Statistically mis-speaking

Adding simple statistics can add heft to your arguments, written or spoken.  However, when qualified they can serve as little but a distraction.

Take the following sentence from a paper by a college professor with a PhD, whose name shall remain anonymous for his/her protection.

Some estimates are that as many as 20-85% of people experience more or less anxiety when then need to speak in public.

This is a classically wishy-washy (to use a technical term) sentence, full of qualifications:

Some estimates – better to skip the word “some” here – do the other estimates contradict your point?

as many as – followed by a range; “as many as” should cite the upper limit of a range.

20-85% – that not exactly nailing a narrow range, is it?  Each major party candidate for president will get somewhere between 20-85% of the vote, also.

more or less anxiety – We can agree that 100% of people experience more or less anxiety.  But more or less than whom?

Edit the statistical fluff and ambiguous phrases from that earlier sentence and you get this: Estimates are that as many as 85% of people are nervous about speaking in public.

If you are one of that anxious 85% you should work with us; we are 100% certain that we can help you become less nervous.

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Don’t use jargon. However, if you must then this will help

Jargon: Special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand

Speaking in jargon is a presentation hazard faced by technical or highly educated speakers.  A speaker can be so involved with a subject that he doesn’t even notice that he is doing it; jargon is just his native language.

In general, anything that distracts from the audience focusing on your message should be avoided.  When a listener hears an unfamiliar word, phrase, or acronym, part of their brain will be trying to decipher what that means.  That distracts them from what you are saying next.  So comb through your speech, looking at it through the lens of someone new to your subject.

That said, in speaking to people in your field who speak your language, jargon is more appropriate.  If you find yourself in need of some useful jargon, particularly in the fields of philanthropy and development, there is a tool that will help you find the right words.  Use this for any occasion!   Jargon Generator

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The wonderful randomness of a TEDx event

In coaching the speakers for a number of local TEDx events I have been privileged to get to meet some of the most interesting minds around.  Both for me and especially for the TEDx audience there is great stimulation in being exposed to an amazing randomness of subject matter.  For example, take TEDxGreenville, which in March 2012 has people speaking about:

  • Improving medical education through theater
  • Losing a newborn twin brother to kidnapping
  • Commentary through song-blogging
  • Competitive writing
  • Getting clean water by spending money on trees rather than treatment plants
  • Fostering social change through the design of a tampon case

Really, where else are you ever going to hear of all of these topics in a single day?

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Connecting with a video


A web video is a compelling way to reach your audience. This is a good example of a very well-done one by Keith Ferrazzi, author of the book Never Eat Alone. This video comes from his blog, which concentrates on relationship building as a crucial business tool.

In this video, what distracts from the message?

The sound quality of this piece has quite an echo. A mocrophone closer to the speaker than the camera would help, whether a wired or wireless mike. I have had success recording myself using a Audio-Technica Pro 88W/R wireless mike. We use the same microphone in my Toastmasters club to get sound to the camera recording each of our speakers.

While often effective, Keith’s hand gestures are sometimes too busy. He would benefit from occasionally just dropping his arms to his side. This would serve to emphasis his gestures when he does make them.

Keith speaks quite quickly and with few if any pauses between thoughts. Especially with such a fast rate of speaking, pauses give the audience a chance to absorb the message.


What works to support his message in this piece?

There is a blank background – the minimalism causes your attention to be 100% on Keith and his message.

The framing of the video is perfect, allowing you to see the full range of Keith’s hand gestures.

Speaking of gestures, Keith has an effective array of hand movements that emphasis his words.

Keith referred to his notes in repeating the questions but then set the page aside, which was a good idea. You can feel the difference in connection that Keith makes when he switches to speaking directly to the camera. Keith is all about connection, and here he demonstrates well how to connect.




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Why and how to give an Ignite talk

What is an Ignite talk?

“Enlighten us, but make it quick” is the mantra of Ignite talks.  The format is simple – show 20 slides, advancing every 15 seconds.

That makes for a five-minute presentation, a lightning talk.  Speak about each slide or use the flow to illustrate your talk.

Why should I give an Ignite talk?

Every speaker benefits from practice at being concise when speaking.  Ignite forces that, whether you consider it to be a 5-minute speech or 20 15-second bursts.

Ignite is a platform to share your passion, your inspiration, or your quirky idea to an appreciative audience.

What should I talk about?

Tell a story.  Tell a story about telling a story.  Scott Berkun explains how here:

Where do I sign up?

Look for an Ignite in your community.  Apply to speak at our local Ignite Asheville, coming up on February 21, 2012.

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