Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Spouting nonsense: Richard Branson claimed that public speaking is the world’s biggest fear, and death is second

Just because you heard it from a famous wealthy businessman doesn’t mean it’s true. On October 7th of 2015 Sir Richard Branson tweeted that:

“Death is the world’s second biggest fear. First? Public speaking [link]”

Is this yet another rehash of an old Jerry Seinfeld joke? Yes, although that’s not what Sir Richard said. The article at he linked to opens with:

“If you had to name the thing that scares you the most, what would it be? All sorts of common fears may come to mind: heights, spiders, deep water, clowns, realising you’ve gone to school without your trousers on. But one fear stands above all others: standing up and speaking in public.

When University of Nebraska-Omaha researchers conducted a study of more than 800 college students a few years ago, public speaking topped the list of biggest fears. To indicate how scary people find the idea of speaking before a group, it beat a particularly notable fear into second place: death.”

Back in 2012 when the magazine article about that study came out, I blogged about what it really said in a post titled More university students in the U.S. fear public speaking than fear death, but death is their top fear.

But, that survey never said it took a random sample of students at that one university, so it can’t be extrapolated even to the U.S., let alone the world.

We really don’t have any surveys of the whole world. Further back in October 2010 Reader’s Digest Canada published results from an online poll that had surveyed women and men in 16 countries. They asked one simple question:

What is your greatest fear?

1. Losing my looks.
2. Going broke.
3. Speaking in public.
4. Being alone.

On April 9, 2012 I blogged about that in a post titled Poll by Reader’s Digest Canada found fear of public speaking wasn’t ranked first in 15 of 16 countries surveyed, which included the United Kingdom, the U.S., and Canada. It only came in first for France. 

Chapter 18 in Carmine Gallo’s’ new book The Storyteller’s Secret is titled with a Richard Branson quote:

“If something can’t be explained on the back of an envelope, it’s rubbish.”

Conversely, if something is rubbish, then it doesn’t matter whether it can fit on the back of an envelope or not.

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