Sunday, February 10, 2013

How Americans Communicate - some results from a survey published in 1999

Back in 1999 the National Communication Association published a report titled How Americans Communicate that was based on a telephone survey of 1001 people done by Roper Starch Worldwide in the summer of 1998. The original used to be on their web site, but if I recall correctly it was just for members. There are lots of references to tidbits from it in books. For example, in David Dempsey’s Present Your Way to the Top, on page 3 he says that:

“A 1999 study commissioned by the National Communication Association found that only 24 percent of Americans are very comfortable giving a speech or a format presentation.”

How about the rest of us? Would perhaps 17 percent have been not comfortable at all? You can find the whole report online here at a university web site. The survey was done on a sample of  1001 people over age 18. 52% were female and 48% were male.

Some questions of interest and results shown on page 20 were:

“For each type of communication that I read to you, please tell me whether you feel very comfortable, somewhat comfortable, not too comfortable, or not at all comfortable communicating that way:

261. On the telephone
262. Via the Internet/by email
263. Face-to-face/in-person
264. In writing
265. Speaking up at a meeting
266. Giving a presentation or a speech"

A bar chart shows all four percentages for giving a presentation or a speech. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer version) 24% (about a quarter) were very comfortable, 34% (about a third) were somewhat comfortable, 22% (about another quarter) were not too comfortable, and 17% (about one-sixth) were not at all comfortable.  

A second bar chart shows the percentages who were very comfortable for all six situations. Mr. Dempsey only quoted the 24% for giving a presentation or a speech, although even fewer people (22%) were comfortable communicating via the Internet. Back then email was pretty scary! A similar bar chart appears on page 6 of the NCA  report.

Yet another bar chart shows the percentages who were terrified (not at all comfortable). Giving a presentation or speech terrified 17%, followed by a tie (9%) for speaking at a meeting and email. This chart is what you should use if you want to alarm people, like some speaking coaches.

We also can group two categories and show the percentages who were anxious (not at all comfortable or not too comfortable). 39% (two out of five) were anxious about giving a presentation or speech, followed by 26% (about a quarter) for speaking up at a meeting, and 17% (about one-sixth) for email.  

Similarly, we can group the other two categories and show the percentages who were relaxed (very comfortable or somewhat comfortable). 58% (almost three out of five) were relaxed about giving a presentation or a speech, and 70% (seven of ten) were relaxed about speaking up at a meeting. 

There are many more topics covered in the report, and it’s still worth reading.

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