Tuesday, January 1, 2013

That mystical 54% of adults who fear public speaking

Last week I was listening to a set of three CDs called the Public Speaking Survival Kit: Expert Training to Dazzle Your Audience. The first CD was a presentation by Brian Tracy titled Speak on Your Feet. After about 2-1/2 minutes on the 2nd track he proclaimed that:

“Everyone grows up with a fear of public speaking. In fact, according to surveys and the Guinness Book of Records and the Book of Questions and Answers, 54% of adults fear public speaking more than they fear death. That’s how much there’s fear for public speaking.”  

Which survey really has that 54% statistic? Back in 1993 Bruskin-Goldring did a survey of 1000 U.S. adults that found 45% feared speaking before a group. I blogged about it on May 19, 2011. If you dyslexically swap those two digits, you might say 54% instead of the actual 45%. That survey also reported results by gender, which were 54% for women but only 34% for men.

When I looked over at my public library I found the current Guinness World Records 2012 book, but there were no index entries either for fear or speaking.

In his 2008 book Speak to Win: How to Present with Power in Any Situation, on page 42 Mr. Tracy had claimed the statistic came from a different source:

“According to the Book of Lists, 54% of adults rate fear of public speaking ahead of the fear of death.”

On June 6, 2011 I blogged about how the Book of Lists (actually reporting a 1973 Bruskin survey) did not say that. The reported percentage there really was 41%.

What about his other claim - that everyone grows up with a fear of public speaking? That’s nonsense too. Last June I blogged about the NCS-A, a large survey of U.S. adolescents, which found that only 35.8% feared performing before an audience, and 29.4% feared speaking in class.

Just because a popular author claims something doesn’t mean that it’s true. Do your homework and check before you believe or repeat any statistics you read.

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