Monday, June 4, 2012

Has public speaking really been the number one fear of the American public for the last 40 years?

On May 24th Sonya Hamlin posted an article about Stage Fright at the Huffington Post (and on her blog) with a first paragraph containing the following claim:

“... Did you know that the number one fear of the American public -- researched annually for the last 40 years -- has been and still is any form of public speaking! It comes up as number one year after year. Amazing.”

I doubt it. An obvious counterexample is the 2001 Gallup poll reported as Snakes Top List of Americans’ Fears. I posted a comment at the Huffington Post on May 26th asking her for a source, but haven’t yet seen a reply.

After looking both on Google and in magazine and newspaper databases, I could not find any evidence for that claim other than her previous press release and interview back in 2009 - where she had instead said it had been researched for 30 years rather than 40. The press release said:

"Research has been done over a 30-year period asking people every year, 'What gives you the greatest anxiety? What scares you the most?' Number one has always been, giving a speech."

When I put the question phrase "'What gives you the greatest anxiety?” into Google there were only eight results, none of which lead to a source other than Hamlin about there having been 30 years of research. That claim lacks credibility, and the opposite of credibility is bogosity. When I got out my old analog bogometer, her claim put the needle way up in the red zone.

The bogometer scale was derived from a Wikimedia Commons image provided by Lklundin.

Update September 25, 2012

Further search revealed that her quote apparently was based on a claim made by William C. Wilson, Jr. that appeared in an article titled You, Too can be a successful public speaker which appeared in the December 1998 issue of  American Agent & Broker magazine on page 45 and said:

“In an annual survey that has been conducted since 1972, public speaking has consistently ranked No. 1 on the list of things that people fear.”

Mr. Wilson didn’t say who did that survey, but as of 1998 it had been done for 26 years. I don’t know if it continued annually since then.  

No comments: