Thursday, August 30, 2012

After all... tomorrow is another day.

Early this morning I took my camera to watch the Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic again. What a difference from yesterday! Two similar balloons formed an interesting pattern.

The Idaho Statesman story said Smoky skies can't keep balloons down

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sometimes an event just doesn’t fly

Early this morning I walked over to Crescent Rim Drive with my tripod and digital camera. I’d planned to take photos of 15 hot air balloons flying overhead at opening day for this year’s Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic. All I got was images like the one shown above. The organizers had trouble getting the real-time information about winds and weather that they wanted, and canceled the 7:00 AM launch. But, there still are four more days, so I’ll be back for more.

An image from last year shows what I’d hoped to see this morning.

What’s this got to do with public speaking? Often our speech is part of an event that can go wrong due to pesky details like weather. We need to think about what might happen, and plan ahead so we can recover from it. 

The spectator information page for the Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic warns that people should leave their dogs at home. Why?

“The burners that power the balloons make a sound that is inaudible to humans, but when experienced up close by your pet, actually hurts his/her sensitive ears.”

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Republicans use teleprompters too

President Obama’s use of teleprompters has long been the subject of jokes, most recently by Paul Ryan, and even humorous photos. However, Republicans also keep them around to use (and have for 60 years), as can be seen above in the image I took from yesterday’s USA Today video of the brief opening to their convention in Tampa.

The spacing between those two 45-degree mirror plates is wide enough to keep them out of view when zooming in to just show a speaker standing behind the lectern. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Yeoman Warders at the Tower of London - masters of heritage interpretation

On August 3rd Angela DeFinis blogged about Beefeaters: the Olympians of Public Speaking. Those Yeoman Warders have to be veterans with over 22 years of military service, and must undergo over a year of training in consistently telling the story for that very high profile historical site.

But, what they are doing is heritage interpretation, not just public speaking. Interpreters are people who explain natural or cultural resources for visitors at places like parks, nature centers, museums, zoos, botanical gardens, aquariums, and tour companies. Interpretation is a relatively small but important field. The US-based National Association for Interpretation serves about 5,000 members, and the UK-based Association for Heritage Interpretation serves about 500.


What the Yeoman Warders do with their story is like one particular team Olympic event. The 4 by 100 meter relay race involves passing a baton, like the teamwork of passing along a story of the history for the Tower.

You can read a chapter on Encyclopaedic Museum vs. Story-Led Experience from a new book on Museum Narrative & Storytelling that discusses the Tower of London.

Images of a Yeoman Warder and the 4 by 100 relay both came from Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, August 24, 2012

SPEAK the movie

SPEAK is a documentary about the 2008 Toastmasters International World Championship of Public Speaking (and fear of public speaking) that is being shown in some theaters. There have been reviews of it this month both in Variety and the New York Times. A  video trailer is on Vimeo.

The web site for it contains a web page about hosting a screening. It is also out on video (for $25). I expect that SPEAK will become a staple at Toastmasters district conferences.

Lashunda Rundles won the 2008 championship. The left side of the web pages for SPEAK shows an unoccupied floor microphone, which now has a much different meaning than originally intended, because Lashunda, who suffered from lupus, died on August 21st.   

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Avoiding blind alleys in research

Two weeks ago Rich Hopkins had an excellent Speak & Deliver video blog post titled Speaking of the Perfectionist Bug. One week ago I saw another blog post from Kramm Court Reporting titled Atelophobia - The Fear of Not Being Perfect - Realtime Court Reporters.

I don’t recall seeing the word atelophobia before. Wikipedia has an entry for it that says it’s the obsessive fear of imperfection. Is that a useful term for describing perfectionism? Was I missing something significant? Nope, it’s just a blind alley.

I looked up atelophobia, perfectionism, and the combination of perfectionism AND phobia up on Google, in WorldCat (the planetary library catalog), and in Public Medline (PubMed, the National Library of Medicine’s index of about 22 million articles) and PubMed Central (PMC, the subset of PubMed with free full text of articles). Then I looked in some databases at my public library web site: Academic Search Premier, Business Source Premier, Master FILE Premier, and Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition.

The table ( click on it for a larger version) reveals that atelophobia doesn’t show up at all in the medicine and health databases - PubMed and Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition. It also doesn’t show up at all in two of the main magazine databases, Business Source Premier and Master FILE Premier. Apparently it’s not a term that’s being used by serious professionals.

But, if you look around on Google you’ll find atelophobia on a silly list of Top 10 Most Common Phobias. Also, CTRN: Change That’s Right Now will be happy to treat you for it.

Using atelophobia as a search term just sends you down a blind alley. It leads to little that is useful, so it’s a waste of your precious time. If you had first checked on PubMed and Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition, you’d have decided to try another more useful combination of terms, like perfectionism AND phobia.

The image for a blind alley was derived from this poster.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Ryan Avery won the 2012 Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking

In a press release on Saturday Toastmasters International announced that Ryan Avery had won. He is 25 and from Portland, Oregon. Ryan is the youngest person to win the contest. (Last year I blogged about how in 1970 Stephen D. Boyd had won at age 26).  You can watch Ryan's winning speech here on YouTube. As is shown above, the contest process is a very large pyramid.

Is this a real world championship, or is it as limited as the World Series of Major League Baseball, which has 29 teams from the United States and just one team from Canada?

It’s a lot closer to a real world championship! Of the 86 semifinalists, 57 came from the United States, but there also were 4 from Australia, 7 from Canada, and one each from:

New Zealand
Saudi Arabia
South Africa
Sri Lanka
United Arab Emirates

Previous winners of the Toastmasters World Championship are a less diverse bunch. There have only been ten from outside the United States: 3 from Australia, 4 from Canada, one from Ireland, and one from New Zealand.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A 4-H speech at the Western Idaho Fair

Late Friday afternoon I visited the opening day for the Western Idaho Fair. Near the back of the South Expo building I saw a girl finishing her 4-H speech on raising hogs. I was impressed by how determined she was to get her message out. She held her notes, and a pointer with a star on the end for referring to a large poster.  She didn’t seem at all bothered by the endless parade of people walking down the aisle ten feet to the left of her podium going to the commercial exhibits in the Center Expo building.

Some state 4-H programs like California and Ohio have training booklets about presentations and public speaking on their web sites.  

At the fair there are booths selling all the usual fried and frozen foods. The Oinkari Basque Dancers also have booths selling Basque sandwiches.  

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Please say that again - only more clearly

Yesterday I saw the end of an article in the Idaho Press-Tribune that wasn’t uninteresting. It was titled Nampa School District $2.8 million short in budget (or about 4%), and it concluded with:

“ 'There is nothing here that is not insurmountable,' Nampa CEO Pete Koehler said to the board. 'Our children will continue to receive a first-class education and we’ll do everything to take care of our staff.' ”

That first sentence is confusing. When you expand it and cancel out the double negative, the result is the opposite of reassuring. Oops!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Surveys show that public speaking isn’t feared by the majority of adults in nine developed and eleven developing countries

On a web page titled Fear of Public Speaking Statistics I found the startling claim that:

“Three out of every four individuals suffer from speech anxiety: that is 75 percent of the world population according to the World Health Organization.”

Last month I blogged about a web page at Statistic Brain with a bogus claim that (according to the National Institute of Mental Health) 74 percent of Americans feared public speaking. The claim made above for the world is similarly bogus. There aren’t any surveys for the whole world (or the galaxy).

But, there have been similar surveys done in a number of countries under the World Mental Health Survey Initiative by the World Health Organization. Two years ago there was a very serious magazine article by Dan J. Stein et al. that assembled them to describe social fears and phobias both in developed and developing countries. You probably have never heard of it from any public speaking coaches or teachers, because it has the obscure title of Subtyping Social Anxiety Disorder in Developed and Developing Countries and appeared in a magazine for psychologists called Depression and Anxiety (April 2010, volume 27, number 4, pages 390 to 403). You can read the full text here at PubMed Central. The total sample size was 103,810, which was over 40 times larger than the 2,543 for the endlessly quoted 1973 Bruskin survey cited in the 1977 Book of Lists. Results were reported (in Table 2) for nine developed countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, and the United States) and eleven developing countries (Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Colombia, India, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Romania, South Africa, Ukraine).

Results for the nine developed countries are shown above in a bar chart. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer version). Social fears are shown in blue, and social phobias are shown in red. (I’ve previously blogged about the difference between a fear and a phobia). 13% feared public speaking/performance, and 12.5% feared speaking up in a meeting/class. 8.9% feared an important exam/interview, 8.8% feared meeting new people, and 8.6% feared talking to people in authority. Only 3.1% feared using public bathrooms.

So, way less than a majority (half) of adults in developed countries fear public speaking. The 13% for fear of public speaking/performance, and 12.5% for fear of speaking up in a meeting/class can be restated as saying only one in eight people have these fears, or about six times lower than the bogus statistic of 75% (three out of four).

Results for the eleven developing countries are shown above in another bar chart. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer version). 9.4% feared public speaking/performance, and 9% feared speaking up in a meeting/class. 6.6% feared talking to people in authority. 6.3% feared an important exam/interview, 5% feared meeting new people, and only 3.2% feared using public bathrooms. The 14.3% for any social fear in developing countries was slightly lower than the 15.9% for developed countries. But, fears of public speaking/performance were clearly lower (9.4% versus 13%). 

So, the next time you see those bogus 75% fear statistics, keep in mind that they are not backed up by recent research.

Monday, August 13, 2012

How are homeopathic pillules really made?

Some homeopathic remedies are dispensed as little sugar pills  or pillules (as shown above). A few days ago I read a post on the Quackometer blog titled FDA Raises Serious Concerns About UK’s Nelsons Homeopathics.

Last November a representative of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspected the Nelson’s plant in London. He observed how they were filling a batch of their trademarked Clikpak containers with Kali Phosphoricum (potassium phosphate) 30C pillules. (They also use Clikpaks for both Lycopodium and Gelsemium, which I’ve previously blogged about having been recommended for public speaking anxiety). FDA was alarmed enough to send them a warning letter pointing out significant violations of Current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMP) regulations.

One example was that:

“a. During the inspection, the investigator observed glass fragments present during the manufacture of Kali Phos 30 c Clikpak, Batch #36659. Specifically, glass fragments were observed in the Clikpak Assembly (b)(4) enclosed area where open glass vials are inserted into the outer plastic Clikpak sheaths and move uncovered on the conveyance mechanism. Your firm failed to implement adequate measures to prevent glass contamination and had no documentation to demonstrate that appropriate line clearance and cleaning is conducted following occurrences of glass breakage, which has been a recurring problem.”

A second was, amazingly, that 1/6th of the pill containers weren’t getting anything added to the inert sugar pills at all:

“b. The investigator also observed for Batch #36659 that one out of every six bottles did not receive the dose of active homeopathic drug solution due to the wobbling and vibration of the bottle assembly during filling of the active ingredient. The active ingredient was instead seen dripping down the outside of the vial assembly. Your firm lacked controls to ensure that the active ingredient is delivered to every bottle.”

A third example was that:

“c. The dosing process has not been validated appropriately. Specifically, your surrogate validation study, “Medication of un-medicated pillules with (b)(4),” visually demonstrates the variability of the amount of (b)(4) for the pillules in one vial. Your firm lacks control of the variation for the amount of the active ingredient in the pillules.

The validation study demonstrated that pillules at the top of the bottle contain more active ingredient than pillules at the bottom. There are no controls in place to ensure that the dosing procedure is homogenous and reproducible.”

I would have expected they’d try to uniformly dose their pillules. So, I looked in Dr. Steven B. Kayne’s book Homeopathic Pharmacy: theory and practice to see how it’s usually done. On pages 103 and 104 of the second edition he said that:

“On a large scale, blank lactose tablets, granules or sucrose pills can be surface inoculated by spraying on the liquid remedy in alcoholic tincture or as syrup in a revolving pan, rather like the old method of sugar coating. The exact amount of remedy to be applied to ensure an even covering is determined using dyes.

In smaller scale production the solid dose forms are placed in glass vials and medicated by placing drops of high alcohol medicating potency on the surface, depending on the amount of solid dose form being medicated.

....It is not necessary for every tablet to be coated to the same uniform amount.”

Finding out how it’s actually being done reminded me of the old Monty Python comedy sketch about a box of chocolates called Crunchy Frog, which you can watch here on YouTube

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A bicycle ride and a joyous birthday party

On Saturday afternoon in Boise, Idaho a local woman celebrated her 39th birthday by taking a bicycle ride with her young son from the Boise Depot downhill to Capitol Park, and then having a party. That event made the front page of Sunday’s Idaho Statesman. Why?

Kristin Armstrong is famous for a couple other of her bicycle rides. She came back from London with her second Olympic gold medal in the time trials. In 2008 she’d won her first in Beijing. At her party she said about London that:

“One of my fears before I competed was what would happen if I didn't get on that podium. How would I come home?’ Armstrong said. ‘I know how I'd come home. I'd come home with all of you welcoming me home, whether I won or whether I was fifth." 

It’s wonderful to have an inspiration like her around here.

The image by Peter Trimming came from Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Latest CareerBuilder survey on biggest workplace fears found that presenting only ranked third

In a June 28th story posted on the WORKBUZZ blog and at the largest online job website in the U.S., CareerBuilder com, titled What is your biggest workplace fear? Debra Auerbach described the results from an online poll of workers. The top seven responses are shown above in a bar chart. Click on it to see a larger, clearer version.

Getting yelled at by the boss came first (26%), oversleeping came second (23%), and presenting came third (18%). Those results confirmed a previous survey reported last October on What are employees most afraid of at work? that found presenting to be (tied for) the third fear on the list. I blogged about it here. So, once again speaking in public isn’t the number one workplace fear in the U.S. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Doesn’t Q & A mean quiche and asparagus?

After presentations, the usual jargon for a Question and Answer period is Q&A. We’d be surprised to find that to a foodie it instead meant serving quiche and asparagus.

Tony Carrillo sprung that one on us in today’s F Minus cartoon. That narrow niche meaning reminded me of a previous post asking Does your use of jargon need tweaking? 

A post on Peggy Jordan’s Working Words blog about Why Clarity Counts described hearing about an expert on Short Term Disability insurance coverage who glibly referred to that product with the acronym STD - which most of us would have instead assumed meant a Sexually Transmitted Disease.

Another confusing insurance acronym is AD&D for Accidental Death and Dismemberment. That type of insurance policy actually covers either death or dismemberment. They don’t require that both occur together, although that is what it sounds like to me. 

Images of quiche and asparagus came from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The joy of thinking way outside of the box

Last month Matthew Inman finished raising over $105,000 each for his two favorite charities - the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society, from fans of his web comic site The Oatmeal. How and why he did this is a story so amazing that it’s almost unbelievable. You can read a detailed ten-act chronology of it at Popehat,  or look on ars technica. What follows is my version with only some of the play-by-play action.  


Up in Seattle Matt Inman writes sarcastic web comics like Six Reasons to Ride a Polar Bear to Work and 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth (which was also the title of his book collecting many of those comics). Last year Mr. Inman got upset about another web site called FunnyJunk where people were posting copies of his cartoons. At his blog he asked What should I do about because they: 

“1. Gather funny pictures from around the internet
2. Host them on FunnyJunk. com
3. Slather them in advertising
4. If someone claims copyright infringement, throw your hands up in the air and exclaim ‘It was our users who uploaded your photos! We had nothing to do with it! We’re innocent!’
5. Cash six figure advertising checks from other artist’s stolen material”

Matt had previously blogged about WhyI Didn’t Like Riding the Bus as a Kid. Based on that post, I wouldn’t have even thought about trying to bully him now. It would be about as stupid as bothering a sleep-deprived wolverine by sticking a boombox (with the volume turned up all the way) in front of him and playing Nirvana’s song Smells Like Teen Spirit.


On June 2nd Charles Carreon sent Matt Inman a bullying letter in which he claimed that Matt had defamed FunnyJunk and should pay them $20,000 in damages to go away, or else they would sue him. Later, in an interview with Seattle’s alternative weekly, the Stranger:

“Carreon admits he was misinformed: Before demanding the $20,000, which was based on FunnyJunk's ‘estimate of advertising losses sustained due to the taint of being accused of engaging in willful copyright infringement,’ Carreon was told that all Oatmeal comics had been taken off the FunnyJunk site, even though they hadn't. ‘If I had known... no demand would have gone out,’ he says.”


Mr. Inman blogged about the letter and published it with his response, which basically was:

“No, I’ve got a better idea.

1. I’m going to try and raise $20,000 in donations.

2. I’m going to take a photo of the raised money.

3. I’m going to mail you that photo, along with this drawing of your mom seducing a Kodiak bear.

4. I’m going to take the money and donate one half to the National Wildlife Federation and the other half to the American Cancer Society."

He ended by saying that Operation Bear Love Good. Cancer Bad was now commencing (to run for two weeks), and ended with a giant DONATE BUTTON (using a site called IndieGoGo).

It took less than 65 minutes for him to raise the $20,000, and he eventually raised almost eleven times that amount.

Inman was careful to black out Mr. Carreon’s contact information. Nevertheless, some of his fans began bothering Carreon. A sensible person would have walked away at this point. Instead Carreon decided to make a Federal case out of it.


He filed a lawsuit on June 15th in the U.S. District Court (for the Northern District of California) against:

Matthew Inman

IndieGoGo, Inc.

the National Wildlife Federation

the American Cancer Society

a hundred “John Does” (players to be named later)

(and later even added) the Attorney General of the State of  California (Kamala Harris)

Of course, Mr. Carreon also demanded a jury trial. Ironically, he also contributed $10 to Inman’s campaign (to help establish standing to sue). Nobody was amused, especially the Electronic Frontier Foundation who jumped in to help defend Inman. Carreon also filed for a temporary restraining order to prevent Inman from sending the money to the charities. That didn’t work, but Inman took a photo of his own money rather than the charity money.


Of course, he dismissed it without prejudice, which meant that he reserved the right to start again later (whenever pigs fly). He also tried to harass a satirical blogger, who got help from Public Citizen and turned the tables by suing Carreon.

Carreon got a lot of publicity, like at the web sites for Forbes, the Washington Post, and even Fox News but none of it was favorable. It’s a public relations disaster. I think the score so far was - Matt Inman 97 points and Charles Carreon 3 points.


Just because you know how to file a lawsuit doesn’t mean that it’s prudent. Charles Carreon had misbehaved like he’d volunteered to be the Coyote in a Roadrunner cartoon. Chuck Jones has described the nine rules for those cartoons on page 225 of his book Chuck Amuck:

“Rule 1. The Road Runner cannot harm the Coyote except by going ‘beep-beep’.

Rule 2. No outside force can harm the Coyote - only his ineptitude or the failure of the Acme products.

Rule 3. The Coyote could stop anytime - if he were not a fanatic. (Repeat: ‘A fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim.‘ - George Santayana). 

Rule 4. No dialogue ever, except ‘beep-beep.’

Rule 5. The Road Runner must stay on the road - otherwise, logically, he would not be called Road Runner.

Rule 6. All action must be confined to the natural environment of the two characters - the Southwest American Desert.

Rule 7. All materials, tools, weapons, or mechanical conveniences must be obtained from the Acme Corporation.

Rule 8. Whenever possible, make gravity the Coyote’s greatest enemy.

Rule 9. The Coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.” 

Mr. Carreon blatantly disregarded Rule 3. He also didn’t seem to understand Rule 9, and put up a new web site on the topic of Rapeutation which he claims is a new tort defined as:

“...what an individual subjected to a DIRA ends up with, in place of a reputation.”

where the acronym DIRA means a:

“Distributed Internet Reputation Attack (DIRA): noun, an attack against the reputation of an individual that harnesses the distributed efforts of large numbers of both human and digital Internet zombies to proliferate unmanageable quantities of disparaging information in an effort to alter the conduct of the individual or entity.”

I think his loss of reputation mostly came via Rule 2. Behaving like an alien Vogon rather than a human being doesn’t make people sympathetic to your plight.

The Eat Oatmeal image was adapted from a World War I poster.

UPDATE September 4, 2012

New Scientist described how Matthew Inman got involved in raising money online to help buy the Wardenclyffe, New York laboratory built by his hero, Nikola Tesla. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Beware of falling backdrops

Crazy things can happen during a speech. A newspaper column by Dr. Paddy Bowie, OBE in the July 15th issue of the New Straits Times discussed the Hazard Factor in Public Speaking. She told how:

“At an international conference where, as chairman of Malaysian Institute of Management, I was representing Malaysia, I found myself on a platform in Adelaide. Actually not just a platform, a distinguished group of international VIPs. I was speaking. Over my head was a huge styrene map of Australia. Half way through -- it broke -- and disintegrated. Victoria hit the Mayor, New South Wales the Governor, Perth the local MP and so on.”

The map of Australia came from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The real secret of firewalking is not falling down

Motivational speaker and guru Tony Robbins has been featuring “firewalking” as part of his seminars for about 35 years. On July 20th he got some unfavorable press coverage, like in a Mercury News article titled San Jose: 21 people treated for burns after firewalk at Tony Robbins appearance.

What’s the first thing you need to know about firewalking? That the experience has been carefully mislabeled. You actually just are walking briefly over a thin bed of hot coals - after the fire has burned down and been raked out. If you really walked through fire, then you’d die like Joan of Arc did. Nicholas Wade summed it up briefly in a New York Times article back on June 30th, 1998:

“People expect to be burned by anything incandescent, but the coals, if carefully prepared and at a late stage of combustion, have the density of styrofoam and hold too little heat to burn the skin if touched quickly.”

You can find a more detailed description of fire walking in the Skeptic’s Dictionary.

On July 31st the Huffington Post blog carried a long sympathetic article by Marianne Schnall titled Tony Robbins Sets the Record Straight About Fire Walk ‘Controversy’. That article contained statements from his medical personnel at the firewalk. In it Mr. Robbins said:

"For 35 years, I have had more than 4 million people go through my programs from 100 countries, with more than 2 million specifically doing the fire walk seminar itself. Throughout that time we have been conducting these events healthfully and successfully, and we have medical support and attention at every single event for those 3.5 decades. This program in San Jose was no different than any other one that we have ever done. The fact is that the ratio is usually about 1 percent of the people will get some pain, hot spots or blistering, and at this event it was only one-third of 1 percent: 21 people out of 6,000. So while I don't want anyone to feel any pain, and I care immensely... and we make sure that everyone is taken care of, I also know that part of life is facing a fear and there is risk! You take those risks if you choose to, and that's how you reap the rewards. He added, ‘It's really sad that some in the media chose to turn such a victory for so many people involved with the event into a tragedy.’ "

I looked in the medical literature to see what else had been reported about burns from fire walks. There was an article from 2011 in Burns magazine by Andrew A. Sayampanathan titled Fire walking in Singapore - a study of the distribution of burns. He reported on a firewalk at the Sri Mariamman Temple where of 3794 men, 17 ( or 0.045%) had superficial or partial thickness burns with an extent less than 1.5% of body surface area. But one man fell down and was burned over 20% of his body - with 15% being deep dermal injury. The real secret of fire walking is not falling down, so don’t drink alcohol or get high before you try it.

The image of a firewalk came from Wikimedia Commons.