Monday, October 5, 2015

Martin Yan, Garlic-Whacking, Fake Advice, Blog Traffic and Public Speaking

Growing up, I love cooking shows, which was harder back in the stone knives and bearskins days before the Food Network. 

I liked Jeff Smith, The Frugal Gourmet, years before he was pulled off the air for molestation allegations. He was a pre-Alton Brown gadget geek, which was great for a kid who loved stuff like Mister Rogers explaining how crayons were made and 3-2-1 Contact!

I liked Graham Kerr, because it seemed like he'd wandered into a kitchen from a Monty Python sketch.

My favorite was Martin Yan, on Yan Can Cook:

San Jose Library's flickr:
I still use a Chinese cleaver in the kitchen because of him.

He was great with knives and he was pretty funny (if you were twelve), but one of the central shticks of his show was fake. And eventually I had to pack up his knives and send him home.

It was the garlic.

A signature bit of the show was when he would snow off his knife skills. He'd use the garlic joke as counterpoint. He'd put a clove of garlic on the cutting board and then just crush it with the flat of his knife blade. Pulverized and ready to go into the dish.

I love that bit. I learned to do it. But it was the most fake of all cooking moments created by a food TV where everything is waiting in magic little bowls to be chopped and diced.
The garlic trick only works if someone has peeled all the garlic cloves by hand. WHICH NO ONE WOULD EVER DO.

Peeling a garlic clove minced s a soul-sucking nightmare, which is why they have gadgets, like the flaccid rubber tube and trick vids, like the one that went food-viral a few years ago where you dump the cloves in metal bowls and shake the dickens out of them.

The way you deal with garlic is you crush it, Yan style, but in the paper, which allows you to remove the peel easily. Then you take care of the clove itself (To be fair, eventually Yan switched to this more honest technique, but the impression had been made).

Can you see why I eventually tuned out Yan? It seemed like it was real advice, but it wasn't. It was fake advice that not applied in fictional conditions.

This is what bothers me about so many blog posts, especially those dodgy ones written as just lists. I study public speaking and social media (among other things), and so when I see this fake advice it makes me want to crush a garlic clove.

Just to be obstinate, I will do these annoyances as a list. 

1. The Fake Speaking Anxiety Fix

I've complained about this before. But this is an evergreen problem, so I will play this tune until the blogosphere gets smarter. Look, telling people to be prepared, know your material, know what to expect, know this, know that, know some other stuff . . . . 


Only if your are just a bit afraid of speaking sometimes does this work. Serious speaking anxiety is often unresponsive to this kind of thing. And if you have boatloads of negative self-talk, you are likely to always think your preparation is total crap anyway when your nerves flare. This is why the only anxiety real takeaways I give people, after doing this for 25 years, has nothing to do with these preparation fetishes. 

For the not-that-nervous person, this preparation is magical garlic-whacking. It just works. A bit of positive self talk, an Alexander Graham-Bell meme from BrainyQuote (Seriously. Look at it. Why is it on a frozen lake? I don't get it), maybe think of your Little League coach's pep talk on visualization, and "BAM!" (to quote another TV chef).

But garlic-whacking magic is a lie. Preparing for a speech for the REALLY anxious is more like The Onion's suggested scene of 53 minutes of Bilbo Baggins nervously packing in The Hobbit. Preparing for a speech when you are anxious is like that. You put all those attention-getters in the suitcase marked "Introduction," but you keep throwing them across the room like a character trying to find just the right thing for the big date

No matter how long you work, you still feel like you've got the wrong thing.

This fake advice, and people give it a lot: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, hereherehereherehereherehere,  and even this one from the Mayo Clinic (really, how does an MD help you to dispense that advice? :))

This kind of thing and the "Hey! Stop allowing yourself to think negative thoughts!" crowd (many of whom are in the lists of "here"s above) are fakes.

Here's some helpful images from The Zombie Guide to Public Speaking:

Remember, the additional anxiety caused by lack of preparation is small and is IN ADDITION to the constant huge hum of anxiety that is always there for the nervous:
I'm tempted to think this rash of fake advice is from people reading things like "6 Ways to Write Blog Posts that Get Swagalicious Engagements, Retweets, Fame and Fortune, Including the Most Crazy Weird Tip of All!!!", but really, if you look at most unengaging textbooks in most academic fields, they are filled with lists of things so that we can make multiple choice tests of things that we need to test because they are lists and so we should test them and oh look Power Point so let's use bullets and make lists of things on the screen so that students can write them down to take tests on the things that we put in lists so that they can take tests on things so that when we hear that tiny tiny voice in our heads in the middle of the night that asks us how we know that what we teach matters, we have numbers to throw at that voice, numbers that matter because they are numbers that measure performance on the test that measures knowledge of the lists of things which we no longer remember were created by textbook companies in the 70s and 80s to make their books sell more easily to programs that were trying to train grad student teachers and since we've forgotten that we can just say to that stupid night-voice that yes a large percentage of students have learned the lists of things and when we wake up and fill out our self-evaluation for the year we can collate the numbers of students who tested well on the questions about the lists of things into a LIST OF THINGS we will call takeaways or dashboards and we can use this to prove that we are good teachers and that we are not wasting our time and that all the students on RateMyProfessor who hate us don't have the cognitive complexity to know what they are talking about because they have not yet finished memorizing the lists of things.

So, yeah, don't blame blogs for stupid lists. 

You can tell real advice because, even if it is in the ubiquitous list format, the list has entirely different, more humane elements. Here and here and here you can see what people who really know anxiety create.

I have real advice for you. My list is two things. And I've got practice tips. And I've helped people with this before. 

2. The Fake Blog Content Fix

Here's another garlic-whacker for you. This is a close cousin to my previous complaint. This is the list of things you can do to get more blog attention, followers, subscribers, engagements, etc. 

You've seen these. 

They all start with the most fake of all advice:




Wait, you mean, really?

Exactly what does that mean? Most of these crappy blog posts will say things like HAVE EVERGREEN CONTENT as their answer to how you know it is good content. That means the content is always shareable on social networks, even years after you wrote it. 

So to make content more shareable, you need to make content that is more shareable? 


Are people really writing blogs that they don't think are any good? Yeah, I know, of course there are. And those people are likely reading blog posts like "6 Ways to Write Blog Posts that Get Swagalicious Engagements, Retweets, Fame and Fortune, Including the Most Crazy Weird Tip of All!!!"

But are they going to stop and reevaluate their lives when your number one in your list if HAVE GOOD CONTENT? Are they going to be scrolling at Starbucks, hit that, and feel the burn?

And isn't everyone else who'd read that like me, a person with content they already have lots of faith in but are looking for answers to how to get it out there to the people who need it? 

And we don't need HAVE GOOD CONTENT advice. 

Here's the roll call of this item of fake advice:

Here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

I'm sure there are more, but I can only absorb so much sadness before I get sleepy, so I stopped there.

This is like advice to score more baskets to win the game. Blearghhhhh!

The fun irony is that none of those are good blog posts. 

Wrapping up the screed

There are more time-wasting fake garlic-whacking advice elements out there. But I only have time for these two. More that two items is a list, and I now feel bad about those, so that's all you get for today.

Stop reading fake advice. 

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