Sunday, March 1, 2015

A high mound of manure from Bill Hoogterp about fear of public speaking

Last year Bill Hoogterp published his book, Your Perfect Presentation. It’s not bad, except for two places.

The last paragraph at the bottom of Page 9 says that:

“....A British magazine did a survey of Americans’ fears, and guess what our number one fear was? You guessed it, public speaking. Know what was number two? Death. Yes, I am sure spiders was on there somewhere, but death was number two.*

* Findings from a 1973 survey by the London Sunday Times that were later published in David Wallechinsky, Irving Wallace, and Any Wallace, The Book of Lists (New York: William Morrow & Co., 1977). This has been the subject of much debate. According to the National Institutes of Health, 74% of Americans suffer from a fear of public speaking.”

Wow! The only thing he got right was that someone once did a survey, and they found public speaking was number one. Another four things are wrong. 

First, the survey really was done by a U. S. firm (R. H. Bruskin) in New Jersey, not something British. The most popular post on this blog appeared on October 27, 2009 and was titled The 14 Worst Human Fears in the 1977 Book of Lists: where did this data really come from?

Second, if you just check Wikipedia, The Sunday Times is a newspaper, not a magazine, and they just reported on that survey. 

Third, if you check the entry in the Book of Lists, death really only was ranked 7th, not 2nd (like in the later Seinfeld joke).

Fourth, the silly 74% for fear of public speaking comes from Statistic Brain, not the National Institutes of Health.

Page 10 continues with:

“We are more afraid of speaking in public than we are of dying. The great comedian Jerry Seinfeld makes the best joke about this. He says, ‘Does that sound right? That means when we go to the funeral, we would rather be the one lying in the box... than the one delivering the eulogy.’ “

Jerry changed things for his joke. The Bruskin survey listed what more people were afraid of, not what people were more afraid of.

There are two versions of that Seinfeld joke: the one on the TV show, and one on a DVD “I’m Telling You for the Last Time” Live on Broadway. Neither matches what Mr. Hoogterp paraphrased in his book. One from the TV show says:

 “According to most studies, people’s number-one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death’ is number two! Now, this means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

The other on the DVD says:

“I saw a thing, actually a study, that said speaking in front of a crowd is considered the number one fear of the average person. I found that amazing, Number two was death. Death is number two? This means to the average person if you have to be at a funeral, you would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

At YouTube you can watch video clips for both - a brief one from the show and a long one of the DVD (look at 50:36).

When you put the word hoogterp into Google Translate (set for going from Dutch to English) it translates to high mound.

Another paragraph starting at the bottom of page 53 also displays a lack of research: 

“Are you familiar with the poet Ezra Pound? He was a member of a famous group of American writers and poets who lived as expatriates in Paris during the first half of the twentieth century. Although Pound was famous for his own writing, he was known among his peers for something else. Other poets would bring their work to Ezra and ask him what he thought. He would take their poems and cross out any and all words that he thought were good but not great, that didn’t contribute enough to the power of the poem or the imagery or emotion that the poet was trying to convey. He would sometimes cut as much as two-thirds of a poem, whittling away until the poem was refined to its purest, and most potent, essence. Much as it partly pained them, the poets were grateful.”

That passage described the younger Ezra Pound, who only lived in Paris from 1921 to 1924. Later on Mr. Pound was more known as a crazy old fascist, which is why he usually is ignored. 

From 1924 to 1945 he lived in Italy and was an admirer of the fascist government there. Starting in 1940 he made a series of 10-minute radio broadcasts criticizing the U.S., and  in 1943 he was indicted in absentia for 19 counts of treason. In 1945 he was captured by the U.S. Army, and had a mental breakdown. From 1945 to 1958 he was held in the prison ward of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. After being released (when he was 72 years old), he returned to Italy and died in 1972. 

UPDATE June 21, 2015

There was a third written version of that Seinfeld joke which appeared in Jerry's 1993 book SeinLanguage:

"According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right?  That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy."

What Bill Hoogterp paraphrased does not match that one either.

1 comment:

Bill Hoogterp said...

Richard, just a note to say thanks for the feedback. On Ezra Pound, I was not aware of his reputation beyond poetry so for sure we will no longer use him as an example, appreciate the heads up there. On the survey, we found dozens of surveys on what top fears where from various sources and countries and with different data draws, including the one we mentioned. A few listed speaking as #1 fear but in many others it was way down the list so so we don't purport anything except that the point is that it is a fear for some people and try to make a joke about it and pivot. I got to see Jerry Seinfeld once at a party and I certainly didn't ask him about the joke or even get to talk to him but he does have the best joke about it that we have heard. We try to not focus on fear at all in the training (let me know you ever want to come experience once of the sessions, comped as my guest) and just focus on the positive but since many people have it in their mind, we try to mention it and then transition to more positive spin. But this was just a note to say thanks for the feedback. I know you are a professional with a lot of expertise on passion for the subject and critique can feel harsh but is always a chance to grow and do better on our side so thanks for that, Richard! Bill