Archive for the ‘Speaking’ Category

Service of Rip Van Winkle: Where Have I Been?

Monday, October 30th, 2023

A child in bubble wrap.

Every once in a while I wonder, “where have you been, jb?” I’ve not budged from the most populous city in the country that many consider a trendsetter yet I’ve fallen behind and it’s time to catch up.

I’ll start with talking styles that irk

When I first heard Valley girl talk years ago I cringed and still do, though thank goodness its popularity has greatly faded. You know what I mean: at the end of sentences the pitch of the speaker’s voice jumps higher, forming a question mark. It’s also referred to as “uptalk.”

Only recently did I learn the name of a speaking style that I find even worse– “vocal fry.” I notice it most among women in their 20s and 30s. They lower their voices to achieve a gravely, creaky sound. It’s unattractive to me and achieves the reaction of nails on a blackboard but I suspect they think it sounds sexy. To quote a friend “it gives me the willies.”

This is whack

Do you know what that means? I won’t make you guess though it means what it sounds like it might—something or someone is crazy, unappealing or abnormal.

What about looking fly? If I said that to you would you smile?

Definition: Looking stylish or good.

Helicopter, Snowplow and Bubble-Wrap Parents

Even if you don’t know a helicopter parent, you may well have heard the term as it’s been around for quite a while. Under the same umbrella are snowplow and bubble-wrap parents I’ve not heard those descriptions in conversation.

According to Graham C.L. Davey, Ph.D. in an article in psychologytoday.com, snowplow parents are “the overprotective ones who ‘plow’ onwards before their child, removing everything in life that might be a potential obstacle before their child encounters them.”

His article was about parenting styles that fuel anxiety. “Well, maybe parents who swathe their children in protective bubble-wrap do have a lot to answer for when it comes to their offspring’s anxieties. We’ve known for decades that anxiety seems to run in families, with over 80 percent of parents of children with anxiety problems exhibiting significant levels of anxiety themselves.”

Coffee Badging

Here’s another term new to me. Google it and you’ll read from tech.co/news that it “refers to the practice of showing up at your physical workplace to interact with coworkers just long enough to establish that you showed up, before leaving to get your real work done from home.”

Any terms or concepts you’ve discovered lately? Were you familiar with these?

Service of It’s All in the Tone and Context

Monday, September 4th, 2023

A Friend, in his sixth decade, was reminiscing about how his father hit the ceiling when he said “so.” He inspired this post.

At first I thought “what’s so bad about ‘so?’” He explained that if he said “so?” after his father reprimanded him, his dad’s expression shouted, “now you’re really in for it.” I remember getting in trouble with my father if he thought I’d been disrespectful to my mother. It didn’t happen often but he’d misinterpret my tone if not my words. He learned English in his mid-thirties which may account for some of the miscommunication.

On to more examples. When my plumber or dentist says, “no problem,” I sigh with relief. However, as I’ve often complained, if someone is doing their job and to my “thank you” they say, “no problem,” I grit my teeth.

If you use sarcasm around people who take everything literally, you’re in for a pile of misunderstanding. “That’s just great,” you might exclaim after you’ve spilled cranberry juice on your white couch. The literal listener might inquire “what is ‘great’ about ruining your upholstery?” They might also wonder about your reaction “such fun,” after you’ve undergone a two-hour root canal procedure.

Misinterpreting sarcasm is different from hiding behind “I was just joking” when someone has said something mean and you tell them that they’ve hurt you.

Can you share examples of words that mean different things depending on circumstance and tone of voice? What about people who take sarcasm literally or say they’re joking when they’ve insulted you?

Service of Handlers Mishandling with Potentially Devastating Results

Thursday, September 8th, 2016

I heard about Hillary Clinton’s four minute coughing jag when she was addressing a rally in Cleveland recently. Tyler Durden wrote on zerohedge.com: “She coughed and cleared her throat through over 4 minutes of almost incoherent babble before MSNBC cut away, joking that hillary had quipped ‘every time I think about Trump I get allergic.'”

I’ve run countless events and I write speeches for clients so that while her political opponents were predicting her demise, her health was the last thing on my mind. [If her voice didn’t give out after the grueling year she’s had; the number of speeches she’s given and the way she projects her voice at loudest pitch, I’d wonder.]

So what did I think of? “Where was Huma?” [Hillary’s campaign’s vice chairman, photo left.] “How could her handlers or hosts not jump into action after 45 seconds of sputtering, certainly well before 240 seconds?”

If there was no plan for this possibility [bad move No. 1 for the event planners], an official campaign associate known to the secret service should have warned an agent that they were about to hop on stage to rescue Hillary. Then the person would make light of the cough while either asking the musicians to strike up the band or the host to come back to the mic to regale the crowd so as to give Hillary a chance to recover, sip hot tea with lemon, until the jag passed.

I’ve had that kind of tickle and cough so deep in my chest that no number of Halls drops reaches or calms it. It happened once during a client meeting. He looked uncomfortable. Eventually it passed.

Where were Hillary’s troops? Why didn’t someone come to her rescue? Four minutes? Now come on! The Devil is in the details and because this one wasn’t handled correctly, the candidate’s opponents have something else to harp on. Can you think of other instances where a seemingly benign oversight with countless simple solutions can give an adversary the upper hand?

 

 

Service of Bad Business Behavior

Thursday, May 12th, 2016

I might have been at a rowdy sports event the other evening instead of at the opening of an elegant Manhattan showroom. The lack of respect to the gracious hosts, when they wanted to address their guests, was cringe-inducing.

It started well. The space was expertly designed to enhance a handsome line of hard goods. To celebrate, wine and champagne flowed; wait staff passed hors d’oeuvres made on the spot by a master chef; charming floral bouquets punctuated the room and on entering you could feel the energy and enthusiasm of the crowd. The event was clearly a great success. In addition to the overflow attendance, some guests even looked at the products [instead of at each other]. 

The company is foreign-owned. After they were introduced by an American executive, two marketing people from headquarters welcomed guests and the chairman declared the showroom officially open. I was embarrassed by the way this NY audience behaved. After less than two minutes, the cacophony was such that most couldn’t hear. Guests could have been at a beach picnic talking loud enough to be heard over the roar of an angry ocean. In spite of the brave faces of the speakers, this experience must have been a nightmare. What a welcome to Manhattan.

I think guests owe it to a host, at a business function, to listen to the commercial. They might even learn something! There was a large hallway by the elevator with plenty of room for those who were bursting to talk and didn’t want to disturb the other guests. Not a soul took advantage of it.

I empathize with the hosts. I have produced many events like this for my clients so maybe I am too close to the subject and have unrealistic expectations.

Perhaps the terminally chatty never plan on having to address a similar horde? Maybe they spoke with abandon because they were shell-shocked to see other people as they’ve been hiding behind their texting devices for too long? I can’t offer a reasonable explanation for this behavior. Can you? Is it the exception or the rule?

Service of Shouting

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Americans—or maybe people in general–seem to think that if they raise their voices, they’ll get the reaction they hope for.

One of the comedians at an event I attended recently wasn’t getting the laughs she’d hoped for. Seeking to make the phrase witty she raised her voice, expecting that the volume, in addition to the repetition, would resuscitate a tired, overused expression. The audience was neither deaf nor stupid nor did most react to the ear-splitting noise: I looked around and saw straight lips and glazed eyes.

I noticed a similar attempt to inspire a reaction at an in-law’s bedside. The patient couldn’t move or speak so visitors thought yelling at her would help. They’d lean over and shriek, even after her son assured them she could hear perfectly well and asked them to please lower their voices. Soon they were shouting again because she still wasn’t responding.

Ever hear Americans communicate with someone who doesn’t speak English? They slow their words and speak as loudly as their lungs will allow expecting the volume to perform the trick of translation.

Are there other instances in which people feel volume enhances communication? In a brief Google search I wasn’t able to learn the reason. Your guess?

 

Service of Speaking Your Mind

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

Saying what’s on your mind rarely makes you the most popular person. I admire those who do, especially when they chose a venue where their words will be heard and an audience that’s the target of their criticism.

When former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg received an honorary degree from the Harvard Law School on May 29, part of his address covered the topic of freedom of expression. The New York Post shared an excerpt on PostOpinion: “Killing the Campuses–The Intolerance Menace.”

The heart of this part of Bloomberg’s message: “The role of universities is not to promote an ideology. It is to provide scholars and students with a neutral forum for researching and debating issues–without tipping the scales in one direction or repressing unpopular views.”

He continued by listing the college commencement speakers who either pulled out or whose invitations were withdrawn because of student protests joined by senior faculty and administrators. The pressure by the latter groups shocked him more as they “should know better.” The colleges he listed: Brandeis, Haverford, Rutgers, Smith this year and last year, Swarthmore and Johns Hopkins. He also referenced an incident last fall that was unrelated to commencement time when his police commissioner was shut down by students at another Ivy League institution. [It was Ray Kelly at Brown.]

Bloomberg said: “In each case, liberals silenced a voice–and denied an honorary degree–to individuals they deemed politically objectionable. That is an outrage and we must not let it continue.” He said that when this happens “censorship and conformity, the mortal enemies of freedom win out.”

In “Two Cheers for Bloomberg A liberal politician denounces leftist ‘McCarthyism'”

James Taranto in The Wall Street Journal applauded a different part of Bloomberg’s address where he said: “There is an idea floating around college campuses–including here at Harvard–that scholars should be funded only if their work conforms to a particular view of justice. There’s a word for that idea: censorship. And it is just a modern-day form of McCarthyism.”

Even though his words won’t affect his livelihood, his future or that of his family, [unless he’s again running for office, this time on a conservative ticket], Bloomberg didn’t have to do this. Do you agree with his positions?

 

Service of Language: Yale Alumni Magazine Cover Story Touts “Bad English”

Monday, July 15th, 2013

Homer Byington didn’t sleep well Friday night and it wasn’t due to the heat. My husband was disturbed by the cover story of his college’s alumni magazine, “Why ‘bad’ English isn’t.” The writer, Peggy Edersheim Kalb, ended the article in the July/August issue of the Yale Aulmni Magazine: “But by showing that different kinds of English are used almost everywhere in the United States, [Raffaella] Zanuttini and her team are determined to teach us that variation is the rule, not the exception. And grammatical differences should be celebrated, she says. ‘You don’t have to be ashamed of a local language.’”

Zanuttini is a linguistics professor at the school. The professor and some dozen undergrads and graduate students in the university’s Grammatical Diversity Project study the arrangement of words and phrases i.e. syntax, [not vocabulary]. The team “wants you to let go of your prejudices,” according to the article’s subhead.

Kalb again quoted Zanuttini: “ ‘Certain people want to get rid of features that are stigmatized, but that’s certain people,’ says Zanuttini. ‘Some people want to get rid of any linguistic feature that marks them as coming from the South. Other people like to have their own identity’—and those who are proud of being recognized as Southern don’t want to homogenize their language to match other parts of the country.”

Identifying and recognizing colloquial turns of phrase is nothing new but suggesting that twisting the language is acceptable merely because someone might discriminate against the speaker—or the speaker might  feel discriminated against—makes little sense. For those “proud” of being recognized as Southern as Zanuttini said, or from New England, New York, New Jersey, the Midwest, etc., let them rely on their regional accent, but leave the language alone.

Phrases such as “ain’t nobody a man,” “We might can go up there next Saturday,” and “You know, if you drank a half a drink, you might oughta go home and sleep it off,” are spoken in New York, Texas and Utah respectively according to one of the illustrations in the article. Could you have recognized the states of origin? I couldn’t. Doesn’t that water down the argument that people enhance their identity via quirky/incorrect turns of phrase that tie them to a region?

What happened to the melting pot concept here in America?

What would the professor say about those who feel pride in their mother country? If those of us first generation Americans mimicked the way our parent or parents spoke English there would be verbal chaos. What would happen to communications?

Shouldn’t we look to places like Yale to set the standard and help us all speak English correctly? Isn’t there enough satisfaction in being an American? There’s so much we can’t change about ourselves–our DNA, color, race, age–and much, such as language, that we can.

What benefits are there for individuals, regions and this country to lowering the linguistics bar? Why not raise the education bar? Are these linguists ashamed of their advantages because they attend or teach at a prestigious university? If you were to move to a foreign country, even if you couldn’t ace the accent, wouldn’t you want to learn to speak the language correctly?

Service of Humor II

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

carmenlynch1

I heard Carmen Lynch [above] at Carolines on Broadway a few weeks ago. I thought hers was the best standup of four we heard at this year’s New York Women in Communications Foundation “Ladies Who Laugh!” fundraiser at one of the city’s best comedy clubs. I don’t know any comedians. What a treat that she agreed to answer some questions!

I was intrigued by a comedian who writes and performs material for her sets in Spain, where her mother’s from, as well as for US audiences, and for tough New York City ears, where she’s headquartered, as well as Virginia viewers, where she’s from, and other places too. My father was French and there were times we didn’t “get” each other’s humor.  I might be doubled over in giggles and he’d stare at me without a smile, which would make me laugh even more [and annoy him].  Conversely, he’d be struck by something that went right over my head.

Not to get too serious, performers, writers,  agency and sales people will recognize her challenges and appreciate her approach and reactions. If you give presentations, check out her discussion of performing for audiences who stare back.

What kind of humor would an American audience find funny that a Spanish one wouldn’t? (Or vice versa).

This is a great question but there’s no easy answer. When I did a comedy tour in Spain this past February, I was pretty happy (and a little surprised) that most of my jokes, after translating them into Spanish, worked. I was worried that I’d lose the joke in the translation, or that they just wouldn’t get me.

But most did work, and as expected, some didn’t. I do a joke about calling my sponsored child in Bolivia “my daughter” (that’s not the entire joke but that’s the gist of it) and it never got a strong laugh. I tried it in a few different cities in Spain and it wasn’t going anywhere so I dropped it.

But you learn that it’s nothing personal. I didn’t notice nearly as much sarcasm in comedy out there as we have here, either. So the “simpler” jokes (for lack of a better word) worked best.

The stand-up scene in Spain is much newer than it is here in the US. We have so many comedians here and comedy has been around for so long that jokes here just feel a little more specific. We have to push a little harder with our humor to be noticed.

Are there some topics that would tickle both American and Spanish funny bones?

carmenlynchperformI think universal topics work anywhere, like dating, having kids, recently married, etc. Also, if you have a particular attribute that the audience can see (being tall, balding, bright red hair) then most audiences will probably relate to you in some way, even if they don’t have that exact attribute.

What about Virginia vs. NYC audiences?

Comedy is different everywhere – not just in different states but different venues. Funny is funny, but there are differences anywhere you go – even performing in Manhattan vs. Brooklyn. It can also depend on whether you’re performing at a club vs. a bar, for older crowds vs. younger ones, smaller crowds vs. larger crowds.

I love New York audiences because they’re open-minded and you can pretty much say anything. Everyone in the audience (here in NY) grew up in a different place, so people are very open to different types of comedy.

You can get a completely different reaction to something in a small town which is fine too, because as a comic it’s best to get used to all audiences.

What subjects do you favor/find funny and have these changed over the years?

When I first started standup I got most of my material from obvious topics (“write about what you know”)….like being tall or having a Spanish mother.

I might talk a little more about what’s going on in my life now. Hopefully I’ve become a little more self-aware so I might dive into more psychological stuff or what I heard someone say on the train and analyze that.

I still get material from visiting my family in Spain (or talking to my nieces – what kids say is always funny).

Instead of leaving a topic after getting a joke or two, I try to stay with it and see what else I can pull from it. Sometimes there’s nothing else and sometimes you can go a little deeper. A lot of times it just depends on what’s going on in my life at that time.

As you write your own material where do you come up with the best?

It can happen anywhere. I might force myself to sit at Starbucks and something will occur to me that I think has potential, or I’ll be on the train on the way to a show and it just hits me there. Sometimes as I’m falling asleep I’ll think of something funny and I’ll have to get up because I know I won’t remember it the next day.

Everyone has their own method.

I usually carry a little notebook but now with technology the way it is, you can just write a new joke idea into your phone or record it. Sometimes I’ll come up with a great punchline but I have no set up, so I keep the joke idea until I can find a good home for it.

Who are some of your comedy favorites?

Dave Attell, Louis CK, Todd Barry, Bill Burr, Nick Griffin, Judy Gold, Wendy Liebman. There are others but those come to mind now.

What do you do to wake up an audience that stares back at you and doesn’t laugh?

Sometimes you can’t do anything. It doesn’t mean they’re not enjoying the show – they might just not want to laugh (and stand out) if no one else is laughing.

Sometimes you just have to call them on it. I don’t want to insult them for not laughing, but I might just tease them a little to see what I can do to get them to wake up. It’s very strange to watch a quiet audience and after the show they’ll tell you how much fun they had or how much they enjoyed you.

Sometimes they will hate you. It happens. (Then I spend the rest of my time on stage wondering where I lost them.) I think it’s best to stay in the present, finish your set and know that it happens- you just can’t make every single audience laugh hysterically every single time. Hopefully if it’s a weak show you didn’t invite anyone you know.

Have you been surprised by the energetic, happy reaction to your standup from a group or audience?

Absolutely. Just like I’ve been surprised by a negative reaction by a certain group.  You never know how anyone is going to react to you, so it’s best not to make any assumptions. You might go up after someone who bombs and the audience loves you, or the comic ahead of you killed and you totally lose them.

Sometimes I can tell just by the look on their faces when I reach the stage that it’s not going to be good. But I try to let that go because a lot of times it’s that assumption that will be the cause of the reaction I get.

I might do a show in one venue and kill and go to a different venue in the same city and they think I’m just awful. But that’s why being a comic is so fun — every show is different.

How long have you been doing standup?

For 10 years. I stopped after 5 years because I was tired of it. I burned out, and I wasn’t sure if I was doing it because I’d started something and just didn’t know what else to do, and that scared me. I wanted to make sure I was doing it because I loved it.

About a year later I realized I did want to pursue it, long term, and that if I was going to do it I was going to do it 100%.

You are from Virginia and started out as an actress and when you came to NYC you decided to try stand up. How did your parents react? Did you do something before acting? What was your major?

I graduated from The College of William & Mary with a psychology degree. I changed my major so many times that by the time I had to pick a major, I’d taken so many psychology classes I just went with that.

Then I worked at a bank after college and took a few acting classes in Virginia. I moved to NY because I wanted to pursue acting.

My parents weren’t thrilled but hoped that whatever day job I picked up to pay the rent in NY would lead to some major career. I never once thought I’d pursue stand up comedy, but once I was up in NY and saw how big the comedy scene was, I decided to try it. I still wasn’t thinking I’d be a comedian – I just thought I might write for one.

I knew I was shy and I just couldn’t imagine bombing on stage – I’ve always been easily embarrassed. I took a 3-day “comedy course” at the Learning Annex, where we had to perform for 5 minutes at a club. I told the teacher I wouldn’t, but the day of the performance I tried it for 2 1/2 minutes (that’s all the material I had prepared) and I knew then that I was going to pursue comedy. For the next 7-8 years my parents tried to get me to go to grad school but were unsuccessful. They gave up trying just a few years ago.

You can see Carmen in person at the Improv Boston for a CD taping on October 2nd , or check out her web series, AptC3.com, and on this Comedy TV clip.

Who are some of your favorite comedians? Do you have questions for Carmen?

carmenlynch2

Service of Speaking Up

Monday, February 13th, 2012

“If we think others in a group are smarter, we may become dumber, temporarily losing both our problem-solving ability and what the researchers call our ‘expression of IQ,'” wrote Elizabeth Bernstein in The Wall Street Journal.

“The clamming-up phenomenon seems to be more common in women and in people with higher IQs, according to the report, published in January in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B,” she added in “Speaking Up Is Hard to Do: Researchers Explain Why.

While I usually find it easier to speak my mind in a board meeting than in a room filled with hundreds, I’ve been in situations where the others in the small group specialize in an industry or subject I’m barely familiar with so I hesitate to say something or ask a question for fear of appearing foolish. I’ve discovered what a mistake that is and yet still do it from time to time.

The subject matters. Because someone is up to speed about an industry or subject doesn’t make them smarter than I am. I can’t fix a car or a tooth or a heart or a leg or a broken pipe and not being conversant about these subjects doesn’t make me dumb. However if the discussion is about the stock market and investing or technology, that’s where my insecurity may flare, triggering silence.

Bernstein described what happened to a marketing rep at a business meeting with his boss and colleagues. Even though he’d been to such meetings before and came armed with a stack of research, he didn’t say a word. She quoted the 31 year old: “I just sat there like a lump, fixated on the fact that I was quiet.” My analysis: Having the research in a pile and not top of mind may have locked his jaw.

Is it easy for you to speak up in small groups, in all situations, or in some instances about certain topics more than others? If not, why?

Service of MYOB

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

A recent comment by Lucrezia, a loyal participant of this blog, inspired today’s topic, “Service of Mind Your Own Business.”

In a response I noted that I should do a post on the many ways of saying this, using gentler words, especially when speaking to a client, fragile friend, in-law or other person you can’t be blunt with and Lucrezia suggested: “A family friend advised a simple ‘I don’t know’ when put on the spot.”

Lucrezia continued, “I feel that can get one into trouble. I don’t have clients, and fragile friends know better than to ask me nosy questions. However, if feeling compassionate, I find an ‘I don’t feel up to discussing that right now,’ or (if I can get away with it) ‘I don’t remember,’ is a great help.” [Rupert Murdock said those words on the stand last week!]

She concluded, “Healthy business relationships usually don’t involve intimate remarks.”

A rerun of “As Time Goes By,” last weekend reminded me of a BBC character, Alistair Deacon’s, solution. He’d wave his hands in a characteristic way and say “Hey, hey, hey!” which could mean “don’t go there, you’ve hit dangerous territory” or “Wow, cool!” depending on his tone of voice and facial expression.

My Mom would say, “Excuse me, what did you say?” If the person repeated the question she’d respond, “That’s what I thought you said.” I have never been brave enough to use that one.

Before the days of real estate search programs like Zillow, when it was a pain to look up such information, a friend asked me what I got for an apartment I’d just sold. I answered with a smile: “My asking price.” [I’m usually not that quick.]

When I was going through a dicey patch and didn’t want to attend any social functions for fear of touchy questions, a friend suggested I memorize a succinct answer. To this day, her policy is to make the comeback as flaky as possible, such as on your birthday or anniversary, to “Where’s Joe?” [husband or companion] you’d reply, “Joe’s climbing mountains in Brazil.”

Some people feel we should know everything about politicians-any public figure. Under the gun lately are Rahm Emanuel and Chris Christie. They are getting grief for sending their children to private schools when they run a city and a state, respectively, where public education is under scrutiny. I wonder if “this is a personal decision” is sufficient given the relentlessness of the media–social and traditional–opponents and talk radio hosts.

Innocent young children’s questions are a different subject and some of them are a riot. I’d love to do a post with a list of them as it would be charming, so if you have some to share, please send me the best in an email: jeanne@jmbyington.com.

How do you parry unwelcome questions? Are you comfortable asking intrusive ones? Do you think that what one person would consider a personal, inappropriate question another would regard as routine, even thoughtful?

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