Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Using imaginary or abstract visual aids

Even imaginary visual aids can be powerful in a speech. You always can talk about and point to things that aren’t there. On page 180 of his 1996 book Plain English at Work Edward P. Bailey gave three examples. Two are:

“One person was showing the distance someone could broad jump. So she made the stage an imaginary place for the event, started at one edge, and walked the distance for the high school record. She talked about that awhile, then moved a little farther to show the collegiate record. And so on.

....Another made the stage an airport, showing which directions the planes would take off and land, where the gates were, and where the control tower was. She then used this to illustrate the various traffic patterns the planes would fly, depending on the direction the wind was blowing.”  

An airport also could be shown abstractly on the stage using rope and colored yarns to mark runways and taxiways, and sheets of paper to indicate the control tower and terminal. Your audience will imagine the details.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Know Something. Say Something. Be Something.

On January 15th John Zimmer posted Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 248) Elbert Hubbard at his Manner of Speaking blog which was:

“To escape criticism: Do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.”

It follows the familiar Rule of Three. Back on January 9, 2015 Quote Investigator looked at where else it came from.

But I recognized it as being a negative version of something similar to the 1927 motto of Taylor Allderdice High School, which I graduated from in Pittsburgh and is:

“Know Something. Do Something. Be Something.”

The U.S. Army also uses a three-part leadership slogan of Be-Know-Do, which was written by Major Boyd M. Harris in 1983.

A better positive version for speakers is to:

Know Something. Say Something. Be Something.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Are great teachers great storytellers?

Yes, they are. That was the title of a magazine article by Frank Romanelli on page 93 of the August 2016 issue of the American Journal of Pharmacy Education (Vol 80, No. 6). He said:

“....Have we as teachers forgotten the importance of storytelling? Some speculate that growing demands to teach more to more students alongside the over reliance on PowerPoint presentations and other technologies have led many educators to stray from telling the larger story. Stories are a connected means of presenting and transmitting information. Moreover, information that is presented in a logical and systematic fashion is often easier for students to understand, process, retrieve, and synthesize. Perhaps the greatest strength of storytelling is the naturalness of this mode of information transmission. For most of us, our education started informally through fairy tales, fables, and even family stories.

The effective use of storytelling as a component of teaching may be too often overlooked. Telling the story of a disease, disease state, or any lesson on a micro or macro level may be invaluable to students. The story of a disease helps learners understand circumstances surrounding recognition of an altered health state and the chronological events that shape the pharmacotherapy used to treat or cure. By providing a narrative account, a storyline forces students to better understand the circumstances that lead to drug discoveries, obstacles to treatment, and advantages and disadvantages of specific therapeutic options. A paramount lesson from the narrative is comprehending what leads researchers or clinicians to ask certain questions or make certain hypotheses concerning a disease.”

An image of Story hour in the first grade came from the Library of Congress.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Free return address labels in the mail from charities are an opportunity, not a problem

On January 9, 2017 Jane Genova blogged about Unsolicited Junk Gifts from Supposedly Worthy Causes - Ask Congress to Ban This Kind of Snail Mail. (Titles of posts from her Speechwriter-Ghostwriter blog show up under Speaking Pro Central at Alltop Speaking, which I glance at every day). She had received address labels and a notepad from St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Jane ranted that:

“....The brutal reality is that gifts, even junk gifts, impose obligation. The expectation is that we will reciprocate. When a cause approaches us in this way, of course, the expectation is for a monetary donation.

I want this stopped. And since the public nuisance happens through the mail, federal authorities can end this practice. That will force good causes to become more innovative in their fundraising. That will provide more assignments for us in marketing communications.”

But there was no reason to go on a guilt trip or try to change the law. The existing one is adequate, and it says there is no legal obligation. A web page at the U. S. Postal Inspection Service titled Receipt of Unsolicited Merchandise explains in plain English that after you open it you can treat it as a gift and either:

A]  If you like what you find, you may keep it for free.

B]  If you don’t like what you find, you may throw it away.

They also refer to the law (Section 3009 of Title 39 of the United States Code). I found it amusing that Jane, who likes to name drop about having attended Harvard Law School, didn’t even bother to look up the law on this topic. (She also cross-posted this same story at her Law and More blog).

I suspect that Jane didn’t spend much more time writing her blog post than I did reading it. She’s a bad example, as I discussed previously on December 28, 2016 in a blog post titled Shallow versus deep research about how much Americans trust their mass media.

Return address label sheets from charities are a useful gift, and thus are my favorite type of ‘junk’ mail. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Is expertise really the enemy of innovation?

I think not, but is tip #15 from Stephen Shapiros’s 2011 book Best Practices are Stupid. He blogged about it in an August 31, 2016 post titled Innovation Minute #20: Expertise is the Enemy of Innovation. (Titles of his posts appear at Alltop Speaking). Stephen explained that:

“The reason why is, the more you’ve thought about a topic, the harder it is for you to think differently about that topic.

So, if you’re an expert in a function, like HR, finance or sales, it’s going to be hard for you to think differently about that. If you’re an expert in an industry, like hospitality, financial services or manufacturing, it will be difficult for you to think differently about that.”

Alexander Pope’s old adage that a little learning is a dangerous thing likely is more correct. I instead think that expertise is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for innovation.  

If you are dogmatic and rigid, then expertise MAY be the enemy of innovation. But those of us who have done research for a living know how to be flexible and creative. My first career included seven years of applied research at the Climax Molybdenum Company lab in Ann Arbor, Michigan. There were lots of creative people in that lab with a wide variety of expertise. Two stories illustrate how expertise leads to innovation.

One of our older technicians, Bob Besore, had once designed production tooling at Garwood Industries. In our mechanical testing lab we had a fracture test apparatus that (as is common in research) had been adapted from other tooling we already had around. But setting it up took repeated measurements and several minutes of adjustment with a wrench to align the differently sized and shaped upper and lower plates mounted on the fixed and movable heads of the electrohydraulic testing machine.

A supervisor asked Bob if he could make an easier to use version. He said sure I can, but I need to start over from scratch. A top view of what he designed is shown above. The new precision-ground plates were the same size and shape. A precision-ground U-shaped coupling fixture slid over both plates to locate them in perfect alignment. Then a series of cap screws were tightened with an air wrench, and in under a minute it was ready to use. These days what Bob had designed is described under the topic of lean production as a Single-Minute Exchange of Die (SMED).   

Another example is the 1989 U.S. Patent # 4,832,757 by Thomas B. Cox and me (Method for producing normalized Grade D sucker rods). Sucker rods are what connects between the horse head pumping jack you see in oil fields and the pump mechanism located at the bottom of the well. The high-strength Grade D usually is produced from plain carbon steel via a heat treatment  involving austenitizing, quenching and tempering. Lower strength rods are normalized - austenitized and just air-cooled. We showed that carefully chosen normalized manganese-molybdenum alloy steel compositions also could produce acceptable properties. This research was begun during the 1980s drilling boom, when there was a high demand for rods. We wanted to let rod producers who were set up only for heat treating lower strength rods (and thus didn’t have a quench tank and tempering furnace) make high-strength rods too. 

The general approach of replacing a carbon steel with an air-cooled alloy steel had previously been used at the Climax lab for other products, like dual-phase steel sheet for automotive applications. We used our lab’s collective expertise in hardenabilty to select the right steel compositions. 

The image of a wizard was adapted from a 1901 Puck cartoon at the Library of Congress, and the painting of a laughing fool came from Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Horror stories about being introduced

In the September 2016 issue of Speaker magazine (from the National Speakers Association in the U.S.) there is a useful article on pages 30 to 32 by Glenn Strange titled When Introductions Go Bad. Glenn tells some horror stories about how he has been introduced, and why you need to write your own introduction. In a sidebar he provides 15 Tips to Ensure Success

The Toastmasters International web site has a web page linked to a downloadable guide for Creating an Introduction from their Better Speaker Series.

The Frankenstein image by André Koehne came from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Playing Games with Words - crossword puzzles and Scrabble

 If you like writing speeches, then you might enjoy doing crossword puzzles in newspapers, or playing Scrabble. I got curious about the history of those puzzles and that game. Here is what I found.

When and where did the first crossword puzzle appear?

It was created by Arthur Wynne and was in the Christmas edition of the New York World, on December 21, 1913. As shown above, it was shaped like a diamond, 13 squares wide and high. There were single letters R, M, W, and D at the corners. Later puzzles instead had a square grid.

What word in it is often considered to have only come much later as Homer’s catchphrase in The Simpsons TV show?

That would be DOH, for which the clue is 10-18 The fibre of the gomuti palm. Wikipedia spells it D’oh! There was a Simpsons episode titled Homer and Lisa Exchange Cross Words that aired on November 16, 2008.

When did the first book of crossword puzzles appear?

The Cross Word Puzzle Book was published by Simon and Schuster on April 18, 1924, and it came with an attached pencil. Back in January Simon’s aunt Wixie had asked him where she could get a book of Cross-Words for a niece. None existed, so Simon decided to have one created.

Was there ever a film about crosswords?

Yes, the documentary Wordplay appeared in 2006.

What are typical grid sizes for crossword puzzles in the United States?

In daily newspapers a 15-square grid is typical. Examples are: Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, New York Post, New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal.

In Sunday papers or weeklies a 21-square grid is typical. Examples are the Sunday Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, and the New York Times Magazine. My local free tabloid, the Boise Weekly, includes a New York Times puzzle.  

The National Enquirer has both a 21-square regular puzzle and a ColorCross  where:

“Blue squares contain vowels, sometimes including Y. Other letters are in the white squares. Pink squares can represent any letter. Unscramble the letters in the pink squares to spell the name of an actress (or actor, or TV personality, etc.)”
Their competitor The Globe has a Big X 29 claimed to be ‘America’s Biggest Crossword.’

Can you download free puzzles?

Yes, you can from the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal. Online you can play both Regular and Master level puzzles at USA Today. But, the New York Times instead wants you to buy an annual subscription for $40.

Can you get online help for doing puzzles?

Yes, there is a Crossword Solver at wordplays.com. If you enter the phrase ‘public speaking’ replies are:



When did the game of Scrabble appear?

Scrabble came later, in 1938. It was invented by architect Alfred Mosher Butts. Each player begins with seven letter tiles, and tries to add words to the 15-square grid board. The letter tiles used in Scrabble have frequencies typical for English. That’s quite different from words in crossword puzzles. Some squares on the scrabble board have bonuses for a letter or word. When I tried to put that first crossword puzzle on my deluxe Scrabble board though, I ran out of letters before finishing, as is shown above. (I had to use a blank for one V).

The first image (from way back on January 22, 1915) of a 100-year old Ambrose Hines doing a crossword puzzle came from the Library of Congress.