Thursday, May 30, 2013

We’re number 30!

When I checked my email on May 28th, I was surprised to find that this blog had been selected as one of the Top 30 Communication Blogs of 2013 by the Best Degree Programs web site.

I’m enjoying another 15 minutes of fame!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How many PowerPoint slides should you use?

In an excellent post on May 14th  Dave Paradi blogged that you should Stop judging a presentation by the number of slides in the file. I agree. 

How many slides are appropriate will depend on your presentation style, and what is on your slides. In a web page by Doug Lowe about his PowerPoint 2013 for Dummies book he said to:

“Try to shoot for one slide for every two to five minutes of your presentation.”

That’s just 0.2 to 0.5 slides per minute. It might apply to slides containing several lines of text. But, slides with just a few words or an image that pass the glance test described by Nancy Duarte can be presented at much higher rates. For example, there are brief presentation formats such as Pecha Kucha (3 slides per minute) or Ignite (4 slides per minute).    

Larry Lessig is an example of someone whose style effectively uses lots of slides. Watch his TED talk on We the People, and the Republic we must reclaim

What usually doesn’t work is those dual-purpose slides that Garr Reynolds called slideuments. They remind me of Shimmer, a 1976 product in a phony commercial on Saturday Night Live, that tried to be both a floor wax and a dessert topping. Slideuments are a set of slides that are used in a presentation, but also are meant to be handouts - written documents read later and much more slowly.   

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Do 80% of presentations fail? Are you sure?

On April 11th Corrie Miller had a post on Janice Tomich’s Calculated Presentations blog titled 80% of Presentations Fail - Do yours? She began by appealing to an authority and stating a startling statistic:

“According to Phillip Khan-Panni, UK Champion business speaker and author, 80% of presentations fail to deliver their objective.”

That’s startling because it’s a failure rate over FIVE TIMES higher than the 15% sometimes quoted for condoms. (Sex is a more interesting topic than death, the fear of which is often compared with fear of public speaking). But, is that what Mr. Khan-Panni had been saying? Well, not quite. He made narrower and weasel-worded claims on his web site and at LinkedIn that:

“It is often said that 80% of business presentations fail.”


“Research reveals that over 80% of business presentations fail...”

I searched on Google to see if I could find who did that research, when and how it was done, and where it was published. All I found was a 2006 web page from Oatmeal Training that claimed:

“A recent survey suggests that 80% of business presentations fail as a consequence of poor preparation...”

Last September I blogged about a study in a magazine article by Stephen M. Kosslyn et al titled PowerPoint Presentation Flaws and Failures: A Psychological Analysis. That study surveyed over two hundred people, and asked them to rank how prevalent (and how annoying) ten specific failures were on a scale from zero to four where:

0 = none
1 = some
2 = half
3 = many
4 = virtually all

The table shown above (click on it for a larger, clearer version) summarizes their results on prevalence for those ten questions. In it I have listed the percentages who ranked them 0 to 2 (half or less). About 84% to 92% said that half or less of the presentations had failed. Half is way less than the 80% quoted by Ms. Miller. So, I highly doubt that 80% of presentations fail.   

Monday, May 20, 2013

Filling the skies with music on Music Monday in Canada

In Canada the Coalition for Music Education holds a nationwide sing-along event called Music Monday. This year’s song was I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing), which was co-written by astronaut Chris Hadfield and Ed Robertson (who also wrote the theme song for the comedy TV show The Big Bang Theory).

As shown above, on May 6th hundreds of students in Toronto at the Ontario Science Centre sang along with Chris via a video link up to the International Space Station. Look carefully at about 2:50 in the video. Deaf students are doing an American Sign Language version, which is demonstrated in the following video.

The Music Monday web site has downloadable audio demos with several different arrangements of the song - both vocal and instrumental. The Barbershop and Steel Band versions are very different from the first recorded version, which I blogged about on February 16th. There are lots of different ways of telling a story. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Quotations from a foreign language - can you trust the translator?

On April 29th in a post titled The Unwobbling Pivot in his Interruption Management blog Jeff Davidson quoted the following two paragraphs from Confucius: The Great Digest, The Unwobbling Pivot, The Analects (translation and commentary by Ezra Pound. A New Directions Book, 1951): 

“The men of old wanting to clarify and diffuse throughout the empire that light which comes from looking straight into the heart and then acting, first set up good government in their own states; wanting good government in their states, they first established order in their own families; wanting order in the home, they first disciplined themselves; desiring self-discipline, they rectified their own hearts; and wanting to rectify their hearts, they sought precise verbal definitions of their inarticulate thoughts (the tones given off by the heart); wishing to attain precise verbal definitions, they set to extend their knowledge to the utmost.  This completion of knowledge is rooted in sorting things into organic categories.

When things had been classified in organic categories, knowledge moved toward fulfillment; given the extreme knowable points, the inarticulate thoughts were defined with precision (the sun's lance coming to rest on the precise spot verbally).  Having attained this precise verbal definition (this sincerity), they then stabilized their hearts, they disciplined themselves; having attained self-discipline, they set their own houses in order; having order in their own homes, they brought good government to their own states; and when their states were well governed, the empire was brought into equilibrium.”

If you read Chinese then you can compare the text from stone rubbings that is printed on the facing pages of that book with Pound’s English version. If, like me, you don’t read Chinese but know a bit about Ezra Pound, there is reason to question the reliability of his translation. When that book was published In 1951, Mr. Pound was pretty wobbly. He was an inmate of the St. Elizabeths psychiatric hospital in Washington, DC. Pound had moved to Italy in 1924. During World War II he had made radio broadcasts for Mussolini’s fascist government, for which he was indicted as a traitor by the US government. In 1945 the U.S. Army imprisoned him at the Disciplinary Training Center  (DTC) in Pisa, which is where he may have translated the passages from The Great Digest quoted above. Eventually they decided he was just a crazy old man, and rather than holding a trial they had him transferred to St. Elizabeths. 

How does Pound’s translation of that passage compare with others? You can find one text in the Wikipedia article on The Great Learning, and another by A. Charles Muller. Those two seem much more literal, while Pound’s is literary and easier for us to understand.

Ezra Pound was born in Hailey, Idaho Territory. The house where he spent his first few years still is standing. An article in the Los Angeles Times on March 4, 2008 had noted:

“The poet and front man for literary Modernism was born in what was then a frontier mining town on Oct. 30, 1885, a bit of accidental history some residents wouldn't mind having expunged due to Pound's radio broadcasts from fascist Italy during World War II that led to his being charged with 19 counts of treason in the United States. He also faced accusations of anti-Semitism.”

If you want to quote Confucius in a speech, it’s probably best to leave out referring to the controversial Ezra Pound (whose mug shot is from here at Wikimedia Commons).  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The very latest American fears poll

On Monday. in Pennsylvania, the New Castle News reported results from their online poll which had asked:

“According to a recent survey, Americans are most scared of flying, public speaking and heights. Which do you fear most?"

There were 176 responses. As shown above, 42% feared heights, 33% feared public speaking, and 16% feared flying. The other 9% claimed they’d seen Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Psycho, and haven’t taken a shower since. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tiredness, moodiness, and irritability before presentations can be remedied by Sleep Bank treatments

Does anxiety about a coming presentation keep you up at night? 

What if there was a way to overcome fatigue and get back that lost sleep, by borrowing sleep donated by others? 

Does that sound too good to be true?

On May 10th Clay Jones described how a revolutionary new treatment with a Sleep Bank was being used down in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Well, sort of. Actually Clay wrote a satire of other treatments with sweeping universal claims and posted it at Science-Based Medicine.

Does that sound too good to be true? Yes, it sure does!

My Sleep Bank image was cobbled together from this poster and that poster of Kellar doing levitation back in 1894.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Using live animals in presentations, and other useful tips

 Last August I blogged about watching a 4-H speech at the Western Idaho Fair. This month someone showed me that last year the University of Idaho Extension 4-H Youth Development Program published a 20-page .pdf file on how to Speak up with Confidence (Tips on Presenting in Nine Key Areas). You can download their Bulletin 880 here. It contains tips on nine topics:

Tips #1 Putting Parts of a Presentation Together
Tips #2 Planning and Organizing a Presentation
Tips #3 Types of Presentations
Tips #4 Using Multimedia
Tips #5 Mechanics of Presenting
Tips #6 Getting Your Message Across with Posters
Tips #7 Creative Hooks
Tips #8 Food Demonstrations
Tips #9 Using Live Animals in Presentations

Live animals can be unpredictable. The following 15-minute clip from the David Letterman shows how even a very experienced presenter like Jack Hanna can have surprises. Watch him dive onto the counter to keep the lesser anteater away from Dave’s cup full of pencils. The seriema smashing a rubber lizard onto a rock is the biggest surprise for the studio audience.

In a 2010 TED talk Temple Grandin discussed how animals perceive the world very differently than we do, so what they see, hear, or smell can terrify them, unless you understand their viewpoint.

The image of a man leading horses came from the Library of Congress.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Undergraduates in Regina, Saskatchewan were more distressed about sweating than speaking in public

Last month I went looking for data on fears and anxieties in Canadians. I found a magazine article by R. N. Carleton et al. from 2012 in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders, in Volume 24, pages 94 to 101 that contains a very curious result. It was titled SPINning factors: Factor analytic evaluation of the Social Phobia Inventory in clinical and nonclinical undergraduate samples. You can read the abstract here. You also can find the full text online by searching Google using and the phrase "spinning factors". Factor analysis is a math technique sometimes used by psychologists.

Their clinical sample was 355 people (193 women and 162 men) from the Anxiety Treatment and Research Centre at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, Ontario, who had been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. The nonclinical sample was 277 undergraduates (177 women and 50 men) from the University of Regina, Saskatchewan.

Both samples took the Social Phobia Inventory (SPIN), which has 17 items designed to assess symptoms for social anxiety. Participants read each statement and then ranked how much each item bothered them during the past week, on a scale from zero to four where:

0 = Not At All
1 =  A Little
2 = Somewhat
3 = Very Much
4 = Extremely

The bar chart shown above describes results for that anxious clinical sample. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer version). 3 of the 17 categories were rated at 3.0 or above (Very Much), and 15 of the 17 categories were rated 2.0 or above (Somewhat). ‘I avoid having to give speeches’ was ranked highest, with an mean (average) of  3.15.  ‘Sweating in front of people causes me distress’ had a mean of 2.02 and was ranked 15th.  

A second bar chart describes results for the nonclinical undergraduate sample. None of the 17 categories was ranked 2.0 or above (Somewhat). 13 of the 17 categories were ranked at less than 1.0 (A little), and two more both were at just 1.02. ‘Sweating in front of people causes me distress’ had a mean of 1.94 and was ranked first. ‘I avoid having to give speeches’ had a mean of 1.69 and was ranked second. 

I was quite surprised to see that these students sweated more about perspiring than about speaking. This might have made sense if the SPIN had been taken in the summer, and the women were embarrassed by sweating as unladylike. Secret peddles a ‘clinical strength’ deodorant for women since they claim that Stress Stinks. And, on February 4th  the Wall Street Journal web site had an article about Why stress makes you sweat. But, reportedly there were no statistically significant item differences between women and men. Very curious indeed, and perhaps not representative of most Canadians.

The image of a perspiring gentleman was adapted from an 1882 Puck magazine. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Five situations that make Australians sweat

Today’s issue of the Northern Star mentioned a survey done for a new deodorant (Nivea Stress Protect). They ranked five situations which caused people to break out in a sweat. As is shown above in a bar chart (click for a larger version) public speaking (52%) came first, closely followed by job interviews (50%), and then the threesome of important meetings (31%), being late due to traffic (28%), and first dates (26%). 

Nivea has 30-second TV commercials with women in Greece and Portugal. There also are a 3-minute Mexico City Superstar Taxi Test, a long humorous Nivea UK version about first date disasters, and even a clinical one incorporating research with the Trier Social Stress Test.