3 Things You Need To Know About Public Speaking

There are 3 myths about public speaking that you have probably heard. For years, these myths have been preached, taught, and sold as facts. But research has proven these myths are just that: myths.

The Surprising Research about Public Speaking



MYTH: Public speaking is man's greatest fear

As I've attended seminars and speaking events, I've often heard people say that public speaking is "man's greatest fear." And for a long time, I never questioned it. It's so commonly said that I assumed it was fact. It wasn't until some time ago that I discovered otherwise.

I was creating a speech for a community organization, and I wanted to showcase how big the "public speaking" problem was. When I dug into the research, however, I was caught off guard.

Here's what I found:

  • Chapman University surveyed 1,207 American adults to see what they fear the most. These people were asked to evaluate how much they feared 80 different potential fears. These fears included public speaking and ranged to other topics such as terrorism, sharks, and even oil spills! The results of the survey showed that public speaking didn't rank #1 or even in the top 10. It ranked #52! The #1 on the list was government corruption (which we won't go into today).

  • Gallup ran a similar study. They made standardized telephone calls to 1,016 American adults. These people were asked if they were afraid of 13 individual fears, which is a small list. Of that list, public speaking didn't rank #1 either. It ranked as #2. Apparently people fear snakes more than they do public speaking.

I was shocked when I saw these studies. Not only did it destroy my original speech idea  (I ended up talking about how public speaking isn't man's greatest fear), but I was surprised that so many of us believed in this completely false statistic.


MYTH: 3/4th of Americans fear public speaking

After learning that public speaking wasn't man's greatest fear, I wanted to know if it was even a common fear. When I did surface research, I saw a statistic quoted in several places: "3/4th of Americans fear public speaking."

Well, that's a big problem, I thought. I dug deeper. From the websites I explored, I didn't find any primary sources for the data. That made me curious. With such a huge finding, why weren't people citing the original study?

Now feeling skeptical, I looked at the primary source data I found from Chapman University and Gallup. Here's what they discovered:

  • 45% of Americans feared public speaking in 1998

  • 40% in 2001

  • 28.4% in 2015

  • 20%  in 2017

When I saw this, I laughed. These 4 studies, with over 3,500 participants, show that the percentage of people who fear public speaking is probably between 20-45% for the past 20 years! That's grossly under 75%! Unless all 4 of these studies are wrong, the 3/4th statistic is definitely a myth.


MYTH: Public speaking is effective

When I started out in the Learning and Development Industry, I believed that public speaking was the tool to create change. I've never been more mistaken.

Here's a sample of the research that shows why public speaking isn't effective:

  • Research shows that people forget information very quickly if they don't review what they learn. In a public speaking situation, learners rarely review what they heard. Do you remember everything from a 4-hour training?

  • Public speaking is a form of "traditional training." Research has found that people only apply 10-20% of behaviors presented in traditional training.

  • Public speaking often happens in venues that are separate from the contexts in which the information is supposed to be recalled and applied. This is common with seminars, conventions, and leadership retreats. Research on Context Dependent Memory has found that learners do not recall information as easily when they are out of the context they gained the information in.


Now, I'll admit that there have been speeches that have changed the world. I think of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. In the context of the whole, however, there are millions of speeches that haven't created change. (Just think of all the parental talks you've given or have received. Did those always work?) For those of us who are pushing the boundaries in the Learning & Development Industry, we know there are better ways to train than public speaking.


How to Create Change the Effective Way


If you want to learn about a powerful approach to training, visit www.teambitesize.com. We have a learning methodology that destroys the public speaking model with 3x the learning retention.