasteful and tasteless.

What would be a truly tasteless title? How about Eulogies that Knock ‘em Dead? That would be a cynical way for funeral directors to grow their business. (Martin John Yate wrote a popular series of books on job search topics starting with Resumes That Knock ‘em Dead, and Cover Letters That Knock ‘em Dead. Eventually he got around to using that exaggerated phrase for Knock ‘em Dead Business Presentations.) 

There really doesn’t seem to be a whole book written for dummies just on eulogies. However, there are some useful short articles about how to give a eulogy by Marie Wallace, Jim Anderson, and Lisa B. Marshall.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Show and tell

On Tuesday I went to the 15th annual Fruit Field Day held by the University of Idaho’s Parma Research and Extension Center. This year it was held at their orchard and vineyard. Hundreds of people showed up to hear Dr. Essi Fallashi, the director, speak about their results. 

Essie didn’t just tell us. Instead he showed us. He held up samples of some varieties and discussed their advantages - how they provided more yield per acre, could be stored longer, etc.

There were tables full of samples of peaches, pears, nectarines, apples, plums, grapes, almonds, walnuts, etc. You could see, touch, smell, and taste them. Then you could walk over and watch and listen to descriptions of how they were grown.

It’s easy to forget how powerful demonstrations of products and techniques can be. They aren’t easy to do, but are very effective.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Read the manual

RTFM is a technical acronym. Stated politely it means to “read the fraking manual.” I saw a warning label with that basic message yesterday. It was on a battery powered manlift for use in orchards that was displayed at the Fruit Field Day over in Parma, Idaho. (A stepladder might seem cheaper, until you consider that workers spend about 30% of their time climbing up and down rather than doing useful work). 

Here is the Untrained Operator Hazard warning label. What does this have to do with public speaking? Well, on Monday Dave Paradi reported
preliminary results from his biennial survey of what annoys audiences about PowerPoint presentations. 

The table shows three top answers for his 2011 survey, and his two previous surveys in 2007 and 2009. With one exception, percentages reporting these problems have increased rather than decreased. That means that people aren’t bothering to read up on how to use PowerPoint effectively, although Dave provides lots of advice on how to do so.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Misunderstood jargon can put you in harm’s way

In public speaking we must think about communicating clearly to our audience. That includes avoiding jargon.

Back in college I heard a very impressive story about the consequences of being misunderstood. The office manager for an engineering department described to me what had happened to her husband during World War II.

He was an experienced lawyer before enlisting in the US Army. So, he’d applied to use his knowledge of the law in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. Instead he wound up in the infantry - eventually leading a rifle company all the way across France and into Germany.

At the end on the war he finally had time to track down what happened to his application form. It turned out that he'd written down that he had "practiced law.” The first clerk who read that jargon phrase describing his qualifications thought it meant he hadn't been a real lawyer - he had just practiced being one. His application never got sent where it should have gone. Instead of a quiet headquarters position, he’d wound up being sent in combat.

The image came from the Library of Congress.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Should listening to a speech be more like eating a hot dog, or driving down a road?

Which metaphor we choose determines how we regard normal features of spoken language like ah, um, and er.

If we choose the prescriptive, hot dog metaphor, then those are “filler” words. They’re ugly, evil and disgusting. They should be ruthlessly eliminated! Nobody wants a hot dog with filler - we’d all prefer a sausage with “all meat.”

If we choose the descriptive, driving metaphor, then those just are “filled pauses,” which like filled potholes, perhaps aren’t any worse than empty potholes (pauses).

The first viewpoint is common in public speaking textbooks. For example, in discussing pauses on page 302 of the 8th (2004) edition of Stephen E. Lucas’s The Art of Public Speaking he proclaims that:

“Most important, do not fill the silence with ‘uh,’ ‘er,’ or ‘um,’ These vocalized pauses, as they are called, are always annoying, and they can be devastating. Not only do they create negative perceptions about a speaker’s intelligence, but they often make a speaker appear deceptive.”

The second viewpoint began to get widely noticed after Michael Erard wrote an article in the January 3, 2004 issue of the New York Times titled Just like er words not um throwaways. Then, in 2007, he published a book titled Um - slips, stumbles, and verbal blunders, and what they mean. This July in Slate he added An Uh, Er, Um Essay in praise of verbal stumbles. Mr. Erard has an MA in linguistics, and linguists tend to be descriptive, not prescriptive.

Erard’s latest essay prompted a long (over 1600 word) rant by Marsha Hunter on August 16th asking Is Um an Honored Part of Speech? She claimed it was not, and pointed out that it doesn’t appear in scripted (written) speech - novels, plays, or films. She further claimed:

“....People do speak without saying um, and we’ve all heard them: politicians, teachers, professors, lecturers of every stripe, talking heads, our friends, perhaps even you, esteemed reader. A fair percentage of speakers express themselves fluently and smoothly with no ums whatsoever....”

Should filled pauses be eliminated, or just reduced to some acceptable level? Some speech coaches acknowledge that having a few is not fatal. In a blog post on September 12th Simon Raybould said that:

“It’s not about how many times the presenter does, or doesn’t use a particular filler word – if it’s not a problem to the audience.”

What level is unacceptable? On page 54 of her book The Theory That Would Not Die (2011) Sharon Bertsch McGrayne noted that the renowned Cambridge University professor Harold Jeffreys (reportedly an appalling lecturer) was once counted mumbling er 71 times in 5 minutes (14.2 per minute). An article by William H. Stevenson, III in the February 2011 Toastmaster on Cutting Out Filler Words pointed out that Caroline Kennedy had been widely criticized when she used 65 fillers in 5 minutes (13 per minute). A 2008 web article by Felicia Slattery began with a client’s comment that four or five within a minute was too many.

Conversely, what level is acceptable? In a comment on Marsha Hunter’s post I pointed out that professors certainly do use fillers (as was noted by Erard in his 2004 article). Twenty years ago Schacter, Christenfeld, Ravina, and Bilious examined how professors at Columbia University really lectured, and they found one to six ums per minute. See “Speech Disfluency and the Structure of Knowledge’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Volume 60, page 362, 1991. Google the title as a phrase, and you’ll find a free .pdf to download. 

The bar chart shows Schacter et al’s results for how frequently professors said uh during introductory lectures (blue) and interviews (pink). (Click on it for a larger, clearer version). During lectures the rate ranged from 1.0 to 6.5 per minute, and depended on the department. During interviews (conversation) it was higher, and ranged from 4.4 to 5.8 per minute.

I think that a rate of 2 filler words per minute would be acceptable. What do you think?

The hot dog and pothole images are from Wikimedia.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Nervous gestures can irritate your audience

In a blog post on September 11th Joe Pops related how he was distracted by people who jingle their pocket change during conversations or public speaking. It reminded him of the song Jingle Jangle Jingle, about cowboy spurs. Those gestures are unconscious, so the best way to spot them is to videotape yourself and then watch. Once you see what they are, you can take steps to remove them. For example, change can easily be corralled with an inexpensive coin holder as shown above.

Some people expertly twirl pencils, pens, or laser pointers. Perhaps back in high school they were drum majors or majorettes in marching bands. 

My first job was in a research lab. They required wearing safety glasses and covered my prescription ones under their vision plan. Unfortunately the plastic frames they provided had nonadjustable nose pieces, as shown above on a woman chemist. They didn’t really fit me. Although I tried adding foam pads, the glasses still constantly slid down. So, I unconsciously kept pushing my glasses up. That gesture continued for several years after I had switched to wire rim glasses with adjustable nose pieces that didn’t slip.

I’ve discussed more gestures in a previous post back in 2009.

The image of baton twirling came from the Library of Congress.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Social and specific fears in young Israeli soldiers

In my continuing quest for surveys including the fear of public speaking, I tried widening the search to include the term “social phobia.” I found two articles with data about a sample of Israeli soldiers. They were 850 students (535 men and 315 women) in either the Mechanics School or the Military Medicine School. Those in the sample had an average age of 19 years, and an average of 12 years of education. The first article is “Social phobia symptoms: prevalence, sociodemographic correlates, and overlap with specific phobia symptoms.” You can read the abstract here.

As shown above, the article reports results on severe anxiety for all 24 items in a  Hebrew language version of the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale. Click on the chart for a more legible version. The category including giving a talk in front of an audience was feared by the most people, 14.2%, followed by giving a report to a group, with 13.2%. Trying to pick up someone was third, at 11.2%. Dating is scary!

In their discussion they pointed out that the sample was not quite like general public in that age group. Not all Israelis are conscripted, and anxious females tend to wind up as clerks. Nevertheless, the sample is similar in age and education to the surveys of US, Swedish, and Indian college students I have discussed previously.

The second article is “Prevalence of self-reported specific phobia symptoms in an Israeli sample of young conscripts.” You can read the abstract here. Animals were feared by the most people, followed by a cluster of four fears held by fairly similar percentages (15.8 to 18%): heights, being alone, injury, and closed places. Last was a cluster of three fears held by 6.3 to 8.2%: storms, flying, and water.   

The survey of US college students by Seim and Spates had separate percentages for specific fears of spiders, snakes, rats, and insects, while the Israeli survey combined them under animals.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Public speaking to SMERFs

No, not the cute, little, blue, animated characters that Neil Patrick Harris dealt with in The Smurfs movie.

SMERF is an acronym used to describe a market segment of the meetings business that consists of Social, Military, Education, Religious, and Fraternal nonprofit groups. They’re price-sensitive and typically fill slow dates (possibly weekends) in the off season. Obviously they need lodging, food, and drinks. Less obviously they may need a speaker. If you want to get paid to speak, they are one place you could start.

A Toastmasters District Conference is one example of a SMERF meeting. The 2010 District 15 Spring Conference I attended in Boise began on Friday afternoon, and ended on Saturday night.

You can find out about SMERFs both in the quarterly SMERF Meetings Journal and the monthly Small Market Meetings. The February 2010 issue of the latter discussed how In rocky times the SMERF market remains reliable. They also had two articles about the military - Military reunions find many options, and Military reunions - all hands on deck. The SMERF Meetings Journal had articles about Choosing the right speaker and Motivational speakers who deliver for less. Similarly, on September 8th In his Overnight Sensation blog, James Feudo discussed How to Hire a Toastmaster for a Speech.

How else can you find out about this market near you? Contact Convention & Visitors Bureaus, hotels (ask for the SMERF Group Meetings Manager), and meetings planners. Be aware that some groups rotate meeting locations on a regular schedule, so where they were last year may not be where they will be next year. (The location for the Toastmasters District 15 Conference moved through their five Divisions, typically between Boise, Salt Lake City, and Pocatello or Idaho Falls).

The image of smurf cyclists came from Wikimedia.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Motivational speech and Explosions in the Sky

It’s not much of a philosophy, but what did you expect from a sign for a do-it-yourself car wash?

One of the better motivational speeches in a film can be found here in the 2004 high-school football one, Friday Night Lights. At half time, Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) preaches:

“It’s real simple. You got two more quarters, and that’s it. Now, most of you have been playing this game for ten years, and you’ve got two more quarters. And, after that, most of you will never play this game again for as long as you live. And y’all have known me for a while, and for a long time now you’ve been hearing me talk about being perfect. 

Well, I want you to understand something. To me, being perfect is not about that scoreboard out there. It’s not about winning. It’s about you, and your relationship to yourself, and your family, and your friends. 

Being perfect is about being able to look your friends in the eye, and know that you didn’t let them down, because you told them the truth. And that truth is that you did everything that you could - there wasn’t one more thing that you could have done. 

Can you live in that moment, as best you can, with clear eyes and love in your heart? With joy in your heart. If you can do that, gentlemen, then you’re perfect.

I want you to take a moment, and I want you to look each other in the eyes. I want you to put each other in your hearts forever, because forever is about to happen here - in just a few minutes. 

I want you to close your eyes and I want you to think about Boobie Miles, who is your brother. And he would die to be out there on that field with you tonight, and I want you to put that in your hearts. Boys, my heart is full. My heart’s full. Ivory? (Ivory leads them in reciting the Lord’s Prayer)”

Notice that the wistful song playing in the background is Your Hand in Mine by the band Explosions in the Sky. That song originally was on their 2003 album, The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place, and you can listen to it here. Then in 2004 they did the soundtrack for Friday Night Lights. There are three different versions: a long one, a shorter one with strings (my favorite), and a brief (goodbye) one.

Recently Explosions in the Sky got some more unintended fame from another sign on a marquee. They will appear in Boise on September 11th. So, back in August, the Egyptian Theater downtown quite logically put their name up as:


Press in New York City called it poorly timed. Actually the band picked that name way back in 1999. In fall 2001 they had already gotten hassled. Well, eveything is somewhere, and on September 11th they’re going to be right here (not in New York City). By the way, there also is a song called Memorial on their 2003 album.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

There always will be an audience for hearing new things

I have gradually been reading Cort Conley’s 1982 historical book, Idaho for the Curious - A Guide. On page 312 he quotes from a 1908 request published in a small town weekly newspaper, the Nezperce Herald:

“This paper is always glad to get the news. 

If you are dead or about to commit suicide, or if you have been arrested lately and want to bring the matter to the attention of the people; if you have eloped with another man’s wife, if you are going away or coming back; if you or your wife or children or any of your relations have a party, delirium tremens, bone erisipelas, scarlet fever, money left you, a call to preach, smallpox, an idea, or anything of the sort, tell us about it. 

We must have news.”

Back then new things were communicated mostly via speeches or in the newspaper. Now we have many other tools, but a hunger for news remains.

The image of an audience for a talk by Richard Stallman in 2009 is from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Secret life of pronouns, articles, conjunctions, and prepositions

One surprise about how we use language comes when we look at our frequency of word use. I just saw a table in an article by the psychologist James W. Pennebaker based on his new book, The Secret Life of Pronouns. His Top Twenty words list is shown above. (Click on it for a larger, clearer version).

It only has pronouns, articles, conjunctions, prepositions, and verbs. (I have color coded them). There are no nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. The most common verb, is, doesn’t even make it into the Top Ten. Together the Top Ten make up slightly more than a fifth (21.4%) of what we write or say, while the Top Twenty make up almost thirty percent (29.1%.).

He notes that these “function” words are what determines style. They have a supporting role as background for our other content words.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Survey shows people fear public speaking more than death and zombies

In April an online survey about fears was done, and then published in the June issue of Magic Numbers magazine. Between April 6th and April 8th they surveyed 4409 users of iPhone 4 (39%), iPhone 3G(31%), iPod Touch (18%) and iPad (12%). Their sample was mostly men (77%) with relatively few women (23%). They came mostly from Europe (63%), with about a third (31%) from North America, and only 6% from the rest of the world.

Results are shown above in a bar chart. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer version). I have ranked the fears in decreasing order for women. The largest percent of them feared insects, followed by a tie between public speaking and heights or depths. Death or the dead came in third, followed by dentists or medical procedures. The largest percent of men feared heights or depths, followed by public speaking, insects, death or the dead, and dentists or medical procedures.

In that endlessly cited 1973 Bruskin survey, public speaking was fear #1 (40.6%), while death was #7 (18.7%). In the 1993 Bruskin-Goldring survey, speaking before a group was #1 (45%), while death was #5 (31%).

Adding the dead (presumably zombies, the walking dead) to the question raised its relative ranking versus public speaking. Bloodthirsty zombies have been getting more popular in films ever since the 1968 release of Night of the Living Dead.