Sunday, August 28, 2011

York College professionalism survey shows students don’t realize how important employers think communication skills are

Back on October 21, 2010 the Center for Professional Excellence (CPE) at York College posted a press release with a link to some preliminary results from their 2010 survey on Professionalism in the Workplace. More recently the York College CPE posted the detailed results from their 2010 survey on Professionalism in the Workplace as a 130 page Acrobat .pdf document at the bottom of a web page describing the previous 2009 survey.

In their 2010 survey they asked both 430 employers and 404 students about qualities that best describe a professional, qualities that describe being unprofessional, important qualities in professionalism, and the extent to which those qualities were found in employees. In this post I’m going to highlight some of their results.

Qualities that best describe a professional (page 41) are shown above, ranked in the order of importance chosen by employers (dark green bars). (Click on the chart for a larger, clearer version). Communication skills were most important to them, but only were ranked fifth by students (light green bars). Students thought that interpersonal skills, time management, appearance, and work ethic were more important than communication.

Qualities that describe being  unprofessional (page 43) are shown above, again ranked in the order of importance chosen by employers (red bars). Poor work ethic was most important to both them, and by students (pink bars). 17.4% of student mentioned poor grammar/communications skills, while 36.2% of employers did. It was ranked third by employers, but fifth by students.

Nineteen important qualities in professionalism were ranked on a scale from one to five by both employers and students, where 1 means not important and 5 means very important. Results (starting on page 47) are shown above. Employers and students generally provided similar rankings.

The  extent to which those same 19 qualities were found in employees also were ranked on a scale from one to five by both employers and students, where 1 means very rare and 5 means very common. Results for employers (starting on page 51) are shown above in dark orange, and compared with the qualities ranked as important, shown in dark blue.  With the lone exception of concern for opportunities for advancement, there was a significant gap between important qualities and the extent to which they were found.   

Results for extent to which qualities were found by students are shown above in light orange, and compared with the qualities ranked as important, shown in light blue. Again, with the lone exception of concern for opportunities for advancement, there was a significant gap between important qualities and the extent to which they were found.  

The York College survey is more complete than the NACE Job Outlook Survey I blogged about almost three months ago, since it includes perceptions by both employers and students.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Selection bias

If you’re a coach or trainer, you likely will encounter many people who are extremely nervous about public speaking, and want to be less nervous. Also, you will encounter non-nervous people who greatly enjoy speaking, and seek to improve from good to great. You will not encounter slightly nervous people, who won’t bother to ask for help. Based on that nonrandom sample from the general population, you may be tempted to incorrectly conclude that most people have a phobia about public speaking. (Only about 10% of U.S. adults have a phobia). Selection bias is a problem for all professionals, and it will distort how you see the world.

When I was a medic in the Air Force Reserve in the early 1970s, we did routine flight physicals, each of which included a 12-lead electrocardiogram (EKG). We used a special die to trim 3” samples from those 12 strip charts, and mounted each set on a self-adhesive form. A wise old man, Dr. Richard V. Lynch, was commander of our clinic at the Greater Pittsburgh Airport.

Each afternoon Colonel Lynch would eagerly pounce on that stack of EKG forms and go through them with a fine-tooth comb. He even replotted them as vectorcardiograms. Occasionally he’d frown, mark one of the forms “apparent extreme bradycardia” and tell us to please rerun it. That meant we’d accidentally flipped the mode lever on the machine one notch too far, and ran it at double speed (50 mm/sec) rather than normal speed (25 mm/sec).

Dr. Lynch also was professor of cardiology at the West Virginia University medical school. He had realized that if a specialist doesn’t do something about it, he mainly will see referrals where another physician first looked at the patient, ran an EKG, and noticed there was something very wrong. His diagnostic skills gradually will deteriorate. He knew the way to avoid that problem was by looking at a sample of healthy people every month. Those flight physicals were his reality check for staying sharp.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ten outstanding podcasts from the book Trust Me: Four Steps to Authenticity and Charisma

Starting last month Nick Morgan did another series of podcasts about public speaking based on his 2009 book Trust Me: Four Steps to Authenticity and Charisma. In it he talks about being open, being connected, being passionate, and listening. Here are the links:

July 20th: How to use the power of your unconscious mind (3 minutes)

July 21st: Why you need authenticity and charisma (3 minutes)

July 25th: How to communicate powerfully (5 minutes)

July 27th: Why the debt limit talks are doomed - a rhetorical analysis (6 minutes)

August 1st: Why you need to be open - and how to do it (5 minutes)

August 3rd: How to connect better with the people around you (4 minutes)

August 10th: How to use body language to connect powerfully with other people (7 minutes)

August 15th: Becoming a passionate communicator (5 minutes)

August 17th: Finding passion in your voice and gestures (4 minutes)

August 22nd: In praise of listening (5 minutes)

Listening to the whole series will take less than fifty minutes, and is time well spent. You can look here to find an image of the four spaces discussed in his August 10th podcast.

The image of Jimmy Carter campaigning came from the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Would you like to order the Type-A steering wheel?

While driving in Boise recently, I was startled to see the irritated driver of the SUV in front of me use the center, left-turn-only lane to pass the car in front of him. That car only was going the marked 30 mile per hour speed limit. The incident got me musing about whether vehicle manufacturers are missing a potentially profitable marketing niche, as follows.

Once upon a time a customer (let’s call him Rupert) was considering ordering a Ferrari. He was discussing various options with his dealer.

Salesman: “Would you like the Type-A or the Type-B steering wheel?”

Rupert: “What does the Type-A wheel look like?”

Salesman: “It has a giant, specially-marked, blue horn button in the middle. The horn keeps on blowing unless you hold the button down.”

Rupert: “What’s the Type-B steering wheel like?”

Salesman: “It’s the one for more normal people!”

Please slow down, and lighten up. (The original image of a steering wheel came from here).

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fear of speaking while black - preliminary results from the NSAL

110 years ago, in Up from Slavery: An Autobiography, Booker T. Washington said that:

“....People often ask me if I feel nervous before speaking, or else they suggest that, since I speak so often, they suppose that I get used to it. In answer to this question I have to say that I always suffer intensely from nervousness before speaking. More than once, just before I was to make an important address, this nervous strain has been so great that I have resolved never again to speak in public. I not only feel nervous before speaking, but after I have finished I usually feel a sense of regret, because it seems to me as if I had left out of my address the main thing and the best thing that I had meant to say.”

Is there any recent information about how a representative sample of African Americans feel about public speaking and other fears? Yes, although it has not yet been analyzed in detail or published in a magazine article. Ten years ago a mental health study called the National Survey of American Life (NSAL) began, led by professor James S. Jackson. The NSAL surveyed a large sample of African Americans and Afro-Caribbeans.  Raw data from the NSAL are posted on the Collaborative Psychiatric Epidemiology Surveys (CPES) web site. The CPES also includes another study of minorities, the National Latino and Asian American Survey (NLAAS). 

The bar chart shown above ranks eight fears from screening questions in the NSAL - six specific fears SC27A through 27F, SC29A (public speaking) and SC30 (crowds). Point to and click on the chart to see a larger, clearer version. For most questions, about 5890 people in the sample provided yes or no answers. (Only about 3870 answered SC29A). Animals or bugs were feared by the the most people, followed by heights, and giving a speech or speaking in class. 

Another bar chart compares the NSAL results with those for the general US public found in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCSR), which I discussed in a previous post. The two biggest differences between the NSAL and the NCSR results are for giving a speech or speaking in class (the number one fear), and for flying (the number eight fear). In the NCSR 10.2% more feared giving a speech or speaking in class than in the NSAL. Conversely, 8.9% less in the NCSR feared flying than in the NSAL. These comparisons are interesting, but preliminary. Eventually psychologists and psychiatrists  will do more detailed analyses on this subject and data.

There already have been two magazine articles in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders based on data from the NSAL. In 2009 J. A. Himle et al discussed the prevalence of generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder in “Anxiety disorders among African Americans, Blacks of Caribbean Descent and Non-Hispanic Whites in the United States.” In 2011 J. A. Soto et al discussed “The relationship between perceived discrimination and Generalized Anxiety Disorder among African Americans, Afro Caribbeans, and non-Hispanic Whites.” One discussion of this article used the phrase “racial battle fatigue” to describe their results.

When I Googled the phrase “speaking while black” I found that it already had been used by Mayowa Obasaju in the title for her 2007 psychology MA thesis at Georgia State University - Speaking While Black: The Relationship Between African Americans’ Racial Identity, Fear of Confirming Stereotypes, and Public Speaking Anxiety. She studied a sample of 84 undergraduate students - 72 females and 12 males.

The image of Booker T. Washington came from the Library of Congress.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Deja view - counting evidence twice

Wait a minute! Didn’t that horse already cross the finish line?

In citing research to support an argument, it’s not very hard to accidentally count something twice - particularly when we don’t get all the way back to primary sources.

For example in David J. Dempsey’s 2010 book Present Your Way to the Top, at the bottom of page 3 he says that:

“....In a survey that appeared in the Book of Lists, 3,000 people were asked ‘What are you most afraid of?’ and the number-one response was ‘speaking before a group.’ It ranked higher than the fear of heights, insects, and even death (Ref. 2). In another study, 2,500 people were asked to list their greatest fear, and the largest percentage of respondents listed public speaking (Ref. 3).”

His reference 3 was to the 7th edition of Stephen E. Lucas’s book The Art of Public Speaking. I’ve previously blogged about how Lucas referred to the 1973 Bruskin survey, where that data in the Book of Lists originally came from. So, references 2 and 3 actually are to the exact same data.

Stephen J. Senn has described how this same pesky problem occurs in medical science. His article on Overstating the evidence - double counting in meta-analysis and related problems discusses ways to keep from fooling ourselves.

Some criminals deliberately miscount bills when giving change. A folded bill can be put in the front of a stack and counted twice. It then is unfolded as it’s handed back. If you don’t recheck the count you will be shortchanged. Other short change artists fold and hide one bill they got from you, in the back of a stack. Then they say that you made a mistake, and get you to add an extra.   

In war (hot or cold) it’s common to confuse the enemy about your unit strength. Back in high school I remember reading Robert Lee Scott’s book God Is My Co-Pilot about his World War II experiences flying a P-40 from near Kunming, China. He had his propellor spinner repainted when refueling and rearming after each solo sortie, and produced the impression that one plane was a whole squadron.  

In 1955 the Soviet Union flew their ten new Bison bombers past the reviewing stand on Aviation Day. When they got over the horizon they circled back. They made a total of six passes - to give the illusion of sixty bombers and create western fears of a Bomber Gap

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How to make a large number incomprehensible - or comprehensible

On August 15th Faith Pincus posted about Rhetorical Techniques: Sample Analogy in her Speech Advice blog. She discussed an article in TheWeek that was an extract from Charles Fishman’s recent book The Big Thirst. Her paraphrase was that:

“The United States uses 5.7 billion gallons of water every day, to flush the toilet.  5.7 billion gallons of water every day.  That's a hard number to get your mind around, so what does it mean? It means that the United States flushes the same amount of water every day that the UK and Canada, combined, use for all of their daily household water needs.”

She thought that comparison was great. I think it’s mediocre at best. First, it compares one incomprehensible large number with another. Both are large abstractions without an obvious meaning. Second, the comparison is more than slightly bogus since the population of the UK plus Canada isn’t nearly as large as the U.S. population.

A longer direct quote from the article is that:

“For Americans at home, flushing the toilet is the main way we use water. We use more water flushing toilets than bathing or cooking or washing our dishes or our clothes. The typical American flushes the toilet five times a day at home, and uses 18.5 gallons of water, just for that. What that means is that every day, Americans flush 5.7 billion gallons of clean drinking water down the toilet. And that’s just at home.

It’s impossible to get your brain around that number, of course—5.7 billion gallons of water a day. But here’s a way of thinking about it. It’s more water than all the homes in the United Kingdom and Canada use each day for all their needs—we flush more water down the toilet than 95 million Brits and Canadians use.”

When we divide 5.7 billion by 18.5 we get 308 million, which is about the U.S. population. Our population is over three times that 95 million, so you’d expect that we’d waste more water than them. Also, multiplying anything by 308 million makes it ridiculously large.

Is there another well-known large number we can compare with 5.7 billion gallons per day? Yes - it’s the amount of water going over Niagara Falls. During the summer tourist season that is 100,000 cubic feet per second, which converts to 64.6 billion gallons per day. So, flushing our toilets uses about 9% of what goes over the falls. If you’ve been there or seen it on TV 9% of Niagara Falls is pretty easy to imagine.

Stating the number per person as 18.5 gallons a day from five toilet flushes helps keep it comprehensible. We’re actually getting somewhere in learning to conserve water, but still have room to improve. That’s 3.7 gallons per flush. The toilets currently sold use just 1.6 gallons per flush. Back in the sixties toilets used 5.5 gallons per flush, and in the eighties we got down to 3.5 gallons per flush. We’ve clearly still got a lot of the older ones out there wasting water.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Handcuffed to the desktop computer

Back in April 2008 I gave a talk about Internet Research to the Boise chapter of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. They met at our county sheriff’s office. Fortunately the handcuffs were metaphorical.

The multipurpose room layout where they met is shown above. There was an electronic whiteboard at the front, and a projector and screen for PowerPoint near the front of the right wall. Their desktop computer was located at one side of the room. It had a conventional mouse on a cord. My audience of a dozen people were at tables located at the diagonally opposite end of the room.

Back then I didn’t have a wireless multimedia presenter (or remote) that would have let me stand where I chose - in front of the audience, or near the screen. Instead I was stuck in front of the computer. Earlier when I asked about the room setup I was told PowerPoint could be used, but not about the electronic whiteboard. 

After my presentation I connected to the Internet and demonstrated some of the sites that I had mentioned. The county had a very effective firewall, so it took several seconds to get each response. A few prepared examples using screenshots would have been far more effective.

That presentation was a learning experience for me. When I gave a similar presentation the next month at the Toastmasters District 15 Conference I had my own laptop, projector, and remote.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

20 fears for a new millennium - replacing the 1977 Book of Lists

The perennially cited survey of The 14 Worst Human Fears in the 1977 Book of Lists is embarrassingly ancient. That data really came from a 1973 Bruskin survey, so this year they are 38 years old. They literally are a half-truth, because the median age reported in the 2010 US Census was 37.2 years. That is, half the current population weren’t even around when Bruskin asked their questions.

What should replace that survey? Results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCSR), as are shown above in a bar chart. Click on it to see a larger and clearer version. Animals or bugs tops the list, followed by heights, the dentist or doctor, and storms or still water. Public speaking/performance came fifth, just above crowds, and speaking up in a meeting/class was seventh.

In January 2008 A. M. Ruscio et al published an article on "Social Fears and Social Phobia in the United States: Results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication." I posted a bar chart of those social fears in this blog on June 23, 2009. The NCSR was conducted between 2001 and 2003, so it’s about thirty years newer than the Bruskin survey. The NCSR results in that article described 13 social fears, but did not include other common specific fears like heights, flying, and closed spaces.

People clearly are fascinated by lists of fears. Not having those specific fears in a list now seems like being served a regular hamburger after getting used to a deluxe double version - perhaps a McDonald’s Big Mac or a Big Boy. (I suppose the British equivalent would be being served fish without chips). Were those fears included in the NCSR? Of course they were, they just were not analyzed in that particular article. In fact, I couldn’t even find another published article about specific fears, like I did in July with the NCS. Psychologists and psychiatrists must have better things to do than providing lists for use by speaking coaches and speech teachers, but I’m not either.

So, I decided to find the specific fears results in the raw data, and then add it to the social fears to make a more comprehensive list and bar chart. Raw data from the NCSR is included in a series of studies collectively known as the Collaborative Psychiatric Epidemiology Surveys (CPES). The data are on a web site, although it’s a bit of a labyrinth to navigate. You can find both the questions asked and the answers, so the surveys really are quite transparent.

The specific fears are in six screening questions: SC27a through SC27F, and fear of crowds is in a seventh, SC30. The data show a “valid percent” which ignores a few confused individuals in the sample of 9,282 people who answered don’t know - rather than yes or no.

Back on March 19, 2001 the Gallup Poll reported the results of a telephone survey on 13 fears. They asked 1016 US citizens - or about nine times less than the NCSR. That means that the Gallup poll is far less precise. Sampling error for the Gallup Poll is three times larger than for the NCSR. (The sampling error for the Bruskin survey was about twice that for the NCSR).

How do the results for similar questions compare? Six of them are shown above in another bar chart. For flying there was an almost perfect match - 18% for Gallup and 17.6% for the NCSR. For heights Gallup found 36%, while the NCSR found 31.3%.

For the other four fears there were huge differences. For crowds Gallup found 11%, while the NCSR found 21.1%. For closed spaces Gallup found 34%, while the NCSR found 19.3%. For storms Gallup found 11%, while for storms or still water the NCSR found 21.8%.

For public speaking the surveys asked somewhat different questions. Gallup asked about “public speaking in front of an audience” - and found 40%. The NCSR asked about both “acting, performing, or giving a talk in front of an audience” (21.5%) and
“speaking up in a meeting or class? (19.5%). If you add those two percentages, you will get 40.7%, which would agree with the 40% reported by Gallup. The NCSR also had a screening question, SC29a, about “giving a speech or speaking in class” which was feared by 38.5% of the sample.

If you want to force fear of public speaking back up to being number one, than you can make up your own bar chart using the NCSR screening question, or add the two previously mentioned results (40.7%). I can see no reason for omitting that carefully made distinction, unless we’re comparing raw data with another CPES survey. However, that’s a story for another day.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Interactive whiteboards should replace PowerPoint, not flipcharts

On July 21st I blogged about how the Anti-PowerPoint Party wants us to go back to using flipcharts. That solution doesn’t fix the problem, or consider what other hardware and software already are around. It’s as idiotic as asking us to go back to believing that the earth is flat (and square).

Interactive whiteboards (IWBs) are a better solution. They are display devices which can do anything a flipchart can do, and far more - as is shown in this nine-minute video demonstration. For teaching radiology and other visual topics they should be excellent. Last year Patricia Deubel discussed their use in education in general, and the Australasian Journal of Educational Technology devoted an entire issue (Volume 26, Number 4) to them.        

Images of IWBs came from here and here on Wikimedia.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Call your doctor if you have tremors or uncontrolled muscle movements

Before we give others advice, we should think about whether it makes any sense. Yesterday I saw a television commercial for a drug ending with an incredible warning. On MSN Health I found the following similar written one:

"....Stop using metoclopramide and call your doctor at once if you have tremors or uncontrolled muscle movements, fever, stiff muscles, confusion, sweating, fast or uneven heartbeats, rapid breathing, depressed mood, thoughts of suicide or hurting yourself, hallucinations, anxiety, agitation, seizure, or jaundice (yellowing of your skin or eyes)..."

How am I supposed to call my doctor if I’m already having tremors or uncontrolled muscle movements? If I was lucky enough to have an old phone with big buttons, then I might still be ok. But, if all I had was a cell phone I might be completely out of luck.

That warning reminded me of some that are posted on ladders.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Reframe your way around fear of public speaking

One way to overcome fear of public speaking is to reframe what you are doing. In a brief video Ivan Misner tells a story about an accountant who was terrified of speaking to her networking group about tax law. She was able to convey the same information easily in the form of a test or quiz though.

The very helpful idea that a speech isn’t something strange and different, just an enlarged conversation is at least a century old. In a longer video Professor Michael Motley discusses it as changing your view from a performance orientation to a communication orientation.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Wait a minute. That’s not my laser pointer!

On July 27th there was an F Minus cartoon about seeing a laser pointer on the screen while yours is turned off. So far I haven’t encountered that situation with dueling presenters.

Television shows like Flashpoint and Criminal Minds often have shown laser sights though. Another disturbing possibility is that the spot is coming from a handgun rather than a pointer.

Don’t act like Jedi Knights with Frickin’ Laser Pointers. Laser pointers aren’t toys.

The image of a Smith & Wesson 380 Bodyguard handgun is from Peter Josef Schausberger.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Our map may not quite match the territory

A map should let us see where we’re going and how to get there. Back in June I spoke in Salt Lake City. Most of that metro area is easy to navigate, because the streets are marked in a logical grid system. The area around the University of Utah and old Fort Douglas is an exception. On the morning of June 14th I set off with a city map on my lap for my destination in the University research park. It showed me that East 500 South became South Foothill Drive, which turned to run southeast. I needed to get in a left turn lane for Wakara Way, follow it into the research park, and then turn right onto Chipeta Way.

Oops! I turned one light too soon and wound up on South Wasatch Drive. My map said I could just turn right and get over to South Connor Road, which would become Chipeta Way. Wrong! That area had University of Utah housing, so many streets now were dead-ends. My first turn led me into a parking lot, which gave me a place to stop and recheck the map. My second try led me a few blocks further - into another parking lot. On my third try I finally found a through street that led over to my destination. Fortunately I’d allowed extra time to get through downtown (which turned out not to be a problem), and I still arrived early.

Sometimes our map might even be wrong on purpose. When I was growing up in Pittsburgh I noticed that the city map from Gulf Oil always contained a fictitious road connection in Schenley Park between Schenley Drive and the middle of a horseshoe bend on E. Circuit Road. It probably was one of a set of errors for letting them detect if someone had copied their map.

Back when I was a student the printed directory for Carnegie Mellon University used to contain a set of phony names with real addresses, and phony addresses with real names. Those features were for detecting who was reselling it as a commercial mailing list. One of my friends was renamed Wadza Duckworth, and another had his computer science department address relisted as being a tiny, always-locked equipment access closet within a room in Wean Hall. Any time those ringers got mail the sender got a cease-and-desist letter from an attorney.

The previous two paragraphs began as comments to a blog post by Scott Berkun on missing maps and the fragility of technology. He reused them in a post on how to use bad data for good, and now did I too.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Public speaking tops every list of fears???

One of many persistent half-truths about public speaking is that fear of it consistently ranks number one in survey after survey. This pernicious nonsense has been around in books for at least 25 years. The basis for it is good old hubris - grandly generalizing from a few surveys about adults in the U.S. to the entire world. Lilyann Wilder opened the introduction to her 1999 book 7 Steps to Fearless Speaking by claiming that:

“Fear of public speaking consistently tops every list of human fears.”

A decade later Gary Edward Haymes used more adjectives on page 166 of his 2009 book Go Beyond Stress: Twelve Self-Hypnotic Stress Buster Sessions:

“In every poll taken since the end of World War II, the absolute number one fear of all living humans is delivering a public speech.”

Obviously neither Lilyann nor Gary had seen the counterexample of lists in the Epidemiologic Catchment Area Study I discussed on Monday. 

An overblown statement containing every rather than mostly (or often) is a great way to instantly destroy your credibility as an author or speaker. Think hard before you make one. Your audience may be appalled rather than impressed.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The pause that refreshes

It is also true about public speaking, even though it was an old slogan from 1929 used to sell Coca Cola. When used sparingly pauses can be devastating. We can pause anywhere in a speech - at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end. Stephen D. Boyd suggested that:

“One way to insure good eye contact is to look at your audience before you start to speak. Go to the lectern and pause, smile, look at the audience, and then speak.”

George Torok said that the pause is the One Thing to be a powerful presenter.

I still remember back when I was in high school (about 45 years ago) that Al Julius, then the news director at KQV-AM radio in Pittsburgh, used to close his commentaries with a simple:

"This-----is Al Julius."

That single five-second pause (where all you could hear was the teletype machine clattering faintly in the background) stood out like a mountain above an ocean of disc jockeys - who all were deathly afraid of leaving any dead air.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Moving on beyond Toastmasters

Recently I concluded there no longer was a good reason for me to stay in Toastmasters International. It has been a useful experience. On July 30th James Feudo posted a Toastmasters Tips Roundup on his Overnight Sensation blog. I agree with James that:

“You can become a better speaker by taking an active role in the right Toastmasters club.”

In 2008 Olivia Mitchell discussed How to Get the Most out of Toastmasters, and last year Kevin Kane described How to Make Sure that Your Toastmasters Experience Doesn’t Suck.

Last Wednesday I spoke to to  25 members of the Ada County Advanced Master Gardeners class. I gave them a 45-minute Brief Introduction to Public Speaking.

Back in September 2007 I walked down the hill past the Boise Depot to my first meeting of (The) Capitol Club Toastmasters. After the second meeting as a guest I joined. I served as Vice President Education for two years in a row, gave 35 speeches from manuals, and received my Competent Communicator, Advanced Communicator Bronze, and Advanced Communicator Silver awards. Also I gave four more educational speeches from the Better Speaker series, spoke to two youth leadership programs, and gave a club contest speech. 

At the 2008 District 15 Spring Conference I spoke in an educational session (and gave a similar speech in 2010 at a Division TLI). I wrote and co-authored a pair of articles for the District 15 Newsletter, the Pulsebeat: Rocket Science for Speech Topics and Fear of Public Speaking Affects 1 in 5 Americans. Currently the Pulsebeat is in limbo, and no longer even shows up on the menu at the district web site. Fortunately both articles also are posted on this blog, here and here

The fear of public speaking article about the NCS and NCS-R in the Pulsebeat was an excerpt from a longer manuscript about recent surveys on social fears submitted to Toastmaster magazine, but rejected. The other Canadian and Swedish surveys about fears were mentioned later in my blog. Another shorter manuscript about Timing Tiles also was rejected. 

By July I’d noticed that Capitol Club’s Wednesday lunch format didn’t really fit into my life anymore. I decided to try going to a club that met in the evening.

On further reflection I realized there’s no good reason to stay. For me the costs exceed the benefits. I would need another five speeches for the Advanced Communicator Gold Award. That award also calls for mentoring someone through their first three speeches, which I’d enjoy. But, it also calls for conducting a Success/Communication/, Success/Leadership, or Youth Leadership module which I would not enjoy right now. Continuing in Toastmasters feels like this cartoon.

What I really enjoy is finding information and sharing it. This blog lets me do that far more effectively than attending meetings of a Toastmasters club. Typically a weekly club meeting is attended by about twenty members. Right now this blog averages about 100 hits per day, or 700 per week, - so it provides information to 35 times as many people. (The latest comment on it came from Sydney, Australia).

Monday, August 1, 2011

Lists where the fear of public speaking isn’t anywhere near the top - The Epidemiologic Catchment Area Study

Back in the late 1970s the National Institute of Mental Health was trying to figure out how common various mental health problems were. Instead of trying to do a gigantic survey with a nationwide U.S. random sample they chose to do a series of five studies at different research universities located in major metropolitan areas. Each university studied a sample of about 4000 people drawn from the area they served. That geographical area is called a catchment( in analogy to a watershed). Thus the study was called the Epidemiologic Catchment Area (or ECA) Study. Those universities,  their catchment areas, and some study dates were:

Yale University, New Haven Connecticut (1980-81)
Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland (1981)
Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri (1981-82, etc.)
Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
UCLA, Los Angeles, California

Results from the studies eventually were published in over a hundred scientific articles. In 1991 results from the entire series were discussed in a 450-page book titled Psychiatric Disorders in America: the epidemiologic catchment area study, edited by Lee N. Robins and Darrel A. Regier. Chapter 7 on Panic and Phobia was written by William W. Eaton, Amy Dryman, and Myrna M. Weissman.

Table 7-5a on page 166 listed the results for lifetime prevalence of both non-severe and severe anxiety symptoms. At Yale there apparently was a mix-up, and they didn’t ask all the questions for every item. That dropped the sample size to only 14,263 people, which still is more than five times as large as the 2,543 people for the endlessly quoted survey reported in the 1977 Book of Lists.    

The bar chart shown above lists the 14 mild (non-severe) anxiety symptoms. (Point and click on it to see a larger, clearer version). Anxiety about bugs, mice, snakes and bats was 1st (16.3%). Anxiety about public speaking was 8th (4.7%), and speaking to new acquaintances was 10th (3.3%). The modest percentages probably are why you haven’t seen these survey results before. They don’t exactly scream out that you’re dealing with a major problem requiring a public speaking class or expensive coaching. 

Another bar chart, shown above, lists the severe symptoms. Anxiety about public speaking was 9th (1.8%), and speaking to new acquaintances (1.4%) was in a three-way tie for 10th.  Severe symptoms (basically phobias) were defined as follows:

“Severe symptoms are those meeting one of three criteria: a professional was told about it, medication was taken for it more than once, or it interfered with life or activities a lot.”

A third bar chart shows the total from adding the severe and non-severe categories. Anxiety about public speaking was 9th (6.5%), and speaking to new acquaintances (4.7%) was 10th. The order for the first nine fears in this chart matches the sequence listed by Bill Tancer in Chapter 6 of his Click book, which I mentioned in a post on July 22nd. This list really isn’t a list of phobias as Mr. Tancer said, and it came from the ECA, not the National Comorbidity Survey (NCS).

What can we learn from digging up this data? First, that there is excellent information you may not have ever seen. (I couldn’t find a copy of the book in Boise, so the public library got me one via interlibrary loan). Like Las Vegas, what happens in psychiatry stays in psychiatry. Second, the terms in a survey may not mean what you think they mean, like speaking in public. Here is the general phobia question and the 14 situations:

“Some people have phobias, that is, such a strong fear of something or some situation that they try to avoid it, even though they know there is no real danger. Have you ever had such an unreasonable fear of (SITUATION) that you tried to avoid (it/them)?


Tunnels or bridges 

Crowds - being in a crowd

Public transport - being on any kind of public transportation like airplanes, buses, or elevators

Going out by oneself - going out of the house alone

Closed places - being in a closed place

Being alone

Eating in public - eating in front of other people you know (or in public)

Speaking in public - speaking in front of small group of people you know

Speaking to new acquaintances - speaking to strangers or meeting new people


Water - being in water, for instance in a swimming pool or lake

Spiders, bugs, mice, snakes or bats

Animals - being near any (other) harmless animal or a dangerous animal that couldn’t get to you.”

Third, psychiatry learns and changes. Diagnostic categories and criteria got revised in going from the DSM-III used in the ECA to DSM-IV used in the NCS. Meanwhile, the speaking coaches kept on referring back to that 1977 Book of Lists.