You are standing in front of a group of people, ready to deliver your speech. Everyone expects you to start speaking, but you stammer. You begin to panic. The people in front of you are concerned. What is going on? It seems you are having the fear of speaking in public.

How common is the fear of public speaking?

Fear of public speaking is one of the most common phobias in the world. Many studies suggest that this fear affects about 75% of the population.

Knowing that you are not alone when dealing with the fear of public speaking can help you gain confidence and become a better speaker. But, there is still a lot to know about this phobia and how it can affect people. Read on and learn what you need to know about the fear of public speaking and how to overcome it.

How common is the fear of public speaking?

Many studies suggest that fear of public speaking (also known as Glossophobia) is one of the most common phobias in the world. Around 75% of the population experience it to some degree. It is currently more common than having a fear of heights or insects.

Simply put, it is a more common fear than you think. If you worry about other people judging you for this fear, don’t be. The very same people judging you probably have it too.

Does everyone experience this fear?

Many people experience phobias in different ways and at different magnitudes and this includes Glossophobia as well. How you react to the fear of public speaking depends on the severity of your fear.

People who are a little nervous about public speaking may feel their heart race or stammer when they speak. Those with a more severe form of Glossophobia, on the other hand, may have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Stuttering
    In many cases, people who have speech impediments may see their condition worsen due to their fear.
  • Heart palpitations
    Do you feel your heart doing a tap dance when you speak to a group? That’s a sign of fear.
  • Sweaty palms
    Similar to many other fears, people often feel their palms start to sweat because of public speaking nerves.
  • Dry mouth
    Many people experience dry mouths because of their anxiety.
  • Nausea and vomiting
    If the fear is extreme, the speaker may become nauseous to the point of vomiting.

What is the cause of this fear?

Like with many other phobias, it is difficult to pinpoint a universal cause for Glossophobia. Because it is so widespread, many scientists believe that it may be innate in humanity as a whole as it deals with our need to preserve our social status.

Having other fears relating to socializing can also increase your chances of having Glossophobia. The ties between social anxiety and fear of speaking in front of an audience are well-documented.

Why did we evolve to have this fear?

The root cause is quite obvious to a casual observer: it’s a fear of being judged or viewed negatively by others. Judgmental or negative views can lead to a person getting ostracized from a community, which may pose a serious threat.

Since the beginning of time, we rely on one another to survive. Knowing that negative judgment can hurt a person’s chance of living, it is easy to see why we evolve to fear things that might ostracize us from other people.

Who is most likely to have this fear?

Though this is a common phobia, some people are more likely to have Glossophobia than others. These include the following:

  • People who have a social anxiety disorder
    Having social anxiety is one of the most reliable indicators of a potential Glossophobia case (Ebrahimi, et al.). Up to 9 percent of the population has social anxiety to some degree.
  • People who have a particularly bad experience speaking in front of others
    Unsurprisingly, some occurrences of Glossophobia are trauma-related. If you had a traumatic event regarding public speaking, developing a phobia involving public speaking is understandable.
  • Younger groups
    Statistically speaking, younger people are more likely to be afraid of public speaking than older generations. This may or may not have anything to do with being insecure when they are young.
  • Women and girls
    Though we are not sure of the reason for this, the fear of public speaking tends to be present in more women than in men.

Does everyone with social anxiety have the fear of public speaking?

Though social anxiety plays a part in the fear of public speaking, not all people who suffer from social anxiety have this fear. Since anxiety disorders can manifest themselves in a variety of ways, public speaking may not always be involved.

What factors can impact public speaking fears?

With some people, their public speaking phobia won’t kick in unless certain factors are at play. These common factors can aggravate or trigger public speaking fears:

  • New or intimidating crowds
    The crowd of people you are speaking to can matter when you are trying to keep your cool. Having new faces, or faces of people who have a higher status than you can often be a trigger for many otherwise calm individuals.
  • Inexperience
    Whether it is a lack of knowledge of the topic at hand or a lack of experience in delivering a speech, feeling under-equipped can make many people nervous.
  • Concern about the impact
    If the speech has the potential for far-reaching consequences, it is natural to feel a little more worried than usual. Depending on how big the concern is, this can be a trigger or an exacerbator of the phobia. 

What are the most common treatments for the fear of public speaking?

Because it is one of the most common fears in the world, there is ample research dedicated to ways to treat the fear of public speaking. Understanding the root cause of this fear has been proven to be useful. However, for many people, it is a personal journey that they have to take to overcome this fear.

Each case of Glossophobia is unique to the person who has it, so treatment is not totally uniform. Some treatment options that can help with public speaking fears include:

  • Speech Therapy
    If a person’s Glossophobia is caused by a speech impediment, getting proper treatment for it can drastically improve a person’s confidence and reduce the fear of public speaking.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
    Helping people understand why they are experiencing fear and teaching them how to mitigate their emotions as they happen using CBT is a common treatment method for treating Glossophobia (Bottella, et al.).
  • Integrative Therapy
    Certain reasons for Glossophobia are better treated with therapies that help work through trauma, insecurities, and similar issues. The idea is that attacking the cause may alleviate the symptoms.
  • Virtual Reality Therapy
    The use of virtual reality techniques has been found to be quite successful in reducing the fear of public speaking (North, et al.). Another study where image-based rendering and moving pictures were used also reduce the fear of public speaking (Lee, et al.)
  • Relaxation Techniques
    Sometimes, seeing a doctor for therapy is not necessary for better results. In lighter cases, it is possible to get rid of Glossophobia or manage symptoms by simply employing relaxation techniques. 
  • More Practice
    If the fear is relatively light, then actually facing your fear repeatedly may be the best way to overcome it. You can do this by rehearsing your speech a couple of times before delivering it. If the venue is accessible to you, check out the room and the audio-visual equipment, so that you know where everything is. Depending on the way the practice is done, this can also be considered a form of exposure therapy as you learn a new skill.

What is Glossophobia’s prognosis?

If you have a deep fear of public speaking, there is some good news for you. This fear is not life-threatening and is considered to be generally manageable in most cases. 

Some people never really get treatment or feel the need to overcome their fear. Others, however, do and they succeed wonderfully.

With the right amount of effort and proper treatment, it is not only possible to get your fear of public speaking under control, but easy enough to make it a thing of the past.


References

  • Botella, C., Gallego, M., et al. “An Internet-Based Self-Help Program for the Treatment of Fear of Public Speaking: A Case Study.” Journal of Technology in Human Services, vol. 26, no. 2, 2008.
  • Ebrahimi, O., Pallesen, S., et al. “Psychological Interventions for the Fear of Public Speaking: A Meta-Analysis.” Frontiers in Psychology, 15 March 2019.
  • Lee, J., Ku, J., Jang, D., Kim, D. et al. “Virtual Reality System for Treatment of the Fear of Public Speaking Using Image-Based Rendering and Moving Pictures.” CyberPsycholoyg & Behaviour, vol. 5, no. 3, 2004.
  • North, M., North, S., Coble, J. “Virtual Reality Therapy: An Effective Treatment for the Fear of Public Speaking”. International Journal of Virtual Reality, vol. 3, no. 3, 1998, pp 1-6.