Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Spouting Nonsense: July 2013 Toastmaster magazine article fumbles fears and phobias

Toastmasters International claims that it is:

 “a world leader in communication and leadership development.”

The July 2013 issue of their Toastmaster magazine had a brief article on page 8 titled FACTS WORTH KNOWING The Common Fear of Public Speaking. But some of them aren’t facts, and they aren’t worth knowing. The text says:

“Glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, is believed to be the most common type of social phobia. Some experts estimate that three out of four people have some anxiety prior to public speaking.”

Glossophobia is the most common fear, according to It lists the top five phobias as:

1. Glossophobia: fear of public speaking
2. Necrophobia: fear of death
3. Arachnophobia: fear of spiders and other arachnids
4. Achluophobia, scotophobia and myctophobia: fear of darkness
5. Acrophobia: fear of heights.

If your fear of public speaking interferes with your daily life, you might suffer from glossophobia. says that with preparation and persistence, anyone can overcome this fear. The website endorses the Toastmasters program as a means of support for people challenged by public speaking.

Did you know? A video in the Toastmasters Time-tested Communication Tips series titled ‘Managing Fear’ shares methods for managing speaking anxiety. To watch it, visit /videos and click ‘View gallery 2.’ ”

The best thing in this article is that it references a video on Managing Fear, which you can find here on YouTube. That video summarizes advice from their Better Speaker Series publication on Controlling Your Fear. But they also should have referred to an article by Matt Abrahams, Know Thy Fear, in the April 2011 issue of Toastmaster.   

The next best thing in the article is that it points out a Mayo Clinic article, which actually was titled How can I overcome my fear of public speaking and written by Dr. Daniel K. Hall Flavin. I blogged about an earlier version of that article back in 2009. Dr. Flavin doesn’t just mention Toastmasters. He also discusses medication and seeing a psychological counselor.   

The worst thing in this article is that it opens by fumbling and failing to explain that there is a big difference between a fear and a phobia. A phobia is more severe - it’s a fear with a capital F.  As is shown above via a Venn diagram, a phobia is a fear that also is excessive, persistent, and interfering. (See Table 1 from this recent article about social anxiety disorder).

The second worst thing in this article is it wastes a third of the space with a silly graphic of top five phobias (really fears) taken from the somewhat dubious Fear of Public Speaking Statistics Factsheet web page at Jim Arthur Peterson’s Speech Topics Help web site. Lots of Toastmasters will be impressed by these seven words with -phobia suffixes. They should not be.

Are those seven words all common enough to be found in serious dictionaries, like Merriam-Webster and Oxford? No, as shown above only three are. Also, none of his three terms for fear of the dark appear. (Myctophobia might be a typo for Nyctophobia, which is in Merriam-Webster as abnormal fear of darkness).        

Are those seven  -phobia words useful?, Does using them in a search lead you to relevant information in medical or health databases, or do they instead just sent you down blind alleys? As shown above, most are not at all helpful. Just acrophobia and arachnophobia really are useful.

To judge their usefulness I searched both them and their common English equivalent phrases in two pairs of databases. One was the PubMed and PubMed Central medical article databases. The other was both the Consumer Edition and the Nursing and Academic Edition of the Health Source databases on the web site for my friendly local public library. 

As is shown above, acrophobia is a useful term since is occurs about as commonly as the phrase fear of heights.

The Fear of Public Speaking Statistics Factsheet at Speech Topics Help claims that glossophobia is the medic (sic) term for fear of public speaking. But, as is shown above, that term doesn’t appear at all in PubMed, and only once (falsely) at PubMed Central.

Toastmaster magazine was spouting nonsense, and so I have reluctantly awarded them a special floating globe Spoutly.

UPDATE August 27, 2014

I forgot to mention that article chose to use the phobias list from Speech Topics Help, but to ignore the pie chart listing just 19% of people having glossophobia. It's certainly less impressive than claiming 75% (three out of four people).  

1 comment:

Craig Hadden - Remote Possibilities said...

I’m in two minds about the video you mentioned. The speaker’s very dynamic, and I love the varied facial expressions and gestures she uses. But my biggest beef with the whole thing is that it takes 2 minutes (out of about 3½) to get to its 1st tip you can actually use. In an online video, that’s hopeless!

In fact you might be interested in this critique I’ve written about the video: