Sunday, December 21, 2008

Rehearsing what you can’t say in words

In a previous post (October 12, 2008) on “How should you rehearse before giving a speech?” I discussed Nick Morgan’s advice on how to rehearse.

He briefly described his latest approach in a 5-page article titled “How to become an authentic speaker” that was published in the November 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review. That article likely is excerpted from his just-published book Trust Me: Four Steps to Authenticity and Charisma.

Your body language has to precede your words, or it will seem inauthentic. The basic idea of his article is that in your rehearsals you have to imagine meeting the following four aims (rather than just trying to rehearse your nonverbal conversation):
1. Being open to your audience
2. Connecting with your audience
3. Being passionate about your topic
4. Listening to your audience

You can read a brief summary of the magazine article here. Compared to his book, it probably will seem like watching a 30-second teaser for an epic movie. Early this week he began discussing the book on his blog.

In a 2004 article he presented some similar ideas about “Preparing to be real”.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Finding books to read - the joy of interlibrary loan

If we really want to find out a lot about a topic (like public speaking) then we can find and read a book. What should we do if our local public library does not have what we need? That depends on if we are more limited by time or by money. If time is limited, then we might choose to buy a book at a local bookstore. First we might look online at Amazon to see what books exist on that topic. (We also could look on Google Book Search).

If we have time but are limited by money, then we can find information about the book and ask our public library to obtain it via an interlibrary loan.

The simplest version of interlibrary loan occurs when our library is part of a regional union with a shared system catalog. For example, although I live in the city of Boise I have browsed the shared catalog and requested books from the nearby towns of Nampa, Eagle and Meridian. Those books were sent to the main Boise library, who emailed me to come and pick them up.

More complicated versions of interlibrary loan are possible. Typically to request a book we will need to supply the title, author, publisher, edition, publication date, and perhaps other details like the ISBN. Each library has specific procedures. For example, Boise Public Library will NOT request titles copyrighted in the current year. It can take about two weeks to obtain a book, which can come from thousands of miles away.

If we search for books at just with the phrase “public speaking” we will find over 36,000 results. The Look Inside feature lets us preview things like the Table of Contents to decide if a book looks interesting.

Google Book Search will only find about 12,800 books using the phrase “public speaking”. The Preview feature will let us look inside some of them. We still need to add other terms to narrow our search down to a reasonable number of results.

There is another less well known search tool, the “planetary library catalog” called WorldCat. If we put the phrase “public speaking” into its search box, then we will find about 12,800 books in the 1.2 billion items from its 10,000 libraries. Add another word like “secrets” and we will find only 55 books. WorldCat has other much more powerful search features than Google or Amazon. It was built by librarians, so it incorporates detailed subject indexing.

If we looked up Peter Desburg’s book, Speaking scared, sounding good: public speaking for the private person, at the Boise Public Library we would have found it was listed both under the very broad subject of “public speaking” and also the much narrower subject of “public speaking – psychological aspects”. Looking on Worldcat with the latter subject gives only 114 results. Similarly, combining the subjects of public speaking and humor with the Boolean search phrase “su:public speaking AND su:humor” will give just 247 results.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I saw it on the web, so it must be true

On December 3rd I was scheduled to be Toastmaster at Capitol Club. I usually look up the meeting date on the web in order to find a theme or historical background material. A couple of the sites I looked at were here and here.

I was flabbergasted to see that Galileo was supposed to have invented the telescope on precisely December 3, 1621. Back in my early teens I had taken a class on telescope making at the local planetarium. I had been taught that a spectacle maker, Hans Lippershey, invented the telescope rather than Galileo.

Lippershey asked for a patent back in October of 1608. Galileo heard of the telescope in July of 1609. First he made a 3X one like Lippershey had, and then he went beyond that magnification and showed an 8X one to the Venetian Senate in August.

What Galileo actually did to become famous was to point his latest 20X telescope at the night sky in October or November of 1609. He discovered the moons of Jupiter, and reported his results in March 1610 a book called Sidereus Nuncius (the Starry Messenger).

So, what really happened in history on December 3, 1621? According to the Wikipedia it was the birthday of the Jesuit writer Bohuslav Balbín, known as the “Bohemian Pliny”.

When you Google and find a historical "fact" you should ask questions like:
1) Who says so?

2) Who are they?
3) Why would you think they really know this?
and you should check more than one site to verify your material.

There is an excellent guide to evaluating web pages at the University of California Berkeley web site.

Monday, December 8, 2008

I read it in the newspaper, so it must be true

One common way of winning points in an argument is to research your topic, and then to quote from an authoritative source. Last year Peter Rickards, a podiatrist in Twin Falls, Idaho tried this. He wrote a Reader’s View (a long letter, basically a guest editorial) that was published in the September 25, 2007 issue of the Idaho Statesman. That Boise newspaper has the largest circulation in the state of Idaho. His Reader's View was titled “Gillespie's blowing smoke about nuke plant”.

He disagreed with the proponent of a nuclear plant who had been saying that it would not emit anything harmful. Dr. Rickards quoted the physician and anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott as saying that: "Tritium, another biologically significant gas, is also routinely emitted from nuclear reactors. Tritium is composed of three atoms of hydrogen, which combine with oxygen, forming radioactive water, which is absorbed through the skin, lungs and digestive system.”

Dr. Rickards got that quotation from an article that Caldicott had written in another newspaper, The Australian, back on April 13, 2005. Her statement about tritium is chemical nonsense. Actually it is a single atom, not a cluster of three. About a week after The Australian published it she was corrected by some of their readers. In her reply she agreed that actually: "Tritium is an isotope of hydrogen composed of two neutrons and one proton". You can find the UPI version of the revised article here.

That original Caldicott article confused the notations used by physicists with those used by chemists. A molecule of hydrogen gas is composed of two atoms, not three. The chemical formula for that molecule is written as a capital H followed by a subscript of 2.

The physicists notation for the isotope of hydrogen called tritium has the capital H preceded by a superscript of 3. There also is deuterium, another isotope of hydrogen composed of one neutron and one proton and denoted by a capital H preceded by a superscipt of 2. A regular hydrogen atom has one proton and is denoted by a capital H preceded by a superscript of 1. Perhaps Dr. Caldicott slept through that day of her physics or chemistry classes.

Less than an hour after Rickards’ letter was published several caustic comments were posted on one of the Statesman’s blogs pointing out the error. They came from over in eastern Idaho, which most people think of primarily as where potatoes come from. However, eastern Idaho also is home of the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). INL is one of the world centers of nuclear technology and originally was called the National Reactor Test Station. Some folks out there not only know about isotopes, they also produce them in the Advanced Test Reactor.

Rickards backpedaled and replied on the blog that:
“To Bubblehead- Gillespie claims nuke plants are ‘emission free,’ and that is simply not true, as born out by the EPA fact sheet. On your point that tritium is not 3 Hydrogen atoms, as Dr Caldicott phrases it, I believe you are semantically correct, it is better to say ‘Tritium, or H-3, is actually one hydrogen atom -- one that contains one proton and two neutrons’."

As far as I know the Statesman has never printed a correction. Also, quotes of the original, uncorrected article by Caldicott still are out on the web here and there.

So, a newspaper article may be a source of ignorance rather than a source of knowledge.

Caldicott's 2006 book Nuclear Power is Not the Answer correctly refers to tritium as being an isotope of hydrogen, but then (on page 56) denotes it by a capital H followed by a subscript of 3. She also describes tritiated water by H3O, where a chemist would of course correctly call it H2O.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Audience size determines working distance and thus presentation style

As I discussed yesterday, presentation style should match the audience size. The working distance between the presenter (you) and the back of the audience will determine how big your gestures should be, whether you need a microphone and sound system to be heard, and what type of visual aids you need to be seen.

If your gestures are too small, they will not be seen and your nonverbal communication will be ineffective. If your gestures are too large, you will be accused of theatrics, histrionics, or being a “drama queen”.

When planning an event, you can use an online calculator to determine the room size. First you must pick the type of seating. Working distance can be estimated based on the audience size and the type of seating. The densest type of seating is theater seating, which requires about nine square feet per person. For example, an audience of 64 people would require a room size (area) of 64 x 9 = 576 square feet. The estimated working distance is the square root of the room size, or 24 feet. The actual distance also depends on the room shape.

For audience sizes ranging from one to about a million, the following table shows a spectrum with twenty distinctly different audience and room sizes (as described by a series of powers of two). The first column shows the exponent, E, the second the resulting audience size, the third the estimated working distance (for theater seating in a square room) and the fourth a typical presentation venue.

E, audience size, estimated working distance, and a typical venue
0 – 1
1 – 2
2 – 4 – 6 ft.
3 – 8 – 8.5 ft. = a conversation in part of a room
4 – 16 – 12 ft.
5 – 32 – 17 ft. = a school classroom
6 – 64 – 24 ft.
7 – 128 – 34 ft. = a university lecture hall
8 – 256 – 48 ft.
9 – 512 – 68 ft. = an auditorium, or theater
10 – 1,024 – 96 ft.
11 – 2,048 – 136 ft. = an opera house
12 – 4,096 – 192 ft.
13 – 8,192 – 272 ft.
14 – 16,384 – 384 ft.
15 – 32,768 – 543 ft. = a basketball arena
16 – 65,536 – 768 ft.
17 – 131,072 – 1,086 ft. = a football stadium
18 – 262,144 – 1,536 ft. = the Indianapolis 500
19 – 524,288 – 2,172 ft.
20 – 1,048,576 – 3,072 ft. = over a half-mile, a visit from the Pope

You should rehearse your presentation in a venue with the same working distance as where it will finally be given. Finding a place to rehearse may require considerable ingenuity. Some possibilities are community centers, churches, or public libraries.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Your presentation style should match both your intent and the size of your audience

This January, on his Extreme Presentation Method blog, Professor Andrew V. Abela discussed the difference between TWO presentation idioms. One he calls a ballroom style presentation, and the other a conference room style presentation.

He said that a ballroom style presentation is used when the objective is to inform, impress, or entertain the audience. The information flow is primarily one way (from presenter to audience). The audience is typically in a dark hotel ballroom. More generally the audience size could range from a few dozen people to several thousand. PowerPoint slides typically are the medium used.

In contrast, a conference room style presentation is used when the objective is to engage and persuade your audience to change their behavior. The information flow is a two-way interchange between presenter and audience. The audience is typically in a well-lit, small conference room. The audience size could range from 2 to 25 people. Written handouts typically are the medium used.

Two years ago he described this distinction in a magazine article on how to Achieve Impact Through Persuasive Presentation Design. He shows a nice table comparing the two idioms.

In September he detailed both idioms in a 17-page Change This manifesto entitled Presenting to Small Audiences(switch off the projector).

On November 5, in his Slides that Stick blog, Jan Schultink instead described THREE distinct presentation scenarios (and desired levels of detail): the Keynote (large), the Pitch (medium) and the Meeting (small). (Jan showed a matrix which also distinguished three styles for where the media are used without the presence of a presenter).

An article by Cliff Suttle on how to Size Up Your Audience appeared in the December 2007 issue of Toastmaster magazine. Mr. Suttle distinguished FOUR different delivery styles for different audience sizes:

Talking to 10 people or fewer is a conversation.
Getting up in front of 20 people is a speech.
If there are 40 people in the audience, it’s a performance.
100 people or more is a show.

Are there TWO, or THREE, or FOUR different styles? I suspect there actually are many MORE. Most of us do not frequently encounter a large range of venues with vastly different audience sizes.

For audience sizes ranging from one to about a million, the following table shows we might distinguish a spectrum with twenty distinctly different optimum styles (as described by a series of powers of two). The first column shows the exponent, E, the second the resulting audience size, and the third a typical presentation venue.

E, audience size, and a typical venue
0 - 1
1 - 2
2 - 4
3 - 8 = a conversation in part of a room
4 - 16
5 - 32 = a school classroom
6 - 64
7 - 128 = a university lecture hall
8 - 256
9 – 512 = an auditorium, or theater
10 - 1,024
11 - 2,048 = an opera house
12 - 4,096
13 - 8,192
14 - 16,384
15 - 32,768 = a basketball arena
16 - 65,536
17 - 131,072 = a football stadium
18 - 262,144 = the Indianapolis 500, or a NASCAR race
19 - 524,288
20 - 1,048,576