Thursday, May 19, 2011
America’s Number One Fear: Public Speaking - that 1993 Bruskin-Goldring Survey
Three years ago I bought a copy of Lilyan Wilder’s 1999 book, 7 Steps to Fearless Speaking. The Introduction on page 1 began by stating:
“Fear of public speaking consistently tops every list of human fears.
In an oft-cited 1993 study done by the polling firm Bruskin-Goldring, 45 percent of those surveyed said they feared public speaking. Thirty percent said they feared death.”
I’d always been curious about the detailed results from that survey, titled “America’s number one fear: Public speaking,” since an earlier version of the Bruskin organization also had been responsible for the 1973 survey reported in the 1977 Book of Lists and then cited ad nauseum. The data from the 1993 survey were reported again last year by Sherwyn P. Morreale in Table 3.3 on page 53 of his book The Competent Public Speaker, and I found them over at Google Books. I’ve plotted then above in a bar chart, which you can click on to enlarge.
Table 3.3 also reported results for women (pink) and men (blue), which I’ve charted using a traditional sexist color scheme. Note that actually more men feared financial problems (38%) than public speaking (34%). There are large gender differences for many fears.
It’s also interesting to compare the results from the 1993 survey with those from the 1973 survey. In 1993 the fears of financial problems, deep water, death, and sickness all were much larger than they were in 1973. The 2001 Gallup poll is more recent than the 1993 Bruskin survey, but it says Snakes Top List of Americans’ Fears. Only the Bruskin surveys let us compare public speaking and death.