In response to yesterday’s post about Prof. Mehrabian’s research, Nan Peck emailed me another example of false generalization of research. She wrote:
The other example is related to speech nervousness. Too many people cite a 1973 Bruskin survey published in David Wallechinsky, Irving Wallace and Amy Wallace’s book, The Book of Lists. Bruskin’s group asked 3,000 Americans to list their greatest fears. Respondents (41 percent of them) reported that their greatest fear is speaking before a group. This fear was followed by a fear of heights, insects, financial problems, deep water, illness, death, flying, loneliness, and dogs. Unfortunately, Bruskin’s report has since been cited as sufficient support that Americans consider public speaking a fate worse than death. Do you imagine that more Americans would rather jump out of an airplane, undergo serious surgery, or spend a month in a prison than give a formal presentation? [By the way, Bruskin’s 1973 study also revealed that 20 percent of Americans admit that they have never suffered from stage fright at any point in their lives!]
In 1993, the Bruskin/Goldring Report followed up on this research with a survey asking 1,000 adults "about the things of which nightmares are made…" Again, speaking before a group made the top of the list. But dreams about public speaking, financial problems, heights, and deep water are quite a different matter than reporting what we fear most. [In both surveys, men reported having a greater fear of financial problems than of speaking in public.]
Thanks Nan. Let’s keep debunking these myths.
Postscript – March 17, 2008: That said, it appears that many people are in fact very afraid of public speaking. So here’s a helpful thought.