October 23, 2008

Snakes top public speaking in Gallup poll

You may recall that I've been trying to track down current and legitimate research on the fear of public speaking. The same tired old statistic "People fear speaking more than they fear death" has been eagerly accepted and repeated as fact, even though the study that is usually quoted is over 30 years old.

While digging around for current research, I came across this 2001 Gallup poll on American Fears.

Guess what's NOT the top fear: public speaking.

Snakes are #1, with 51% of respondents reporting this fear. Public speaking is #2, with 40% of respondents reporting this fear.

Wait, only 40% of Americans fear public speaking (this is a decrease of 5% from their last poll in 1998)? And 1% had no opinion? That means 59% do NOT fear public speaking.

This is a long way from the stats I see where supposedly 95% of the population fears public speaking, and fears it more than death.

We can all choose the surveys we want to support our beliefs and opinions, of course. There is other research out there, and some of you may prefer to quote the doom and gloom.

But not me. So as I said the other day, let's focus on the positive here. Why keep pounding into our own heads how much we're supposed to fear public speaking, or how impossible it is to manage fear of public speaking?

Let's talk about what we enjoy about public speaking, what we love about public speaking, and how great we feel when we're connecting with an audience. Leave your positive comments about public speaking on this post.

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10 comments. Please add yours! :

Unknown said...

I would personally HATE public speaking if I had to do it in front of a bunch of snakes. I HATE SNAKES!!!! But I love speaking. But I HATE SPEAKING ABOUT SNAKES. But I love cinnabon

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Snakes, rats, mice, etc. are pretty far down my list. But I would hate to speak in front of a lot of spiders. Even more so, to speak ABOUT spiders. In fact, writing, the word "spiders" completely creeps me out.

What exactly would you say in a presentation about cinnabon?

Tim Gonzo Gordon said...

'Don't like spiders and snakes, 'cause that's not what it takes to love you...' Oh, wait, caught me singing an oldie.

Thanks Lisa...I've heard that stat about public speaking and have always hesitated about repeating it (so I rarely do), but having relatively new information is nice.

I like to teach people that public speaking can be fun, exhilarating, draining...much like the feeling you get from playing sports hard for an hour. It's mentally and physically challenging but extremely rewarding...and the more you do it the more fun and rewarding it is. And the better you get at it (as in anything)...

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Tim, I do love a good sports analogy. I'm going to borrow that one in the future!

Anonymous said...

BEAUTIFUL!! If you are like me, you apparently are, this has been bugging you for years!

This falsehood gives people an excuse to be bad at public speaking because they can claim to be like everyone else.

I first heard this issue brought up by LeeAundra Temescu and have avoided repeating this "fear" since.

Thank you for doing the research!

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for your comment, Michael. It's nice to know I'm not just being contrarian, but that there are others who think it's wrong to toss around outdated or unproven statistics as "facts."

Anonymous said...

I have just started attending Toastmasters and am really enjoy speaking in front of this small and supportive group. I do fear but also feel excited by, the thought of speaking in front of a crowd of strangers but I will keep in mind that most people are generous at heart and want the speaker to succeed.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Congratulations on getting out there, Katherine! It's key that you recognize that fear and excitement can go together!

Richard I. Garber said...

Your title actually is a somewhat misleading generalization which overlooks real gender differences. Read the rest of the survey!

For women the fear of public speaking (44%) ranks significantly below the much worse top fear, of snakes (61%). For men fear of public speaking (37%) and fear of snakes (38%) were approximately equal. When you pool the data and put men and women together you get that 51% of the people fear snakes, but only 40% fear public speaking.



Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for your comment, Richard. I figured if my readers wanted more detail about the study, they could go read it for themselves.

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