Thursday, August 4, 2011

Public speaking tops every list of fears???

One of many persistent half-truths about public speaking is that fear of it consistently ranks number one in survey after survey. This pernicious nonsense has been around in books for at least 25 years. The basis for it is good old hubris - grandly generalizing from a few surveys about adults in the U.S. to the entire world. Lilyann Wilder opened the introduction to her 1999 book 7 Steps to Fearless Speaking by claiming that:

“Fear of public speaking consistently tops every list of human fears.”

A decade later Gary Edward Haymes used more adjectives on page 166 of his 2009 book Go Beyond Stress: Twelve Self-Hypnotic Stress Buster Sessions:

“In every poll taken since the end of World War II, the absolute number one fear of all living humans is delivering a public speech.”

Obviously neither Lilyann nor Gary had seen the counterexample of lists in the Epidemiologic Catchment Area Study I discussed on Monday. 

An overblown statement containing every rather than mostly (or often) is a great way to instantly destroy your credibility as an author or speaker. Think hard before you make one. Your audience may be appalled rather than impressed.

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