Archive for the ‘public speaking’ Category


“Fun Is Good,” says Dr. Seuss

April 4, 2010

Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.
• Mary Lou Cook

I was once part of a collaborative presentation where two members of the group left in a snit*—and left the rest of us to address key issues without their materials—because audience questions and concerns had put the presentation behind. Not only did they leave, they left vocally, calling the rest of us inconsiderate and rude. Their parting shot: “Thanks a lot for wasting our time,” pretty much signaled the end of accomplishing anything productive. This experience has left me skittish. It was difficult to finish, although the rest of did our best, feeling as uncomfortable as the audience.

Yesterday, I had the opposite kind of experience and here’s my advice for you if you’re a student who ever has to collaborate with your classmates on any kind of presentation: Be kind. Be generous. Be understanding. Be flexible. Smile. Create comfort with your presence. These things matter and you might as well do them. After all, once the presentation is going, it will be what it will be regardless, and your bad attitude can turn what could have been a meaningful shared experience into a disaster for everyone. I’ve seen this happen in class.

Over the years, I’ve observed a student “walk out” on fellow presenters by going back and sitting at his desk. I’ve seen others interrupt colleagues who are speaking. One student asked her partner to “shut up.” Fortunately, even though I’ve been teaching more than two decades, I haven’t seen much of this uncivil behavior, and I’m grateful for that. Teachers can see what’s happening when one person is hogging the time (although we also know when it’s happening because other member(s) are ill-prepared).

I am sympathetic when I see such things happening and I debrief with groups to sort things out for grading purposes. Publically humiliating anyone—even a schmuck who isn’t giving you your allotted speaking time—is unlikely to endear you to a teacher’s heart since that kind of behavior can affect the whole class negatively.

Yesterday was a delight because everyone from audience to co-presenters was generous and understanding as we did our best to stay on track and on time, even though we didn’t entirely succeed. I’m a teacher who researches fun in learning and I appreciate experiences that remind me of the importance of other people in helping make learning of any kind fun or a drag. On a recent episode of the television show, Community, Troy (Donald Glover) said to Britta , “You’re more of fun vampire because you don’t suck blood, you just suck.” It’s much better to be someone who infuses activities with joy than someone who sucks the joyful spirit from the room.

The occasional bit of ill humor or grouchiness is understandable, but are you generally fun to work with or are you a drag?

I cannot even imagine where I would be today were it not for that handful of friends who have given me a heart full of joy. Let’s face it, friends make life a lot more fun.
• Charles R. Swindoll

* They could have left in a huff, but on this day, they’d driven their snit to work. And since a snit is a fit of temper and a huff is a peevish spell of anger, snit seems to fit their behavior more closely. See how gracefully I work a vocabulary lesson into this post?


What ARE Pirate Stools And Why Do I Need Them for My Kitchen?

January 24, 2010

The television is often on while I am working. The chatter keeps me from noticing annoying and distracting noises like the leaf blower across the street or the neighbor using a power saw. Even though I’m not paying attention, there are certain words like fart and breast that get my immediate attention. I don’t hear those often on my favorite white noise, QVC’s home shopping. The only thing I ever really watch on QVC is Jeanne Bice, hawking her Quacker Factory apparel. She fascinates me. So do her sparkly, shiny, seasonally-themed clothes, the kind that many people think that I would surely want to wear and I surely don’t.

An advertisement was on when I heard the words “pirate stools” followed by the announcer telling me how necessary they were for my kitchen. I’m pretty sure I was “watching“ the TV Guide Channel since it circles round and round while offering regular doses of paid advertisements for things I don’t need along with people who think they look like celebrities and can’t wait to have the resemblance enhanced (Note: This has always baffled me. Wouldn’t it be better to look like the best you you can instead of like Angelina Jolie or Tom Hanks or Kim Kardashian? Would it really be thrilling to have someone think you were someone else?)

Oh, and the other thing that seems to be on this channel a lot is the perpetual adolescence of Ashton Kutcher. If he is privately anything at all like his public persona, I pity Demi Moore. Punking people is mean, not funny—ha, ha, your house burned down and you’re being arrested and your dog is dead and you owe the government a quarter of a million dollars and you’ve been fired—maybe I’m just too old to get it, but then I never was a prankster. Incidentally, being in school is probably stressfull enough without getting punked; don’t be tempted to prank.

But back to those pirate stools. Who wouldn’t be curious? Are they missing a leg? Is it because all of their legs are made of wood? Are they emblazoned with gold coins and other booty? Is it because you put your booty on them? My imagination runs wild and I look up, hoping to see what this special seating looks like. And I see it, an advertisement for Pyrex tools. It says so on the screen. And then the voiceover says it again, “Pirate stools.“ I haven’t misheard. He’s not articulating. He’s slurring the words, running them together so that the Pyrex and the tools unite to create the piratestools.

I imagine that such slurring is what leads to other verbal misunderstandings and to people thinking that they’re saying the right thing when they aren’t. Certainly it makes sense when I hear someone call Alzheimer’s disease “old-timers disease“ since it afflicts older folks. It’s actually named for the German neurologist, Dr. Alois Alzheimer. And “carpool tunnel syndrome” could possibly be brought on by too much driving, but it’s still carpal tunnel syndrome because carpal means pertaining to the wrist. One of my all-time favorites is something I heard a Miss USA contestant say in 2007: “With the windshield factor, it was 50 below.“ Anyway, be sure you know what you’re talking about if you’re planning a presentation. A dry run in front of a friendly, but critical audience is a good idea.

As for me, I’m still longing for some pirate stools.

What words have you heard or seen misused?

I hate increment weather.
• Overheard at school, January 2007


Martin Luther, The Man Who Would Be King

January 15, 2010

In 1922, a young Zelda Fitzgerald (b. 1900) said that a young woman “had the right to experiment with herself as a transient, poignant figure who will be dead tomorrow.” Fitzgerald was past the teen years but just entering the age of flappers and jazz. In 1923, Colleen Moore starred in the movie Flaming Youth, leading F. Scott Fitzgerald to claim, “I was the spark that lit up Flaming Youth, Colleen Moore was the torch. What little things we are to have caused all that trouble.” The tagline for the movie? “How Far Can A Girl Go?”

Why do I tell you this, you may be wondering, and what can this possibly have to do with student success? I tell you this to remind you of two things related to researching just about anything:

First, just about everything has a history and you ignore the historical context of an issue at your peril when you are doing research. My brother once wrote a paper that started with the words, “Rock and roll began with the Beatles.” No it didn’t. There’s more to it than that. There’s Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed who first used the term in 1951, taking it from a song, “My Baby Rocks Me with a Steady Roll.” Maybe. This is a story I’ve heard, but if I were writing a paper or a presentation on this topic I’d be making sure and referencing rock’s roots in country, gospel, the blues, and more.

But back to flaming youth and my second point. I’m collecting materials for an upcoming exhibit called Flaming Youth and I bought a new-to-me book a couple of weeks ago, Stephen Tropiano’s (2006), Rebels & Chicks: A History of the Hollywood Teen Movie. There’s lots of good information in the book, but here’s the first sentence of the introduction:

The history of the Hollywood teen movie begins in the 1950s, the same decade in which American teenagers came into their own, complete with their own way of talking, dressing, dancing, and having a good time. (p. 9)

Flappers, jazz, bobbed hair, the collegiate look, raccoon coats, the Charleston, and oh so much more from the nineteen twenties provide evidence that youth culture predates the fifties by decades. And at least some of this culture was spread at the movie theatre (I recommend Joan Crawford in 1928’s Our Dancing Daughters for a related romp). While Tropiano goes on to explain what he considers the differences among films of the fifties and those of earlier decades, he’s made a dangerous statement in his introduction, especially if it’s read by someone inexperienced with research.

When something is published in a book, it must be true, right? Of course you know this isn’t necessarily so. You’ll need to find multiple sources and cross reference facts and make sure that you understand your topic before you begin writing. It’s very tempting to grab onto something like Tropiano’s initial statement and run with it without reading further, skewing your whole thesis.

There are many memorable skewed presentations I’ve witnessed. One student, during a study of the Elizabethan era (think Shakespeare), told the class as she stood up to talk that Princess Diana was so much more interesting than Queen Elizabeth that she had focused her research on the princess instead of the queen. Another student, having been assigned a report on Martin Luther King Jr., instead told the class about Martin Luther, telling us that Luther was a man who later became a king.

How far can a girl go? Far enough into her subject to find out what she’s talking or writing about. So should everyone.

What’s the first thing you do when you need to research something?

There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.
• J.R.R. Tolkien