Death or public speaking? UNO researchers revisit a 1973 study on the number one fear

Jul 17, 2012

A new study finds that while public speaking might be the most common fear, it isn’t number one.

UNO Public Speaking Fundamentals program director Karen Kangas Dwyer and Speech Center Coordinator Marlina Davidson did the study. It revisited a 1973 study that found more people feared public speaking than death.

Dwyer says in both studies, people were given a list of 14 fears. Public speaking was checked the most often on those lists. But Dwyer says the original study had a key flaw: it didn’t ask participants to rank those fears on a scale. “And even though it’s reported people fear public speaking more than death, when we asked our students, and we had 815 of them who had not had public speaking before, we asked them to rank their fears, and death was number one.”

40 percent of people who took part in the 1973 study checked public speaking as one of their fears. 60 percent of students who participated in the UNO study did the same. Dwyer says fear of public speaking is common and treatable. UNO students take a public speaking course as part of their general education classes.

Dwyer and Davidson’s study appears in the April through June 2012 issue of Communication Research Reports.