Public Speaking Facts

Is public speaking really the #1 fear?

Don't be mislead by any false public speaking facts. Public speaking probably isn't the #1 fear (that claim comes from an unsubstantiated blurb in the Sunday Times of London more than 30 years ago), there are plenty of other public speaking facts we should know.

  • Fear of public speaking is called glossophobia. The word comes from the Greek gl?ssa, meaning tongue, and phobos, meaning fear.
  • Communication effects what we learn. It may sound self-evident, but consider this evidence: Debate Watch 1996 and Debate Watch 2000 studies by Diana Carlin of the University of Kansas found that discussing the U.S. presidential debates with friends and strangers led to increased knowledge and political involvement compared to those who watched alone.
  • Media matters. While news media doesn't determine people's views, it does focus their views on specific issues. The amount we talk about different things matters.
  • Mediums shape communication. Videoconferencing is different than live meetings. Phone calls allow people to tune out more than during face-to-face conversations. To communicate to our fullest potential, we need to be aware of how the mediums we use influence our communication.
  • Different mediums have different advantages. As Joseph Walther and Geri Gay of Cornell University have shown, it takes longer to get to know someone online that it does face-to-face. At the same time, sometimes a well-worded email is just the type of communication that a situation calls for.
  • Key words and phrases create shared meaning. James Danowski of University of Illinois-Chicago and George Barnett of SUNY-Buffalo have created systems that map communication based on shared key words and phrases. These systems track the spread of ideas better than semantics-based models. Semantics-based models, on the other hand, can help identify similarities between groups.
  • Communication technologies and techniques must first reach critical mass to be effective. If no one you know has a phone, there's no reason for you to get a phone, either. When speaking, we must consider what we as speakers have in common with our audiences in order to be effective. Don't use email feedback forms if you're speaking to people who don't like electronic communication. Be certain you have 'critical mass' before you communicate.
  • Different types of relationships are essential to effective communication. Robert Putnam of Harvard University identifies two types of social connections: "bridging" and "bonding." Bridging social connections are more like acquantances; these are your networking connections. Bonding social connections are your close friends, your inner circle. People must have access to both types of relationships in order to be happy and effective. Inbalances cause people to focus too much on one area, 'losing touch' with the other. As communicators, losing touch with our audiences and other people is the fastest way to undermine our effectiveness.
  • Using effective communication skills with children increases their positive development. Brant Burleson of Purdue, Jesse Delia of the University of Illinois, James Applegate or the University of Kentucky, and others have shown that children who are reasoned with have better adjustment skills in the long-term than children who are merely punished.
  • Communication skills are important to interpersonal relationships. Think about your romantic relationships to see the evidence of this fact ;-).

Keep these public speaking facts in mind as you prepare your next presentation. Happy speaking!

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