The oft quoted "fact" that "public speaking is more scary than death" is plain wrong, wrong, and wrong. Another h"fact" that "76% of all communication is through body language is also really, really wrong.
The trouble is with these "facts" is that they are not only wrong but if you pay attention to them they actually make things a whole lot worse. And yet they get repeated everyday throughout the web as gospel truth.
For the moment let me just deal with the death one. Often people will write "Many surveys suggest" or "Based on the Book of Lists, the fear of public speaking ranks number 1 inside the minds of the most of people. Far above worries of death and disease."
Let me repeat that "Far above worries of death and disease". If we are constantly told to believe that public speaking is scarier than death then maybe we come to believe it. And maybe it gives us a great excuse not to face the fears. If its scarier than death then lets not bother.
But if this was really true the suicide rate would be huge. Businesses would have to stop you doing presentations for health and safety reasons. "I've got a presentation tomorrow, I will just hang myself and save me the bother of doing a presentation" .
However the Accident and emergency units are clearly not full of power-what is the-point-ers. So what is going on? We need the facts. The trouble is its hard to get them. Writers hide behind "most surveys suggest" etc. I have to thank Richard I. Garber for his research on this question.
The survey is reproduced in the 1977 book of lists. But that's reproducing a 1973 survey by Bruskin Associates. Here it is
14 worst human fears 1. Speaking before a group 2. Heights 3. Insects and Bugs 4. Financial Problems 5. Deep Water. 6. Sickness 7. Death 8. Flying 9.Loneliness 10. Dogs 11. Driving in a Car 12. Darkness 13. Elevators. 14. Escalators. 15. Surveys about fears (i made that one up)
Yes, public speaking is above Death but so are spiders, financial problems and deep water.
This survey apparently asked people to list their fears. There was no central list of fears offered to participants by the researchers. So what this infamous survey is telling us is that the fear of public speaking is more commonly mentioned by people than the fear of death when people are asked to name their fears. Rather than being more scary. Thats it.
It wasn't great research but it turned out to be a great attention grabber. But can we stop grabbing it - please. Yes, public speaking can be scary, it can stop us doing things, but its not the biggest fear in the world. The fear of public speaking is NOT too big to sort out. We can change our way of thinking about public speaking in a short time. For example I've just got some feedback from someone on last week's course; "I was amazed that the techniques we were taught could deal effectively with the 'fear' symptoms attached to being the centre of attention. I thought that those automatic reactions were far too deeply engrained: happily, I was wrong!
So let us live our lives fully and not hide away because of a poorly reported survey done in 1973.