Friday, August 19, 2016

Don’t tell your audience either an overly broad statistic or a wishy-washy statistic (or both)

It is unfortunately common for those peddling public speaking training to spout startling statistics about how public speaking is the #1 or greatest fear. (It really is not).

An article by Court Stroud on August 2, 2016 at the Huffington Post titled Speak Easy: An Interview with Oratory Coach Peter Danish began with:

“What’s scarier than spiders, snakes, and even the zombie apocalypse? Public speaking, which consistently ranks #1 on the list of America’s fear and anxieties.”

His overly broad claim ignored the well-known Gallup poll article by Geoffrey Brewer from back on March 19, 2001 titled Snakes Top List of Americans’ Fears.

Another recent article on the Dale Carnegie blog titled Four Ways to Conjure Confidence by Liz Scavnicky-Yaekle dated August 4, 2016 began by claiming:

“Do you wish you felt more confident when speaking one-on-one or to a large group of people? If so, you aren’t alone. According to the Wall Street journal, public speaking is the #1 fear in America.”

That’s a worthless appeal to authority since it did not identify who wrote that newspaper article, its title, when it had appeared, etc. On December 12, 2015 I blogged about her earlier claim in a post titled When did the Wall Street Journal say that public speaking is the #1 fear in America? (It was in an article by humorist Joe Queenan).

The introduction for the 2006 updated edition of the Dale Carnegie book, Public Speaking for Success instead had claimed: 

“When people are asked what their greatest fear is, the most frequent response is dying and the second most frequent is speaking in public.”

The funniest fear appeal I’ve seen recently was made by Eric Fettner in a blurb for a workshop that appeared both at OutEducated and San Francisco Internet Startups. He repeated the #1 fear claim - and then added the wishy-washy ‘near the top’: 

“Is, public speaking, presenting and communicating to groups or talking to your boss is intimidating?  I already know that for most of us, it is.  That’s because the fear of public speaking or social phobia is the number one fear of every survey list, asking men and women “what do you fear most?”.....near the top of every list!”

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