Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How to get beyond just using a worn out cliché

On October 29, 2009 Professor Tania Smith at the University of Calgary posted about Fear of public speaking - a worn out cliché? on her Edu*Rhetor blog. On August 29 Jim Davidson (a public speaking coach in London) made a similar post about Who says public speaking is our number one fear? Comparing fear of public speaking with fear of death (from the 1977 Book of Lists) is pretty tired.

How could you talk about fear of public speaking without making it into a cliché? Really research the topic before you give a speech. Find some more recent and specific information that actually is relevant to your audience. That means going way beyond the first page of ten hits in a Google search, or looking up an article on Wikipedia. An encyclopedia article is a reasonable first step for finding introductory information and terminology. You can follow it with a serious search of magazine articles (and books) on databases in your local public library (or better yet a local university library).

For example, suppose that your audience is a communications class at the University of Calgary. You eventually would find an article published in 2000 on Social Phobia Symptoms, Subtypes, and Severity from a survey done in 1996 and 1997 in the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Manitoba. That article would provide you with data from a sample of 1956 people (just a bit smaller than the 2543 in the Book of Lists). Results for a dozen different social fears are shown in the following bar chart (click on it to enlarge):

Public speaking is the number one social fear, and speaking in a meeting or class is a very close second. The fears listed can be divided into performance or interaction situations. Returning items to a store (perhaps Canadian Tire) is an interaction which is much less scary than a performance like public speaking. By the way, why do psychiatrists always ask about bathrooms? You can take the psychiatrist out of the toilet, but you can’t take the toilet out of the psychiatrist.

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