Monday, March 30, 2015

Floating fear statistics with no visible support

On March 16, 2015 at Psychology Today Beverly D. Flaxington blogged about Overcoming Fear of Public Speaking. She gave six good tips to build self-confidence.

But, I wish she had omitted her first paragraph which said:

“Afraid of speaking in public? If so, you are in good company. Statistically speaking, 3 out of every 4 people fear public speaking, and women are susceptible to it more than men, with 75% and 73% of self-identified sufferers respectively. Speech anxiety is so common that there is a formal term for it – glossophobia.”

I cringe every time I see phrases like:

“Statistically speaking...”
“Statistics say...”
“Statistics tell us...”

because they are followed by nebulous numbers floating above us with no visible support. Typically there is no explicit reference we can check on to see whether they are real or just nonsense. But, in this case I already know where those numbers came from  - a page at the Statistic Brain web site. In 2014 I blogged about how Statistic Brain is just a statistical medicine show, and that those numbers are not from where they claimed. There is no information about the sample sizes, and therefore no way to determine the margin of error, and to decide if the gender difference between 75% and 73% is significant or not.  

Back in 2013 I blogged about How scary is public speaking or performance? A better infographic showing both fears and phobias. I noted that for U.S. adults 21.2% have a fear and only 10.7% have a phobia, which are drastically lower than the ~74% Beverly mentioned.

In another blog post on December 11, 2013 I discussed why glossophobia is not a useful formal term for describing speech anxiety.

The image was adapted from one of Thurston the magician at the Library of Congress.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

What’s your speaking style more like: Teppanyaki, Flambé, or Flying Greens?

My last post, Sizzle or Steak? Both!, got me thinking about restaurants and how having a unique speaking style (perhaps involving props) can add to your presentations. At one extreme is teppanyaki, the Japanese steakhouse typified in the U.S. by the Benihana restaurant chain. The chef puts on a big show of grilling the meal in front of his waiting customers. (On Saturday Night Live John Belushi parodied it in a comedy skit called Samurai Hit Man). It takes a lot of equipment to manage this. The speech equivalent would be a motivational speaker doing a multimedia spectacular in a large venue.

Less equipment is required for flambé, a table side flaming style involving igniting liqueur like for the Crêpe Suzzette dessert shown above. (The Greek restaurant cheese version is flaming saganaki). Both still are fancy productions involving added equipment and fire risks.

The most minimal but ingenious style is a Thai stir-fry dish called Flying Greens. It was described back in 1989 in a book called Madhur Jaffrey’s Far Eastern Cookery. Reportedly a young chef in an open-air restaurant up in Phitsanulok had been preparing swamp cabbage (pak bung) with garlic and oyster sauce. He tried tossing the greens up in the air from his wok before serving them. Soon he was throwing them for 20 feet. Finally he began throwing them across the street, where his partner adroitly caught them on a serving platter, and grandly presented them to waiting customers. There’s no extra equipment here at all, just teamwork. 

During his lectures MIT physics professor Walter Lewin did something different by sometimes pushing rather than pulling the chalk in his hand. The fourth most commonly viewed post on this blog is about How can you easily draw dotted chalk lines on a blackboard?

Images of Benihana, Crêpe Suzette, and a wok all came from Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Sizzle or steak? Both!

Suppose you’ve just been served steak fajitas on a hot comal, as shown above. What’s more important - the sizzle or the steak? That’s obviously a false dichotomy, since the sizzle can’t make up for if the steak is rubbery or has an off flavor.

Nevertheless, Diane DiResta posed the question in a March 17th blog post titled Public Speaking: Does Sizzle Matter More Than The Steak? As shown above, you really need both style and substance to make a great speech.

But it still is very amusing to see what can be done with style minus any substance. Watch comedian Will Stephen’s six-minute TEDx New York presentation, How to Sound Smart in Your TEDx Talk, which Diane pointed out in her blog post. It’s a brilliant parody of the typical TED style.   

Here is a transcript:

Hear that? That’s nothing. Which is what I, as a speaker at today’s conference, have for you all. I have nothing, nada, zip, zilch,zippo. Nothing smart, nothing inspirational, nothing even remotely researched at all. I have absolutely nothing to say whatsoever. 

And yet, through my manner of speaking, I will make it seem like I do. Like what I am saying is brilliant. And maybe, just maybe, you will feel like you’ve learned something. 

Now, I’m going to get started with the opening. I’m going to make a lot of hand gestures. I’m going to do this with my right hand. I’m going to do this with my left. I’m going to adjust my glasses. And then I’m going to ask you all a question. By show of hands, how many of you all have been asked a question before? Ok, great, I’m seeing some hands. And again, I have nothing here.

Now, I’m going to react to that, and act like I’m telling you a personal anecdote. Something to break the tension, something to endear myself a little bit, something kind of, uh, embarrassing. Ha, ha, ha, ha. And you guys are going to make an aah sound. It’s true, it really happened.

And now, I’m going to bring it to a broader point. I’m going to really back in. I’m going to make it intellectual. I’m going to bring it to this man, right here. Now, what this man did was important, I’m sure, but I for one have no idea who he is. I simply Google Image-d the word “scientist.”  And now, you see, I’d like it to seem like I’m making points, building an argument, inspiring you to change your life, when in reality this is just me buying time.

Now, if you don’t believe me, let’s take a look at the numbers. This is a real thing that’s happening right now. The number of talks that I’m giving is one. Interesting facts imparted thus far in said talk, well that’s going to be a zero. My height, in inches, is 70.5. Note the 0.5 there.

Two times six equals twelve, and then interestingly enough six times two also equals twelve. That’s math! 352 is a three-digit number. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and then almost immediately following that we get 6, 7, 8, 9,10. Now, to add more filler here, I’m going to give you another couple numbers to consider. 18, 237, 5,601, 2.6 million. 4, 4, 24, staggering. These are real numbers, all of them.

And, to follow that up, let’s take a look at some graphs. Now, if you take a look at this pie chart, what you’re going to see is that the majority far exceeds the minority. Everybody see that? Cool, isn’t it? And, let’s take a look at this bar graph, cause it shows similarly irrelevant data.

Now, I’m doing this because I’d like to make it seem like I’ve done my homework. If you were, say, watching this on YouTube with the sound off, you might think, ha, ok, this guy knows what he’s talking about. But I don’t. I’m floundering, panicking. I’ve got nothing. I’m a total and utter phony. But, you know what, I was offered a TED talk. And, dammit, I’m going to see it through.

Now, if you take a look behind me, these are just words paired with vaguely thought-provoking stock photos. I’m going to point at them like I’m making use both of my time as well as your time, but in reality I don’t know what half of them mean.

And now, as these continue, I’m just going to start saying gibberish. Wagga-wa, gabba-gabba, turkey, mouth-in-a-mouth. Chip, trip, my dog Skip. Rip it and dip it, Richard. I’m an itty-bitty-baby-bopper, and I’m hungry in my tum-tum. Brad Pitt, Uma Thurman.

Names, things, words, words, and more things. And, see, it feels like it might make sense, doesn’t it? Like maybe, just maybe, I’m building to some sort of satisfying conclusion. I mean, I’m gesticulating as though I am. I’m pacing, I’m growing in intensity. I’m taking off my glasses, which by the way are just frames. I wore them to look smart, even though my vision is perfect.

And now, I’m going to slow things down a little bit. I’m going to change the tone. I’m going to make it seem like I’m building to a moment. And, what if I was? Amazing, isn’t it! What can you do? Life’s a roller coaster! You know, if there’s one thing you take away from my talk, I’d like you to think about what you heard at the beginning. And, I’d like you to think about what you hear now. Because it was nothing, and it’s still nothing. Think about that. Or don’t, that’s fine. And now I’m going to stop talking.

The image of Chi-Chi’s Fajitas Beef by Mehlen Romain came from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Lecterns are not foolproof

John C. Maxwell has written a bunch of books including the 2010 Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently. Watch this 4-minute YouTube video in which he struggles with ~$50 music stands provided as lecterns. Ad copy for similar stands claims:

“Easy, automatic no-knob friction-tilt neck delivers constant tension at any tilt position.”

But, it doesn’t say there will be enough tension to handle a one-pound Bible, and there isn’t. John finally gives up and tries something else (since even healing didn't work). He never gets around to finishing the joke he started to tell. Of course, the guy who complains about getting the bologna sandwiches packs his own lunches.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Writer’s block is like getting your car stuck in mud up to the axles

What comes next? First you need to get unstuck and somehow write a first draft. Why might you get stuck? In a 2013 blog post titled Speech Preparation #4: wrestling writer’s block to write the first draft Andrew Dlugan suggested that the deadly combination is a lack of direction plus perfectionism.

In a March 18th post on his Speak & Deliver blog Rich Hopkins discussed Shatter Your Writer’s Block Pt I: Speechwriting in Reverse. His approach is to practice a speech from a mental or written outline and record it. Then he transcribes to produce his written draft. That’s not how I do it, but there is no best way for everyone. I have blogged about how to Use a storyboard to organize your presentation

Then you can begin editing your draft. In her 1995 book Bird by Bird writer Anne Lamott reminds us that:

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something - anything - down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft - you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft - you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even God help us, healthy.”

Along the way, ask yourself:

A)   Do I have too few points or too many?

B)   Did I cover them with too little detail or too much?

C)   Does the structure for my speech make sense?

The mired car image came from the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Can you get over fear of public speaking by taking up skydiving?

Perhaps. That interesting suggestion was the topic for last Wednesday’s Savage Chickens cartoon titled Fear Cure.

The other chicken countered that you could just as well get over fear of skydiving by taking up wrestling grizzly bears. (But, they might bite your head off).

The 1896 poster of grizzly wrestling came from the Library of Congress.   

Monday, March 16, 2015

What time is it where you will be giving your speech?

On March 11th at The presentation skills blog... Simon Raybould described having A comedy of presentation errors. When he arrived at 8:15 AM to set up for a 9:30 AM start, the venue forgot he was coming, so the meeting room had been left the way it was the previous day. He and they had to scramble to recover in time. Simon is located in Newcastle upon Tyne. England has just one time zone (as do China and India).

Over here in the U.S. we have additional time zone complications for travelers. When heading east you may find that it now is hours later than you think. To avoid having a worst moment, when you phone your client or call for a hotel reservation you should ask them to tell you what their time is right now.

Some states even have more than one time zone. In most cases the eastern part of a state is on the later one, and the western part is on the earlier one. How about an L-shaped state like Idaho?

The western edge for the states of Washington, Oregon, and California is the Pacific Ocean, so you would expect them to be on Pacific Time. All of Washington and California are. But, a small southeast part of Oregon is on Mountain Time so it matches with the adjoining southern half of Idaho. The narrow northern half of Idaho, due east of Washington, is on Pacific Time to match that state. The boundary between these time zones is the Salmon River, so Idaho County has two different time zones.

The state of Nevada also is on Pacific Time. It has casino gaming, while Idaho and Utah do not. But the city of West Wendover, Nevada officially is on Mountain Time, since it is just over the border from Utah. Also, the casino gaming destination of Jackpot, Nevada (just a mile south of the Idaho state line) unofficially observes Mountain Time.  
The time zone map came from Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A foggy discussion on fear by the Daily Mirror

On March 10, 2015 the online edition of a British tabloid newspaper, The Daily Mirror, had a foggy article titled How WEIRD are your biggest fears? They did an online survey, and then foolishly compared the results with those shown in an October 31, 2014  (Halloween) blog post at

It was foolish because the Mirror asked an OR question (where the two answers had to add to 100%), while the surveys discussed last Halloween instead just asked whether people had that fear or phobia (or not). That’s like comparing apples to oranges. Results are shown in the following five tables (with their online survey percentages for today):

In their discussion of the first question comparing dating with public speaking they claimed:

“In a series of social anxiety surveys, people in the developed world said they were far more scared of speaking in public than of dating. 21.2% of people are afraid of public speaking, compared to 11.5% who are terrified by dating.”

But, they never really referenced ANY data from that magazine article. The 21.2% and 11.5% are fears from Ruscio et al for U.S. adults in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication NCS-(R).  

Actually it’s even worse. For the questions about dentists and heights they compared results for fears with those by Stinson et al for phobias, so it’s like comparing apples with potatoes. See my blog post on What’s the difference between a fear and a phobia?

For the last question on fears of clowns versus witches they mention but do not link to a YouGov survey. The 13% for clowns is sum of A Little Afraid and Very Afraid from a 2014 US survey that I blogged about. So, that’s like comparing apples with bananas. Also, rather than “witches didn’t even place” on the YouGov poll, they didn’t ask a question about them.  Why didn’t they refer instead to the YouGov British survey?  

The image of a woman with a hand mirror is from OpenClipArt.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Some parts of government work very well, while others do not

Earlier this year I got a summons from Ada County for jury duty all last week. They use a Standby Jury System to minimize disrupting the lives of citizens. That means that late each afternoon from Sunday to Thursday I just had to call in or check their web site for Daily Reporting Instructions to see if my assigned number for the next day was listed as on stand-by. If it was, then I had to report to a room at the Courthouse.

On Sunday the message said a case had settled, and the group containing my number did not have to report. Messages for the next four days listed other groups starting with higher numbers, so they passed me by.

My siblings and friends have told me about other places where jurors had to report to the courthouse and then sit around for hours each day before eventually being told they were not needed.

A professional engineer who did accident and fire investigations (and testified frequently as an expert witness) told me what had happened to him. He was sent a summons to appear at his county courthouse in a midwestern state capital. During the preliminaries (voir dire) the judge asked prospective jurors to raise their hand if they knew any of the lawyers in the room. Rick raised his hand. They asked him which one, and he replied something like:

“I know Tom, Dick, Harry, John, Luke, Mark, and Matthew.”

He was excused - for knowing way too much.  

My Idaho driver’s license will expire a few years from now, on my birthday. The work load at the county offices issuing them in the state is spread very evenly around the year. 

Contrast that with Tax Day. Why should most individual federal income taxes be due on a single madhouse day of April 15th? That filing deadline started as March 1st back in 1913, moved in 1918 to March 15th, and in 1954 to April 15th. Why aren’t there multiple deadlines based on birth months to level out the workload for tax accountants, and to even out the cash flow of refund checks from the IRS?

Right now Idaho driver’s licenses don’t comply with the federal Real ID act, and there’s still more the state needs to do to update their security provisions.

The image of a courtroom in Cleveland came from the Library of Congress.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Is that Top Ten list from a real survey or just a glorified stack of web searches?

On March 6th my Google Alert on “public speaking” pointed to a long blog post by Brian Tracy titled  27 Useful Tips to Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking. That is way too many tips for one post. Ten or twelve would be much better.

He included an infographic by Top Management Degrees from 2014 titled Speaking Up, with a section titled What Are We So Afraid Of? that has a list of ranks for ten most common fears. Public speaking ranked second. The list came from an article at Steve M. Nash’s Self Help Collective from 2009 (or perhaps before, based on a look at the Wayback Machine) titled Are These Your Top Ten Fears?

Those fears are:

1]   Flying
2]   Public speaking 
3]   Heights
4]   The dark
5]   Intimacy
6]   Death
7]   Failure
8]   Rejection
9]   Spiders
10] Commitment

Did they come from a poll or a survey? No, they just are:

“...based on the search engine keyword research used to help create SelfHelpCollective com; i.e. it's based on data taken from Google (and other popular search engines) and indicates the types of fear people are most looking for information on.”

(There also is a longer list in another article titled Are These the 33 Most Common Fears?

In his 2008 book Click: What Millions of People Are Doing Online and Why It Matters on pages 103 and 104 Bill Tancer published another top ten list derived from web searches that doesn't include public speaking:

1]   Flying
2]   Heights
3]   Clowns
4]   Intimacy
5]   Death
6]   Rejection
7]   People
8]   Snakes
9]   Success
10] Driving

The lists based on these desktop web search engine exercises aren’t very similar - they both have just 5 of those 10 items: Flying, Heights, Intimacy, Death, and Rejection. Also, unlike a real survey neither list provides results as numbers or percentages that would let you figure out whether items with adjacent rankings are nearly the same or very far apart.

Are either of these lists still useful? Would we get a similar list if we now looked at Google and Bing? I tried that exercise, and found the answer is not really.

The bar chart shown above lists the number of hits for Google searches on the same quoted phrases shown by Self Help Collective. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer view). The first three fears (death, the dark, and failure) have way more hits than the other seven. Also, the order is rather different with Death 1st rather than 6th, the Dark 2nd rather than 4th, Failure 3rd rather than 7th, Flying 4th rather than 1st, Heights 5th rather than 3rd, Rejection 6th rather than 8th, Public Speaking 7th rather than 2nd, Spiders 8th rather than 9th, Commitment 9th rather than 10th, and Intimacy at 10th rather than 4th. 

Another bar chart lists the number of hits for Bing searches on the same quoted phrases shown by Self Help Collective. The first two (death and the dark) have way more hits than the other eight. Also, the order is rather different than the list at Self Help Collective, but the first five are exactly the same as on Google. Death is 1st rather than 6th, the Dark  is 2nd rather than 4th, Failure is 3rd rather than 7th, Flying is 4th rather than 1st, Heights is 5th rather than 3rd. and Public Speaking 6th rather than 2nd. Rejection is 7th rather than 8th, Commitment 8th rather than 10th, Spiders the same at 9th, and Intimacy again at 10th rather than 4th. 

The table shown above summarizes all the fear rankings. Are the rankings from 6 or 7 years ago still relevant? Probably not. So, why do people include them in their infographics?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

When the soda fountain turned into a jukebox

Last week I saw Steven Shapiro’s article on the Coke Freestyle, which he described as The soft drink printing machine, since it used cartridges similar to those of an inkjet printer. That got me thinking about how soda fountains for soft drinks had evolved. It would be an interesting topic for a speech.

At first everything was manual. A soda jerk pumped some syrup into a glass, added carbonated water, (and perhaps ice cream for a root beer float, etc.), then handed the glass across the counter to his customer.

We don’t drink very many soft drinks other than in summer, so at home we keep a two-liter bottle of carbonated water (club soda) in the refrigerator and some Torani or DaVinci syrups. Club soda is added at about an 8:1 dilution ratio to syrup. If we drank a lot more, then maybe we’d buy a SodaStream carbonator machine using concentrated syrups with a 24:1 ratio. 

Later came the self-serve fountains with a choice of eight flavors or so. Each dispensing head automatically mixed carbonated water (or plain water) with syrup in the correct 5:1 ratio to produce a drink. Syrups were dispensed from five-gallon bag-in-box (BIB) cartons hidden in a back room or basement.   

About five years ago Coca Cola developed the sleek Coke Freestyle soda fountain which is capable of producing over 100 flavors (like the number of tune selections in a jukebox). It has computerized touch-screen controls. At the single dispensing head it mixes flavoring, sweetener, and carbonated water (or plain water). Flavorings are in 46-ounce cartridges rather than the five-gallon (640 ounce) syrup boxes previously used. (Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway was involved in their development). That’s almost 14 times more concentrated, or a ratio of about 70:1.

There are three rows of cartridges. The top row contains dark ones, and the Freestyle shakes them ten seconds every two minutes to keep their contents from settling. Sweetener for diet drinks (NNS) also is inside the machine at the lower right. Sweetener for regular drinks (HFCS)  still is dispensed from a pair of bag-in-box cartons hidden in a back room or basement. The self-serve version of the Freestyle even has an RFID tag reader for identifying a new cartridge before it is installed. (If it is a dark flavoring, the row gets shaken for a minute before use). You can get a regular Coke, or a vanilla or cherry one, (or even orange or raspberry). There even are custom mix flavors connected with music groups:

“....look for Lady Antebellum on the Coca-Cola Freestyle® machine. Try any of the 3 exclusive Lady Antebellum mixes to enter for a chance to win a grand prize trip to a Lady Antebellum concert and other great prizes!”

Are there more concentrated flavorings than in the Coke Freestyle? Look at the pocket-sized container of Minute Maid water enhancer drops. It gets mixed at a ratio of 96:1. That is 32 times higher than their frozen orange juice concentrate, mixed at 3:1. Another brand, Mio Liquid Water Enhancer, has an even higher 118:1 ratio. Finally, syrups for making snow cones from shaved ice may have a ratio of 192:1.

A bar chart summarizes the wide range of ratios for all these concentrates, syrups, and flavorings. (Click on it to see a larger, clearer view).

Images of a jukebox and 1936 soda jerk came from the Library of Congress. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Concepts and words from far away

Back in June 2013 I blogged about Finding the right word (or not). When we don’t have that word in English, we may instead borrow one from somewhere else far away.

Over at Mother Nature Network I read a blog post from December 30, 2014 by Starre Vartan with the dogmatic title of 7 Cultural Concepts we don’t have in the U.S. In alphabetical order her seven are:

1] Friluftsliv (Norwegian for free air life)

2] Gemütlichkeit (German for coziness)

3] Hygge (Danish for mental coziness or togetherness)

4] Jugaad (Hindi for an innovative fix or an improvised solution born from ingenuity)

5] Kaizen (Japanese for continuous improvement)

6] Shinrin-yoku (Japanese for forest bathing)

7] Wabi-sabi (Japanese for embracing the imperfect)

#2, gemütlichkeit clearly is a concept we’ve had for some time, since that word appears in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. For an example, see a 2013 web page Oktoberfest in Fredricksburg - Celebrates 33 years of Texas Gemütlichkeit. #3 is a variation of #2. 

#1, #4 and #6 were new to me, but I burst out laughing when I saw she had included both #5 kaizen and #7 wabi-sabi.

Kaizen is well-known in manufacturing. The Environmental Protection Agency has a web site section on Lean Thinking and Methods with a web page on kaizen, which says that:

“Lean production is founded on the idea of kaizen – or continual improvement. This philosophy implies that small, incremental changes routinely applied and sustained over a long period result in significant improvements. The kaizen strategy aims to involve workers from multiple functions and levels in the organization in working together to address a problem or improve a process. The team uses analytical techniques, such as value stream mapping and ‘the 5 whys’, to identify opportunities quickly to eliminate waste in a targeted process or production area. The team works to implement chosen improvements rapidly (often within 72 hours of initiating the kaizen event), typically focusing on solutions that do not involve large capital outlays.”

For the past six year’s I’ve been reading Garr Reynold’s blog, Presentation Zen. Back on September 27, 2009 he posted about Personal Kaizen: 15 Tips for your continuous improvement.

Garr also has discussed wabi-sabi. Back in 2005 he posted about Wabi-Sabi and Presentation Visuals (part I) and (part 2). I checked the online catalog for metro Boise public libraries and found three books each about wabi-sabi and kaizen:

Wabi-sabi: the Japanese art of impermanence; Andrew Juniper, 2003

Living wabi sabi: the true beauty of your life; Taro Gold, 2004

Wabi sabi simple: create beauty, value imperfection, live deeply; Richard S. Powell, 2005

Gemba kaizen: a commonsense low-cost approach to management; Masaki Imai, 1997

One small step can change your life: the kaizen way; Robert Maurer, 2004

The spirit of kaizen: creating lasting excellence one small step at a time; Robert Maurer and Leigh Ann Hirschman, 2012

Ms. Vartan’s bio says she:

“ the founder and editor of, an award-winning nine-year-old website that covers ethical travel, eco fashion, natural beauty, environmental art and worldchanging women.”

She may not have concepts like kaizen, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t.

The Enpo no kihan woodcut image came from the Library of Congress.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A high mound of manure from Bill Hoogterp about fear of public speaking

Last year Bill Hoogterp published his book, Your Perfect Presentation. It’s not bad, except for two places.

The last paragraph at the bottom of Page 9 says that:

“....A British magazine did a survey of Americans’ fears, and guess what our number one fear was? You guessed it, public speaking. Know what was number two? Death. Yes, I am sure spiders was on there somewhere, but death was number two.*

* Findings from a 1973 survey by the London Sunday Times that were later published in David Wallechinsky, Irving Wallace, and Any Wallace, The Book of Lists (New York: William Morrow & Co., 1977). This has been the subject of much debate. According to the National Institutes of Health, 74% of Americans suffer from a fear of public speaking.”

Wow! The only thing he got right was that someone once did a survey, and they found public speaking was number one. Another four things are wrong. 

First, the survey really was done by a U. S. firm (R. H. Bruskin) in New Jersey, not something British. The most popular post on this blog appeared on October 27, 2009 and was titled The 14 Worst Human Fears in the 1977 Book of Lists: where did this data really come from?

Second, if you just check Wikipedia, The Sunday Times is a newspaper, not a magazine, and they just reported on that survey. 

Third, if you check the entry in the Book of Lists, death really only was ranked 7th, not 2nd (like in the later Seinfeld joke).

Fourth, the silly 74% for fear of public speaking comes from Statistic Brain, not the National Institutes of Health.

Page 10 continues with:

“We are more afraid of speaking in public than we are of dying. The great comedian Jerry Seinfeld makes the best joke about this. He says, ‘Does that sound right? That means when we go to the funeral, we would rather be the one lying in the box... than the one delivering the eulogy.’ “

Jerry changed things for his joke. The Bruskin survey listed what more people were afraid of, not what people were more afraid of.

There are two versions of that Seinfeld joke: the one on the TV show, and one on a DVD “I’m Telling You for the Last Time” Live on Broadway. Neither matches what Mr. Hoogterp paraphrased in his book. One from the TV show says:

 “According to most studies, people’s number-one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death’ is number two! Now, this means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

The other on the DVD says:

“I saw a thing, actually a study, that said speaking in front of a crowd is considered the number one fear of the average person. I found that amazing, Number two was death. Death is number two? This means to the average person if you have to be at a funeral, you would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

At YouTube you can watch video clips for both - a brief one from the show and a long one of the DVD (look at 50:36).

When you put the word hoogterp into Google Translate (set for going from Dutch to English) it translates to high mound.

Another paragraph starting at the bottom of page 53 also displays a lack of research: 

“Are you familiar with the poet Ezra Pound? He was a member of a famous group of American writers and poets who lived as expatriates in Paris during the first half of the twentieth century. Although Pound was famous for his own writing, he was known among his peers for something else. Other poets would bring their work to Ezra and ask him what he thought. He would take their poems and cross out any and all words that he thought were good but not great, that didn’t contribute enough to the power of the poem or the imagery or emotion that the poet was trying to convey. He would sometimes cut as much as two-thirds of a poem, whittling away until the poem was refined to its purest, and most potent, essence. Much as it partly pained them, the poets were grateful.”

That passage described the younger Ezra Pound, who only lived in Paris from 1921 to 1924. Later on Mr. Pound was more known as a crazy old fascist, which is why he usually is ignored. 

From 1924 to 1945 he lived in Italy and was an admirer of the fascist government there. Starting in 1940 he made a series of 10-minute radio broadcasts criticizing the U.S., and  in 1943 he was indicted in absentia for 19 counts of treason. In 1945 he was captured by the U.S. Army, and had a mental breakdown. From 1945 to 1958 he was held in the prison ward of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. After being released (when he was 72 years old), he returned to Italy and died in 1972. 

UPDATE June 21, 2015

There was a third written version of that Seinfeld joke which appeared in Jerry's 1993 book SeinLanguage:

"According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right?  That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy."

What Bill Hoogterp paraphrased does not match that one either.