Consider these four questions. You’ve seen headlines like these in your social media feeds:
Who suffers more: Alzheimer’s patients or Alzheimer’s caregivers?
What’s more important: presentation content or presentation delivery?
Office work or remote work: which is better for productivity?
Why would anyone need to go to college when they could just take online classes?
Media outlets that depend on advertising dollars often like to post false dilemma questions like these. They do it with the aim of “increasing engagement” or “starting conversations.”
A casual reader or viewer might not even care that deeply about the posed question. But once they’ve responded by picking a side – uh, oh!
They’ve entered a trap.
Once people answer one way or the other, they might feel as if they have to defend their position. Sometimes, they’ll even fight with people who selected the other side of the either-or equation.
You know what happens next. Fights draw crowds.
With one simple either-or question, the media outlet that posted the question used an agitation technique. Deliberately posing a false dilemma question to ‘increase engagement’ is propaganda.
Often, the intent is not to inform or educate. The true aim of the false dilemma question is to agitate, confuse, and/or polarize.
Keep your eye out for these kinds of questions. You’ll see and hear deliberate agitation techniques all the time.
Some polarizing questions are posed innocently, but most are deliberately designed to agitate. They create pointless fights and arguments. They prevent any kind of substantive progress.
Increased engagement? More like “increased agitation”.
And it’s not just media outlets who use this technique to cause fights or draw crowds. Sometimes, you’ll be presented with an either-or question in everyday work or personal situations.
Let’s say you’re presented with a false dilemma question in real life. Unlike social media, you can’t choose to not participate. How can you answer it without helping to create an unstable and contentious environment?
Sometimes, you can’t say nothing. You must respond. If so, you might like to try a classic, 2-step pivoting technique.
For example, let’s say a public speaking student asks me, in front of class:
“For our next class presentation, tell us. What’s more important: content or delivery?”
Since the student is asking an either-or question, I might use a pivot statement.
I might say, “I wouldn’t frame the question that way.”
Then, I say how I would frame it. Then, I answer that question.
And my answer? It’s almost never either-or. It’s almost always both-and.
For example, I might say,
“I wouldn’t frame the question that way. Content and delivery are both important, so you need to work on both. Don’t forget – you need to make a connection with your audience.”
Remember that two step process:
Use the pivot phrase “I wouldn’t frame it that way” to politely reject an either-or, false dilemma scenario;
Proceed with framing a both-and response.
Let’s see how this 2-step technique might work in a TV interview. Pretend a reporter asks a doctor:
“Who suffers more, Alzheimer’s caregivers or Alzheimer’s patients?”
The doctor might recognize the false dilemma from media training and say:
“I wouldn’t frame it that way, since both groups suffer in their own unique ways. Nor should we try to make suffering some sort of competition. Instead, I’d rather use my time here today to address what we can do to ease the suffering of both patients and their caregivers.”
Well, done, doctor!
And now, I’ll give you two brief exercises to try on your own. Now that you know to recognize a false dilemma question when you see one, practice answering this either-or question:
“Which scenario is better for productivity: office work or remote work?”
As a public speaker, you’ll want your audience to understand you. You’ll want to be clear.
To gain insight about your speech clarity, try this insightful and easy exercise. Take the one-minute “speech pace” exercise I posted last week.
Then, upload your one-minute video sample to YouTube.
Within a few moments of uploading your video, YouTube will automatically generate closed captioning (CC) for your one-minute vocal sample. Read the captions YouTube generated. You can find them in the YouTube Creator Studio, under “Subtitles/CC”.
(You can also just press “CC” at the lower right of your published video.)
How well did YouTube translate your spoken words?
If YouTube had a hard time translating you — it’s not them. You can blame Siri and Cortana and Alexa for misunderstanding you in 2018. But you can’t blame Google-owned YouTube. Not anymore.
YouTube/Google has become shockingly good at understanding and translating speech. It may not understand proper nouns (like my uncommon last name). It may bobble homophones (I.e., “pique” may become “peak”. Or “Tide Ad” may become “Tie Dad.”). However, YouTube/Google understands most conversational speech fairly well.
If you see multiple errors in your YouTube transcript: you may need to work on your speech clarity. Consider the four P’s of your vocal performance: projection, pace, pausing, and pronunciation.
Was your volume level loud enough for YouTube to hear? If your voice sounds soft or weak, is it you…or your recording equipment? It might be your mic: but it could be that you speak too softly. If you speak with a weak voice, you may need to work on breath support so you can speak with more volume and strength. Or, you may simply need to step closer to your microphone.
If you speak too quickly, your enunciation can suffer. Try slowing down to a conversational pace. A conversational rate is between 140 and 170 words per minute. Practice reading my 1 minute speech pace script until you can record it in one minute – give or take a few seconds.
Introduce pauses into your speech. Pausing can help you catch your breath and organize your thoughts, so you can pronounce your words more clearly. For an exercise, pretend you’re introducing yourself to someone who doesn’t know you. Say your full name.
Now, say your name again. This time, slow down…and put a slight pause between your first and last names.
Hi. I’m Laura (split second pause) Bergells. (longer pause) You can call me (split second pause) Laura.
Look at your YouTube transcript for patterns in misunderstanding. Do your trouble areas have anything in common?
Sometimes, people get sloppy when they pronounce words with more than 3 syllables. Other times, they can drift over short connector words like “to” and “a” and “and”.
If you spot patterns like these, make a note of them. Work on your specific issues by marking up your problem areas with hashes for pauses, and bold for emphasis.
For example, let’s say YouTube had trouble understanding you when you read this sentence aloud:
“This rate of speech typically ranges from around 140 to 170 words per minute.”
You might try re-writing it with vocal cues like these:
“This rate of speech | typic-LEE | ranges from around | one hundred forty | to | one hundred seventy | words per minute.”
(Use emphasis and pause cues that work for you.)
Projection, pace, pausing, and pronunciation: the 4 p’s of vocal performance can impact how well your audience understands you. Try uploading a one minute vocal performance to YouTube to gain more insight into your own speech clarity.
What other techniques do you use to work on your speech clarity? How else can you make sure you’re understood?
I designed an exercise to give public speaking students insight into the concept of pace. If you’re curious about your own speaking pace, you can complete this exercise in minutes. Try it alone, or as part of a class (or party?) activity.
Step One: The script below contains 170 words. Read it to yourself, so you’re familiar with it. Pretend you’re delivering the script as an informational talk. Next, read it out loud. Make it as conversational and engaging as you can. Time yourself. Stop talking after exactly one minute. Count how many words you spoke aloud. (Hint: if you don’t finish, count the words you missed and subtract from 170.)
Do you think you speak too fast, too slow, or just right? When it comes to public speaking, you’ll want to talk at a conversational pace. This rate of speech typically ranges from around one hundred forty to one hundred seventy words per minute. If you speak much slower than one hundred forty words per minute, you’re probably not speaking fast enough for your audience. You might be putting them to sleep. However, if you speak much faster than one hundred seventy words per minute, you could be talking too fast. An audience could have a hard time understanding you. You also need to vary your pace. Sometimes, you’ll want to speak more quickly to demonstrate urgency or excitement. Other times, you’ll want to slow down or pause for dramatic effect. To check your pace, record yourself. Listen to the playback. A recording not only lets you time your speech, but it also lets you evaluate how well you vary your pace within the conversational range. Give it a try.
Step Two: Record yourself reading the above paragraph. When you play it back, listen to yourself talk. How well did you vary your pace as you delivered your speech? What specific techniques might help with tempo and phrasing?
(Often, the hardest part of this exercise is listening to yourself talk out loud. Many people don’t like to hear recordings of their own voices. The reason? We most often hear our own voices from within ourselves; not outside our bodies. Hearing our disembodied voice can sound…well, creepy and weird! Don’t worry: other people probably don’t think you sound weird. Also, the more you listen to recordings of your voice, the less strange you’ll sound to yourself.)
You might have a hard time evaluating your own voice, so ask a classmate or colleague for feedback. To guide the discussion, ask your evaluators to focus on pace and tempo. Here are some sample questions:
Did you think I was talking too fast, too slow, or just right?
When I paused, how did that seem to you? Too long, too short, not enough?
When I quickened my tempo, was I understandable? How did it sound?
When I slowed my pace, how did it sound to you? Did it sound appropriate?
Reflection and class discussion: How did you do? Did you fall within the conversational range of 140-170 words per minute? What public speaking techniques can help improve pacing? (I.e., what kind of breathing, rehearsal, body language, writing, or other techniques help?)
Final thought: Sometimes, students say they experience pace problems because of the script.
“It’s not a good script. If I could write it myself, in my own words, I’d do better.”
This is fantastic feedback. I love this criticism! Writing and speaking in your own voice is key. If you can do better by rewriting the script, do it.
PS: I recorded this class assignment on my phone. Similarly, you don’t have to make your own recording fancy. No special microphone or lighting is necessary. Use the tools you have at hand and record the script in one take. If you make a mistake, it’s OK. Keep going. We’ll talk about handling mistakes in class.
Do we really need another social network? And do we really need to name it Mastodon? That’s hard for people to spell off the top of their heads.
If you’re wondering why people are talking about Mastodon and what it looks like, I give you a glib and superficial glance at this open source service. I joined Mastodon on April 8. These were my initial impressions.
In this short video, you can gain a glance at Mastodon without going through the hassle of signing up for it yourself. Learn from my mistakes, and see if it’s right for you.
Stock photos pretty much suck. Perhaps they had their time and place, but their moment has passed.
After a few years of looking at your friend’s photos on Instagram and Facebook, your eyes have been accustomed to seeing real people doing real activities. In contrast, stock photos of people faking their emotions doesn’t quite resonate with you anymore.
We know cheese when we see it, and we don’t like it.
Naturally. I seriously prefer real people to stock photos, too. No question.
However I also decline to routinely sign photo releases. I recommend that others decline, as well. Nursing homes and day care facilities will often try to slip in a photo release in the stacks of papers you must sign for a parent or child to enter their programs or receive needed services. If you don’t sign, they will often try to pressure you to do so.
Don’t do it.
The stock photo models make money for their work. Why don’t your parents and grandparents? Why don’t your children?
Many facilities are learning that stock photos aren’t cutting it anymore. They want to use your child’s image. They want an image of elderly parents and grandparents.
And they want to use them for free.
Is exploitation of free labor really the way to go? How is exploiting the image of your loved ones demonstrating client care? And if it’s all so innocent, why slip in a photo release in the middle of umpteen other forms that need to be signed strictly for the care of the client?
I suspect nursing homes and other facilities rely on our naivety about paid creative work. This is becoming an all-too common abusive practice, worthy of education and discussion.
I came across the words smetiquette and framily for the first time in January. I didn’t need to look these words up: I knew what they meant instantly and intuitively.
Smetiquette is a portmanteau: a mashup of the phrase social media (SM) and etiquette.
Framily is Sprint’s marketing mashup: it means “Friends and Family”.
We seem to be living in the era of the word mashup. We quickly create new words by combining fragments of old words to meet a rapidly unfolding technology-enabled milieu.
I can understand how conservative folks and grammar snobs might bristle at these new words: they aren’t “proper”. They aren’t in the dictionary. They’re “slang”.
And yet, mashups can be useful and playful words. Language is a living, growing thing — it grows in the wilds of everyday use, not in lofty libraries and laboratories detached from pop culture. And language often flourishes and adapts itself before an official governing body can determine if a particular word is useful enough to be considered acceptable for inclusion in scholarly works.
What if you use a word that doesn’t officially exist, but every English speaker you encounter knows exactly what it means? What if your audience can swiftly decipher a new word’s meaning through context? Might this word have what it takes to hang around for a few decades?
What do you think? Is this current wave of portmanteau usage pathetisad? Or do you find word mashups to be more helpfunctional?
What mashups have caught your ear or captured your imagination lately?