Friday, October 3, 2008

English Language: English is a Crazy Language

Here's one of my all-time favorites. I hope you enjoy it, and have a great weekend!

Let’s face it: English is a crazy language.

There’s no egg in eggplant or ham in hamburger, neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins were not invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies, while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat.

We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square, and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig. And why is it that writers write, but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce, and hammers don’t ham? Is cheese the plural of choose?

Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend, that you comb through the annals of history but not a single annal? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it? If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught? If you wrote a letter, perhaps you bote your tongue? If a vegetarian eats vegetables what does a humanitarian eat?

In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell? Park on driveways and drive on parkways?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? How can the weather be hot as hell one day and cold as hell another? How can overlook and oversee be opposites, while quite a lot and quite a few are alike? When a house burns up, it burns down. You fill in a form by filling it out and an alarm clock goes off by going on.

When the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible. And why, when I wind up my watch, I start it, but when I wind up this essay, I end it?

Have you noticed that we talk about certain things only when they are absent? Have you ever seen a horseful carriage or a strapful gown? Met a sung hero or experienced requited love? Have you ever run into someone who was discombobulated, gruntled, ruly or peccable? And where are all those people who are spring chickens or who would actually hurt a fly?

Now I know why I flunked my English.
It’s not my fault; the silly language doesn’t quite know whether it’s coming or going.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Public Speaking: The Dos and Don'ts of Q & A

As we gear up for more and more US presidential debates, we'll have the opportunity to see how the candidates handle themselves under the pressure of challenging questions. Handling "Question & Answer" sessions takes grace and tact, as well as a lot of quick thinking.

To make the most of your Q & A session and survive unscathed DO:

1. Listen carefully
It's very tempting to start formulating your answer to a question while the questioner is still in the middle of asking you something. Be careful not to get so caught up in your own thinking that you don't listen to full question. Don't jump ahead and make assumptions about the question. Give your full attention to the questioner.

2. Thank the person for the question
It's common courtesy to thank your questioner for their question. This can be done directly by saying, "Thank you for your question..." or indirectly: "I'm so glad you asked this question..."

3. Paraphrase the question
Paraphrasing the question accomplishes three things: it gives you the chance to be sure that you've understood the question correctly, if some people didn't hear the question when it was asked, it includes them in the discussion, and finally, it gives you time to think about your answer while you paraphrase the question.

4. Be short and sweet
This is especially true if you're sitting on a Q & A panel. It's always annoying when one speaker dominates all the time and the audience can't hear the views of the other panel members. Keep your answers simple and to the point.

5. Offer to continue the discussion later
If you know that a question deserves a much more elaborate answer than you have the time, energy or patience to answer on stage, don't hesitate to offer to speak to the person one-one after the session. This is also a useful tactic if you need more time to formulate an appropriate answer.

6. Be respectful
No matter how stupid the question, never show that you think that! Be careful of your non-verbal cues as well such as smiling or rolling your eyes.

7. Be prepared
Always be prepared for Q & A. Play devil's advocate with yourself and find as many holes in your arguments as you can. Think about what the worst questions would be that someone could ask and figure out how you'll handle them. It will really pay off to be prepared; you'll maintain your composure and look and sound confident.

If you don't want to lose the respect of your audience and hurt your reputation, DON'T:

1. Make up an answer or bluff your way through it
2. Insult the questioner
3. Blatantly avoid the question
4. Show incompetence by just saying, "I don't know," and moving on
5. Get into an argument or become hostile with the questioner

By following these Dos and Don'ts you should be well on your way to making a positive impression in a Q & A session.

Have you ever been stuck, confused, embarrassed or truly entertained by a question? Share it here on the comments board!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Public Speaking: 8 Tips to Make Your Audience Love You!

The key to a powerful presentation is to connect with members of your audience individually. This ‘human element’ is what makes the difference between an average presentation with some good information, and an excellent presentation that really impacts audience members on a personal level.

The bigger the audience, the harder this gets. You have to remember that an audience is made up of many different individuals, all with their own unique interests and expectations. It is hard to satisfy every person every time, but you can take some steps to ensure that your audience members feel a connection with you as a speaker and as a person.

1. Create a friendly environment
From the moment the first audience member arrives, you should exude positive energy. Remember that people will immediately make first impressions about you before you even begin your presentation. It is important that you appear positive, friendly, confident and approachable.

2. Face your audience
There is nothing worse than watching the back of a presenter’s head as he reads his Power Point slides. Make sure that you are always facing your audience. Visual aids are just that: aids. The audience should be focused on you, not your slides.

3. Make eye contact
Do your best to make eye contact with every member of your audience. Don’t get distracted by things you see out the window, or by the clock on the back wall. Your listeners’ eyes will follow your eyes, so if they see you looking out the window, they’ll wonder what you’re looking at and they’ll look too! Keep their focus on you by remaining focused on them.
Be careful that you don’t focus too much on one or two people, as it could make them feel uncomfortable. An exception to this rule could be if you are focusing on the most important people in the group: the decision-makers (your boss, the top client, etc.). They might expect extra attention from you, which leads me to the third point…

4. Know your audience
Do your homework. Know who will be attending your presentation and why. If you are pitching a new idea, make sure you keep the full attention and interest of the key players in the room—the decision makers.
Be sure to prepare your presentation with your audience members in mind. Have you taken into consideration their needs and expectations? Are you giving them the information that they want (or maybe need) to hear in a format that will appeal to them?

5. Tell stories
Throughout history, some of the greatest thinkers have reverted to storytelling to make their lessons more clear. Philosophers and religious leaders especially, have used stories to illustrate complex concepts and moral values.
Use real-life stories that your listeners can relate to in order to drive a point home and have it be remembered. People are also more interested in listening to a good story than a boring lecture.

6. Use humor
Humor, when used effectively, can lighten the mood, make people feel more relaxed and help them to remember the things you say. Using humor does not mean you should suddenly become a stand-up comedian rattling off jokes right and left. It shouldn’t be forced either.
Use common sense and your best judgment when interjecting humor. And remember that not everyone has the same sense of humor—what you think is funny could be dumb, immature or disrespectful to someone else. If in doubt, refrain.

7. Be respectful
This point really goes without saying, but just to be clear: racist, sexist and elitist comments are unacceptable in every public presentation. Have respect for every member of your audience at all times!

8. Read your audience
You need to pay attention to your audience just as much as you would like them to pay attention to you. An attentive speaker will notice when energy levels are low, listeners are losing interest, or individuals are not paying attention. It’s your job to change the situation in your favor. This is a good time to tell a story, inject humor, or maybe just take a break.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

English Language: UK vs. US English Spelling Rules

One of the largest differences between UK and US English is simply a cosmetic one: spelling. Here are 9 of the most common spelling variations between UK and US English.

1) UK -our = US -or
Examples: colour/color, humour/humor, flavour/flavor, favourite/favorite

2) UK -re = US -er
Examples: centre/center, metre/meter, litre/liter

3) UK -ise = US -ize
Examples: realise/realize, organise/organize, recognise/recognize

4) UK -que = US -ck
Examples: cheque/check, chequered/checkered

5) UK -ll before -ing = US -l before -ing
Examples: travelling/traveling, signalling/signaling

6) UK -l = US -ll
Examples: appal/appall, enrol/enroll

7) UK -ce = US -se
Examples: licence/license (noun form), defence/defense
An exeption to the rule: UK practise (verb) and practice (noun) = US practice (both verb and noun).

8) UK -ogue = US -og
Examples: catalogue/catalog, dialogue/dialog, epilogue/epilog

9) UK -t =US -ed (in a select group of past tense verbs)
Examples: spelt/spelled, dreamt/dreamed, burnt/burned, spoilt/spoiled

Have you gotten into trouble with other spelling variations not included here? Let me know by leaving your comments!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Public Speaking: Top 5 Questions to Ask about Your Venue

When you are asked to speak, it is incredibly important that you have an idea of where and how you will be speaking. It's really great if you can visit the venue beforehand, but sometimes you may not have that opportunity.

Here are some questions to ask before your talk and why they are important.

1. How will the audience be seated?
Your audience could be in rows like in a theater, they could be sitting at round tables in a ballroom, or maybe they'll just be sitting around a boardroom table. It is important to know not just the size of your audience but also how they are seated. You need to think about how you will or will not be able to move around the stage and what kind of contact you will be able to make with the audience.

2. Will I be sitting or standing for my presentation?
Usually you will stand for your presentation, but you might find a situation where you speak on a panel and could be seated. You will need to think about your delivery style a bit differently if you are sitting down to speak. It's harder to use gestures and body language to emphasize your points.

3. What kind of microphones will be available?
The first question should probably be whether there will be a microphone available at all, then what kind exactly. Will you be forced behind a speaker stand with an attached mic? Will you need to hold a microphone or will they have a clip-on mic available?

4. What kind of AV equipment will be on hand?
If you are planning on using a PowerPoint presentation, you need to be sure that the venue has the appropriate audio-visual equipment or you will need to make your own arrangements. You'll need a computer, projector, screen, remote clicker (to change slides) and a laser pointer (if you like to use one - I personally don't). If for example, the venue or organizers aren't supplying a clicker, you'll need to bring your own, or you'll need to prepare the appropriate notes or signals with another person to change your slides. Make sure that you check and double check that all your equipment is in order before your presentation.

5. Who can I contact if I have any problems?
This is probably the most important question to ask, but the one everyone forgets. If you know beforehand who is in charge of the lighting, the air conditioning and the speakers for example, you will save a lot of time when you're on site and need a helping hand.

You might think that being a good public speaker has to do with preparing a good presentation, but there is a lot more involved than just that. The best public speakers remember to ask the right questions and are are always prepared for every situation. Never be caught off-guard.