Glossophobia, or a fear of public speaking, is a very common phobia and one that is believed to affect up to 75% of the population. Some individuals may feel a slight nervousness at the very thought of public speaking, while others experience full-on panic and fear. They may try to avoid public speaking situations at all cost or if they must speak in public, they endure shaking hands and a weak, quavering voice. How to overcome a fear of public speaking? With persistence and preparation, it’s entirely possible to beat glossophobia.

“The fear of public speaking is more common in younger patients as compared to older ones and may be more prevalent in females as compared to males,” says Jeffrey R. Strawn, MD, FAACAP, associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics and director of the Anxiety Disorders Research Program in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Cincinnati. “We know that some individuals tend to have more anxiety related to certain circumstances in which there may be a fear of evaluation and embarrassment.”

A fear of public speaking often is present in individuals with social anxiety disorder, Dr. Strawn says, and these social anxiety disorders may affect 5 to 9% of Americans. “However, it is important to point out that not all individuals with a fear of public speaking have social anxiety disorder or another psychiatric disorder,” he explains. “For a diagnosis of a psychiatric disorder, clear functional impairment is generally required.”

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Symptoms of Glossophobia

Glossophobia causes a variety of symptoms such as:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased perspiration
  • Dry mouth
  • A stiffening of the upper back muscles
  • Nausea and a feeling of panic when faced with having to speak in public
  • Intense anxiety at the thought of speaking in front of a group.

Causes of Glossophobia

Most phobias seem to appear out of the blue, often starting in childhood or early adulthood. A phobia may arise because of a combination of genetic tendencies and other environmental, biological, and psychological factors.  People who fear public speaking may have a real fear of being embarrassed or rejected.

Glossophobia may relate to one’s prior experiences, Dr. Strawn says. “An individual who has a bad experience during public speaking may fear a repeat of that prior experience when attempting to speak again,” he admits.

Or if a person is told to speak to a group on the spot with no chance for advance preparation, and it does not go well, she may begin to fear public speaking.

Treatment Options

Glossophobia is treatable, and in general, exposure-based treatments and exercises are the most helpful, Dr. Strawn says.

In exposure therapy, an individual is taught coping skills and, over time, learns to handle the situation that is causing the fear. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is useful because it helps an individual to effectively manage her symptoms.

People with glossophobia also may benefit from anxiety management and relaxation techniques, and a combination of several treatments may be recommended.

“In individuals with a social anxiety disorder accompanied by a fear of public speaking, medications may be helpful, especially when they are combined with psychotherapy,” Dr. Strawn says.

Action Steps

Be prepared. If you want to overcome your fear of public speaking, get yourself organized ahead of time. Try to visit the venue where you will be giving your talk, and carefully review any and all equipment beforehand. And learn all you can about your topic well in advance. This makes it less likely that you will say something incorrect or go off track. If you do stray slightly, knowing your topic well will increase your odds of recovering quickly.

Practice makes perfect. Don’t just “give” your complete presentation to a volunteer audience once. Do it several times with friends, family members, or anyone else you feel comfortable with. Ask for feedback and review everyone’s comments carefully. You may even want to make a video of your speech so you can see it and make any revisions that you think will make it better.

Pay attention to the material at hand, rather than your audience. Generally, an audience is focusing on the new information they are listening to rather than how it is presented. Chances are that they won’t even notice your trepidation.

Don’t be afraid of the sounds of silence. When you momentarily lose track of what you are saying, you may feel nervous and feel that you have been silent forever. But it’s probably no longer than a few seconds, so simply take a few slow, deep breaths and proceed.  Remind yourself that even if the moment of silence was longer than a moment, that’s okay, too. Your audience probably figured that the pause was planned and they won’t mind a bit.

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Last Updated: Sep 12, 2019