Why did the chicken cross the road? To lead by example

Humour is often used as a communication device, to charm and to offend, to mock and to encourage, but ultimately to persuade. Despite the common usage, the question “to joke or not to joke?” still provoke heated debates. Scientists cannot miss this research opportunity. A team from University of South California conducted an analysis to better understand the contingencies of humour effects. The results are summarised in a paper “A Priest, a Rabbi, and a Minister Walk into a Bar: A Meta-Analysis of Humor Effects on Persuasion“. They scrutinized some hundred studies and find three interesting things about effects of humour on persuasion.

Cartoon. Chicken at Psychotherapist: "Why do _you_ think you cross the road?"

First, indeed humour has effect on persuasion. Overall this effect is weak, but robust. But, humor has a moderate-level influence on knowledge, but only a weak impact on attitudes and behavioral intent. In other words, use jokes to support learning. But don’t expect gigs would significantly change attitudes and behaviuor.

Second, jokes should be relatable. The study found that the most effective is humour central to the message, addressed to the topic important for people (or, as authors put it related-humor for highly-involved individuals). When humor was central to the message tended to exert more impact on knowledge, attitudes, and behavioral intent, compared to messages that used humor only peripherally. What is is more important, effects were stronger when the topic of the message had direct consequences for the participants’ lives (what authors call highly-involved individuals). Hence, surprisingly, humorous instructions on important things work better. Safety procedures during a flight or a message advocating against drinking and driving addressed to students, just to name a few.

Third, use it but don’t abuse it. No jokes is bad, too many jokes is even worse. The results revealed an inverted U-shaped effect of humor intensity on persuasion. Small amounts of humor may not be enough to draw attention. Too much humor overwhelm the processing of information, things getting “too funny”. One need to calibrate and moderate. The good news is that one should just avoid extremes. There is a broad range of humour intensity, where it works well.

The plotted regression of humor intensity on persuasion.
Figure. The plotted regression of humour intensity on persuasion.

Pronunciation made easy

Pronunciation‘ is one of the most commonly mispronounced words. This fact should alert you about particularities of English. During its history English language accumulated words of different origins–Germanic, French, Roman and Greek to mention a few. That is why we have to learn both spelling and pronunciation. Because all ‘c’ in Pacific Ocean sounds different, and because ‘Ghoti’ is a creative respelling of the word ‘fish’.

Crazy English: ghoti by Sketchplanations.com
Crazy English: ghoti by Sketchplanations.com

Technologies make pronunciation easier, if not easy. Two could be particularly useful when you prepare a speech:

Recorded pronunciation in dictionaries. Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries offer pronunciation of words in both British English and American English. Merriam-Webster is an alternative for American English. Simply click on a speaker icon and hear how the word sounds. Try to pronounce it. Hear again. Pronounce again. Repetition makes perfect!

Pronunciation of pronunciation in Oxford Learner's Dictionaries and Merriam-Webster dictionary,

Use Google Translate to listen the whole sentence. There is also a ‘Listen’ button in Google Translate, available for both source text and translation. Select appropriate language, click ‘Listen’ button and hear how your sentence sounds. This could be a great training tool for your speech. (By the way, you could even beatbox in Google Translate.)

Using of Listen function in Google Translate

How I stopped worrying and learned to love the Grammarian role

What could be worse than a Grammarian role?! Poking finger into people’s mistakes? Sounds dull and unexciting. Moreover, for many Toastmasters English is not a native language. Personally, I’ve learned it in a very strange way–practice separately, grammar separately. And I don’t shy away from creative English. I routinely use the verb ‘to guineapig’ for testing done scientifically. Once I used ‘unmisoverestimateable’ to slow down one crazy daisy manager. (If you wonder what does it mean–something so grandiose, that it cannot be overestimated by mistake. I warned you about my English!) So, during two years in the club, I took the Grammarian role only once. It was impossible to dodge it in the legacy Competent Leadership Manual.

Ancient Grammar Difficulties

This time it was different. This time I jump on the role of Grammarian. I need it to collect the flush royale of Toastmasters roles. No way to dodge. But, could I make it a useful and fun experience? What could be great in this role? Why does this role exist at all? It struck me that I was looking at this role from the wrong standpoint. I was pondering “Whats?” of the role, while the right question to ask was “Why?” In essence, the Grammarian is an educational role. Its scope is to help people improve their English. This “Aha!” moment brought me “Why?” Then “How?” and “What?” came easy.

I decided to make the experience of English grammar fun and educational. Recipe? Take a Word of the Day. Mix with spotting predictable mistakes, season with an education mini-session. Top up with good examples from participants. My Word of the Day session was longer than usual. I linked it to the speech topics–persuasive speaking–and chose the word “coax”. I employed a dynamic Powerpoint Slide to bring pronunciation and examples. That was an hors d’oeuvres. The main course was spotting mispronunciation and running an education mini-session. While “foreign accent is a sign of bravery,” it is also quite predictable, especially when you know who is talking. It was very easy to capture a couple of examples. Next, I did a trick. Instead of playing the blame games and lambasting mistakes, I offered a way to improve. Dictionaries offer great pronunciation functionality, both in Oxford Learner’s Dictionary for British English and Merriam-Webster for American English. There is a wonderful poem “The Chaos,” which highlights all complex pronunciation cases. Last but not the least, I hunted for good expressions used by speakers and paraded my trophies in the final evaluation. “Motivation gets you going, but discipline keeps you growing” was one example, which resonated strongly with the speech topics–persuasive speaking.

It worked amazingly well! People were quite happy to learn something new. I reached the goal of my role–to help people improve their English in an encouraging and supportive manner. I learned a lesson–start with “Why?” and frame it properly. Choosing a particular means of “How?” and “What?” is easier when “Why?” is clear. And I have just Toastmaster of the Evening to complete my flush royale of roles.

Reps Reps Reps!

This is a draft of Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s speech at UN. Each tick mark at the top mean one rehearsal–I counted 55. How many time you rehearse your speech?

Reps Reps Reps by Schwarzenegger

Reps Reps Reps by Schwarzenegger

No matter what you do in life, it’s either reps or milage. […] [The practice of putting doiwn check-mark for each rep] had a huge impact on my motivation. I always had the visual feedback of “Wow, an accomplishment. I did what I said I had to do. Now I will go for the next set, and then the next set.” Writing out my goals became second nature, and so did conviction that there are no shortcuts. It took hundreds and even thousands of repetitions for me to learn to hit a great three-quarter back pose, deliver a punch line, dance the tango in True Lies, paint beautiful birthday card, and say “I’ll be back” just the right way.