html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Advice: unsolicited, but not wrong.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Advice: unsolicited, but not wrong.

I've been watching a seminar on stream restoration happening over at the EPA building. Since you libertarians are so hot to personally manage all the complicated environmental issues that bureaucrats tackle, I'm sure you'll want to spend a lot of time watching public meetings, so you can learn all that stuff you'll need to know to preserve your air and water and transportation and freedom from disease and food supply and infinitely more. (The webcasts are genuinely convenient, and I very much appreciate them.)

Snark about libertarians aside, I have a couple points for presenters.

1. DO NOT self-deprecate, either your topic or yourself. Do not do that shit. I will believe you and ignore your talk. Do not open with a joke. If you take your topic seriously, treat it that way.

2. For the love of god and feminism, hear yourself and eradicate upspeak from your habits. You have a Ph.D. and have conducted tons of field experiments. You know what you are talking about. I don't even know what you are asking us. Are your findings correct???? We will think so if you announce them decisively. Is it OK if you keep talking about them???? Do not make us wonder that. It is your research and your room to control. Deepen your voice and own both.


Blogger bobvis said...

DO NOT self-deprecate, either your topic or yourself. Do not do that shit. I will believe you and ignore your talk.

Good to know that our bureaucrats who we pay to preserve our air and water so that they can ride around singing on their fancy bikes and download YouTube videos will ignore potentially valuable information if the presenter happens to get nervous.

You bring the snark; you get the snark.

6:08 PM  
Anonymous doctorpat said...

Some of the best talkers, and top experts, in the world start off all humble and self-deprecating.

I think you need to analyse the speakers in more detail to see why it isn't working in this case.

7:37 PM  
Blogger bobvis said...

Oh, my non-snarky comment is:
You can get away with self-deprecation if you already have the aura of credibility and authority. Politicians, Nobel Prize Winners, and people over 50 can all use self-deprecation to good effect. (It is more situational than who you are though.) If your self-deprecation betrays an actual lack of confidence, then I am with Megan.

8:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Could we get a definition of upspeak, please? I think I know what it means, but I'm not sure.

9:18 PM  
Blogger Ed said...


Ending each sentence with an increase in inflection (i.e. making it sound like a question), thus giving the impression that you not really very confident in what you just said. Sort of how teenagers talk when they have to give presentations. Nothing personal, you teenagers out there, I used to do the same thing.

10:14 PM  
Blogger Megan said...


10:32 PM  
Blogger Noel said...

Upspeak -- that's how the entire population of Australia speaks!

1:26 AM  
Blogger jens said...

How can you NOT open with a joke?

That's a technique in every book for public speakers that I've EVER seen...

Even better if it is in some way relevant.

I had a textbook on Psychology once where every chapter began with a little blurb from Isaac Asimov. Brilliant.

1:38 AM  
Blogger jens said...

"Přidejte svůj komentář"

Weird posting from the Czech republic.

1:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the UK It is a common stereotype of american women that they aren't receptive to self-deprecating humor. Being a Jew from London means that 95% of my material falls flat.

10:11 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I generally take people at their word.

11:01 PM  
Blogger Dubin said...

Gah. It always irks me that the British think we're not funny. Like, we don't get their dry, witty humor or something. Irk, irk, irk.

But anyway, Megan, you are exaggerating. In a social context, there's some room for mild self deprecation because it establishes rapport! In a professional setting, I agree that it's usually a bad idea. But even in a social setting, excessive self effacement is totally awkward. The problem with it is that people don't know how to respond...

9:22 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

I wonder if we are less funny for being Americans or less funny for being women.

Self-deprecating is super annoying for the listener. Do you contradict and praise the person? Do you agree and insult them? One of my recent friends puts himself down a lot, and I've started giving him push-ups every time he does. I don't know why he takes that shit from me, but it seems to be working. He's young, so if I can spare him some years of self-deprecation, it'll be worth it. They're both bad, but if I had to choose, I'll take (justified) arrogance over self-deprecation every single time.

(The way to avoid either is to put the focus on your topic and not on your relationship to the topic.)

9:52 AM  
Anonymous yoyo said...

Theres good and bad self-deprication. But its never good when giving a speech, its only useful as a response to what someone else says. Otherwise, its rehearsed and lame, like a 'witty' pickupline.

Upspeak is more used by the dominante person in an interaction though, contrary to stereotype.

1:07 PM  
Anonymous doctorpat said...

Upspeak -- that's how the entire population of Australia speaks!

No wonder I had no idea what you meant by that word.



8:28 PM  
Blogger Dizzy said...

Where I'm from, the person who doesn't self-deprecate is considered offensive. EVERY conversation about some potential disagreement starts off with, "I could be wrong..." "I'm not really the one to ask about these things...." Or, "Well, lord knows I can't work my microwave but it seems like maybe..." It's a social nicety. It's not meant to be taken literally.

But where I am now, they just STOP listening after the first self-deprecating thing you say. Like, "Of course, she ADMITTED being a flake. I can stop wondering now..."

Oh, and I have a soft voice. And I took so much crap of the, "If you woudl just project..." kind after moving here that I went to a voice clinic! Turns out I'm totally normal. I just don't have a lot of nasal in my voice, so it's a different tone than most people in this area. But I was surprised by the judgments people made on the voice. A guy I dated said his friends hated having me around because my voice "creeped" them out. And people would just stop me when I was talking to say, "Here's how to project..." Or, "You dont' sound confident unless you speak UP."

But where I lived before, they would always say, 'I could listen you all day, Miss. You sound like you're reading a story..." Or, "You sound so soothing..."

I think sometimes it's all in where you live...

7:59 AM  
Blogger redfoxtailshrub said...

Alas. What I hate about my own presenting style is the sort of puppy-dog eagerness that comes over me. Hi! Hi! Here's my talk! Isn't that cool! Okay! Hi! I'd like to eradicate this, but even after a good helping of experience both teaching and talk-giving, I can only seem to manage it if I take a betablocker first.

10:34 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Dizzy, I believe all that because I TOTALLY judge people on their voices. I'm really good about appearance, but I think that is because I'm not visual. I'm almost entirely an auditory person and if you sound wrong to me I won't even try. I am a huge believer that voice modulation in all sorts of ways could save people a lot of social grief.

RedFoxTail: That's cool that you aren't jaded after giving lots of talks and teaching. It must be hard, though, to want to change your style and not be able to.

11:38 AM  
Blogger bobvis said...

One of my recent friends puts himself down a lot, and I've started giving him push-ups every time he does. I don't know why he takes that shit from me, but it seems to be working.

He might realize its helping him. Of course, you might say that he could always do it himself, but it's helpful to have an external monitor.

6:26 AM  

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