Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Either way you look at it, public speaking really is not our greatest fear.
Even when it’s not Halloween, speaking coaches try to scare us by proclaiming that public speaking is the number one (or the greatest) fear everyone has. Enough of this nonsense! The claim that public speaking is the number one or greatest fear just is a myth, and it is busted. I suspect it came mainly from people assuming that 39 year old survey cited in the Book of Lists and discussed endlessly was the last word on this topic. If you believe it, then I’d suggest you look at some more evidence, as I have.
One way to look at it is to ask what more people fear. That is what most surveys do. On July 30th I blogged about Is fear of public speaking the greatest fear in the entire galaxy? It was ranked first in only five of fifteen surveys that I examined, so that is not true.
Since then I found four more surveys of adults in the U.S.:
Poverty was the greatest fear in Glamour magazine’s 2012 Guy Survey (and public speaking came fifth)
Latest (2012) CareerBuilder survey on biggest workplace fears found that presenting only ranked third
Snakes came first in a 1988 Roper survey of what American adults were afraid of or bothered by (and public speaking was second)
Public speaking came first in a 1987 fear survey by Dental Health Advisor magazine
So, the latest box score is that public speaking was ranked first in only six of nineteen surveys.
What is true based on this type of survey is that public speaking is the number one social fear for adults. There are surveys to back up that statement for the United States, Canada (Alberta and Manitoba), Sweden, and both developed and developing countries. Psychologists know this, but most speaking coaches don’t.
The other way to look at it is to ask what people fear more, which psychologists have done many times using fear survey schedules that rank each of a long list of fears on an intensity scale. Unfortunately their results have been ignored by speaking coaches.
Earlier this month I blogged about three studies of U.S. university students that ranked fear of public speaking other than first:
In a 1965 study of (U.S.) university students, fear of public speaking ranked sixth for men and seventh for women
In a 1992 study of U.S. university students, fear of public speaking ranked sixth for men and eighth for women
In a 2012 study of U.S. university students, fear of public speaking was ranked sixth
There have been studies of adults in Greece, and university students in Egypt:
In a 2000 study of adults in Greece, fear of public speaking wasn’t ranked in the top ten
In a 1994 study of Egyptian university students, fear of public speaking ranked 63rd for men and 66th for women
There also have been two studies of older adults in West Virginia and Canada:
In a 1999 study of older adults (in West Virginia), fear of public speaking ranked only twelfth
In a 1991 study of Canadians in Metro Toronto ages 50 or over, fear of public speaking ranked 16 for women and more than 9th for men
Two years ago I blogged about What should we really be afraid of for Halloween? The answer is not public speaking.