Monday, March 1, 2010

Is there really a pandemic of public speaking fear?

Now that the swine flu pandemic finally seems to be dying down, I think it is time to talk about another claimed pandemic.

Mark Twain once said something like there are just two types of speakers - those that are nervous and those that are liars. Almost everyone is at least slightly nervous about speaking, but that is fear with a very small f.

However, if you uncritically believe what you read on the web from some public speaking coaches, then FEAR of public speaking is the biggest darned pandemic around! For example, according to Doug Staneart:

“Surveys show that 95% of the population admit to feeling fear of public speaking or stage fright.”

(Presumably the other 5% also are feeling that same fear, but just won’t admit it). Vincent Stevenson said 90%. Patricia Stark said 80%. Marion Claire even said 65% of us would rather die than speak in public!

If there really was that high of a level of significant fear, then by now we should be having several public service announcements, and telethons. There might also be another large celebrity group song including performances by Bono, Jimmy Buffet, Sting, and Barbara Streisand.

Those large figures, like 95%, don’t necessarily refer to a significant fear. In another article Staneart more clearly says that:

“….95% of the population has some type of fear of public speaking.”

Realistically, about 20% of the US population has a fear of public speaking. That’s a fear with a small f. About half that, or 10% has a phobia about public speaking (a FEAR with a very large F), but saying 1 in 5 or 1 in 10 isn’t as dramatic as including nearly everyone. Those much smaller numbers are less likely to get attention for promoting courses or seminars.

There really is not a pandemic. The fear is not contagious. You don’t need to cover your mouth with a handkerchief (or wear a face mask).

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