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Glossophobia: How to Overcome Fear of Public Speaking

Glossophobia: Fear of public speaking

Glossophobia (or speech anxiety) is the fear of public speaking or of speaking in general.

Glossophobia is often cited as our number one fear. Surveys report people are more afraid of making a presentation than they are of spiders, snakes, being eaten by a shark or being struck by lightning. They are often more afraid of death itself. As Jerry Seinfeld remarked, “they would rather be in the box than giving the eulogy over the box.”

How to Overcome Glossophobia | Glossophobia Symptoms | Glossophobia Treatment

What is Glossophobia: Definition and Meaning

glossophobia · (glossos - + phobia) n. The fear of being ridiculed by other people for one's speech, attitude or manners; the fear of saying the wrong thing and being made fun of.
[ The word glossophobia comes from the Greek γλῶσσα glōssa, meaning tongue, and φόβος phobos, fear or dread. ]

Glossophobia is a clinical term for the fear of public speaking. People with glossophobia are often afraid of being judged or evaluated negatively by an audience, being embarrassed, or being humiliated, and these feelings can be so intense that they may even suffer from panic/anxiety attacks.

A person suffering from glossophobia may be convinced that he or she will appear unintelligent, incompetent, and unconfident in front of an audience and even may believe that the audience will find him or her physically repulsive or disgusting when standing in front of a crowd.

People who suffer from glossophobia may be very self-conscious and even suffer from severe anxiety or panic attacks, which can lead to social withdrawal and even become a debilitating condition.

Another major symptom of glossophobia is that they can often become very self-critical, which can often lead to feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem. This self-consciousness can be so severe that it can lead to depression, which is a condition that often co-exists with glossophobia.

One of the most common symptoms of glossophobia is avoidance of social situations and events that require a great deal of public speaking, such as interviews, presentations, and job interviews. People who suffer from glossophobia may engage in behaviors that are considered by others to be extreme and even “crazed” when people are in public view, often resulting in them getting out of such situations as soon as possible.

Despite the widespread stereotype that it is due to public speaking, in fact the term glossophobia may be used to refer to any anxiety that makes a person uncomfortable when participating in a public event or other social situation.

Glossophobia is one type of mental health disorder called social phobia. Social phobia symptoms are very specific and therefore the same as a fear of public speaking, but not all of them are experienced by every sufferer.

People with glossophobia may become anxious at the mere thought of a public speaking event or giving a speech in a room full of people. People with glossophobia usually have some degree of specific phobia, such as agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder or other specific phobia.

Glossophobia is difficult to understand because it is amongst the last anxiety conditions discovered by doctors. In fact, about 75% of people suffer from this condition in its mildest non-clinical form or stage fright, but in more extreme forms it can be debilitating and difficult for doctors to diagnose.

Glossophobia Symptoms

The disorder is distinguished by feelings of apprehension in front of others and nervousness. There is also a deep feeling of humiliation or embarrassment when a sufferer is faced with performing or doing a presentation in social situations, so much so that they fear being watched or unpleasantly evaluated by others. Other symptoms include:
  • Feeling of self-consciousness around others
  • Feeling that others are judging or staring at you
  • Feeling that others see your nervousness
  • The inability to relax around others
  • A fear of being seen as stupid
  • Avoidance of most social interactions (or withstanding a lot of distress if socializing)
  • Sweating
  • Racing heart
  • Trembling
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Breathing problems
  • Dry mouth
  • Physical tingling
  • Lack of concentration
  • Weakness of the legs
  • Urge to urinate frequently
  • Blushing
  • Twitching of muscles

Glossophobia Causes

While the exact cause of glossophobia is unknown, this disorder may arise because of a combination of genetic, environmental, biological, and psychological factors.

There are several theories that attempt to explain the causes of glossophobia, including biological and evolutionary explanations as well as several psychoanalytic and cognitive explanations.

A few other theories have also been proffered. Some of the most popular models include the "free-floating anxiety" theory, the "stunted response" theory, and the "fear of intimacy" theory. The "free-floating anxiety" theory suggests that glossophobia stems from a person's tendency to be afraid of anxiety.

The "stunted response" theory views glossophobia as the result of a traumatic event in childhood, where the individual was not properly prepared for speaking in front of an audience.

The "fear of intimacy" theory states that glossophobia stems from a person's fear of being judged by someone else. To a degree, this is true. However, it is rarely the main reason for glossophobia. The "stunted response" theory is more likely to be accurate.

What Causes Fear of Public Speaking

The causes are many, but they can be different for each individual:
  • Negative thinking - Negative thinking is common in those with anxiety disorders and actually helps fuel the anxiety, causing it to flare up in an acute attack of anxiety. If you think that you are going to fail beforehand, you are unknowingly sabotaging opportunities to succeed. Your way of thinking determines whether the results are positive and beneficial or negative and harmful.
  • Fear of acute embarrassment - The fear of making a complete fool of ourselves in front of friends, work colleagues and people that matter in our life. For some, there are unfortunately powerful emotional memories of an embarrassing situation that happened in the past. These anchored memories are then dramatically recalled and reinforced every time the thought of public speaking arises.
  • Insecurity and low self-esteem - A person may feel that he is unworthy to have the opportunity to present information as a public speaker. He may lack confidence and feel that he will never know enough or be as good a speaker as those he deems are "good". The person may, thus, doubt his ability or knowledge of the material.
  • Perfectionism - a person may have very high standards for himself, which create pressure and a heightened fear of failure. The fears of many people are founded in the belief that they are responsible for always creating an extremely positive impression, and if they do not create this impression they will create a disaster. There is no middle ground.
  • Lack of Preparation - a person may be uncomfortable with the material that he will present due to a lack of preparation. This will lead to a fear of being asked questions that he cannot answer, or a fear that he will say something.

Glossophobia Treatment

There are many different ways to treat glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking. Some people may benefit from therapy, while others may find relief in medication. There are also many self-help techniques that can be used to overcome this fear.

Therapy can be a very effective way to deal with glossophobia. A therapist can help a person to understand their fear and work through it. They may also provide some techniques for dealing with public speaking.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most commonly used treatment methods for glossophobia. CBT works by helping an individual identify and challenge the negative thoughts and beliefs that contribute to their fear. It can also help a person to learn and practice healthy coping skills.

One common treatment for glossophobia is exposure therapy. This involves gradually (and systematically) exposing the person to the thing they are afraid of, in this case public speaking. They may start by speaking in front of a small group of people, and then gradually work their way up to speaking in front of larger groups. This can help the person to slowly overcome their fear, and eventually be able to speak in public without feeling anxious.

Medication can also be helpful for some people. There are a number of different medication options that can be effective for treating glossophobia, including beta blockers, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medications. Beta blockers can help to reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as a racing heart, sweating, and trembling. Antidepressants can help to improve mood and reduce anxiety, while anti-anxiety medications can help to reduce anxiety and improve sleep.

It is important to work with a mental health professional to determine which medication is right for you. Medication can be an effective treatment for glossophobia, but it is important to find the right medication and dosage for you.

There are also many different techniques and self-help resources that can be used to help someone cope with their fear, such as relaxation techniques (like deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, etc.) or visualization. Self-help resources, such as books and online articles, can provide valuable information and support for people who suffer from glossophobia.

Ultimately, the best way to treat glossophobia is to find the method that works best for the individual.

How to Overcome Glossophobia

Overcoming glossophobia is a generic process of overcoming a phobia. For glossophobia, the first step is the acknowledgement that you suffer from it, and the second step is the determination to overcome it. The third step is the action, or the action plan you need to take to overcome your phobia (discussed in detail in the following section). The fourth step is patience. Because overcoming glossophobia is a process, you need to put in time to get over it.

In short, overcoming glossophobia takes time, but it is worth it.

How to Overcome Fear of Public Speaking

Public speaking can be very nerve racking and not many people enjoy to do it.

However there are people who do enjoy public speaking and have learned how to overcome their nerves.

With a little help and some tips that will help you overcome fear, public speaking can be enjoyable.

Here are some helpful tricks and techniques to help you overcome public speaking anxiety:

1. Rationalizing your Fear

One of the causative factor of Glossophobia is the fear of looking and sounding foolish in public. This fear is a basic and natural human response to a threat.

The only way to cope up with this fear is to train the mind to accept the fact that this fear is a normal instinctive emotional response and that everyone faces it in varying degrees.

No one is born with a natural flair of public speaking and not afraid of speaking in public. The thing is that, excellent public speakers have mentally trained themselves to accept this fear and use it to propel themselves to extraordinary heights.

2. Come Prepared

To overcome the fear of public speaking it is very important to come well-prepared for a speech. Knowing your topic well is the key to be confident.

3. Learn to Relax: Breathe In, Breathe Out

Use breathing techniques to keep calm before starting the speech (three deep breaths and mentally count to 10). Speak in slow measured breathes when speaking.

Understanding your audience is also important. For example, if your audience is mostly primary school children, you should keep your sentences short and your language simple.

4. Practice Makes Perfect

Before speaking in front of a large audience, practice in your home in front of a mirror. Once the initially folly is overcome, try practicing in front of your close friend (or a small group of close friends) and your family. This practice helps in boosting self-confidence.

5. Find a Reason to Just Do It... Again and Again

Excellent public speakers do not become excellent by giving one speech - confidence comes by giving many speeches.

Find opportunities to practice public speaking. You may seek out an instructor to give you suggestion and to push you to improve yourself when speaking.

It is only by constantly giving speeches will you overcome the fear of public speaking and with time and practice, you will gain the confidence.

  [ ... Keep reading ... ]
Many people learn how to relax properly before they have to give a speech.

Breathing exercises can really help to relax a person. When there are many people listening to a speech it is not surprising that people feel afraid.

Beating the feeling of nerves can help to make a person give a better performance.

It can be extremely nerve racking having to give a public talk. Speaking in front of a crowd can make you feel panicky and sweaty. One technique that will help when it comes to talking in front of a crowd is being prepared.

Always prepare your speech well in advance and practice it until you feel confident. Try to memorize your speech so that you talk with confidence and appear to know what you are talking about.

Try to speak about something that you know really well. Sometimes it cannot be helped and you might find that you have to talk about something you don’t know very well. If this happens then it is best to prepare well in advance and practice thoroughly.

The more you know about a subject, the easier it will be to discuss.

Always prepare your speech first and write exactly what you are going to say. The more you prepare, the more confident you will feel and this will come across to your audience.

If you are standing behind a table then you can keep your notes on larger pieces of paper. However if you are not standing behind a table then you’ll need to put notes on small cards that can fit in the palm of your hand.

Small cards can be used easier than sheets of paper. Also it helps to hide the notes from the audience.

The importance of memorizing your notes can never be underestimated. If you know what you are going to say then you’ll only have to check your notes every so often. Therefore you can maintain eye contact with the audience.

If you find that it is not easy to look out at the audience then try looking just above their heads. Also make sure that you move your eyes around the room so everyone feels as though you are communicating with them.

Sometimes it can help to find a few people with friendly faces and maintain eye contact with them.

When talking try to maintain good posture because this gives the appearance of confidence. Use hand gestures when explaining yourself and discussing important points. Try to speak slowly and not too fast. Remember to allow time to pause when it is needed so you can catch your breath and collect your thoughts.

If you are having real problems talking with confidence then try to build confidence slowly over time. Ask your friends to observe you and listen to you when talking. Try speaking to a smaller group before you progress onto larger groups of people.

As you gain confidence then you can slowly increase the size of the group you talk to. It may also help by joining a drama or poetry group. Groups or societies help people to build confidence so they can speak in public with confidence. Most groups also have exercises that help people to build their confidence when talking in public.

Practice helps to build a person's confidence. Once you have learned your speech then you’ll feel much more at ease speaking. It may help to practice your speech in front of a mirror. As you talk into the mirror then you can observe your body language and change any bad habits.

Some people record themselves speaking then watch it back to help them change any bad habits. It can also help to find a friend who is willing to provide you with constructive criticism.

The most important thing for you to do is relax and not worry about it. Everyone has to start somewhere and everyone experiences nerves. The more relaxed you are, the easier it will be to deliver the speech and the more confident you will appear. Your audience will be more impressed with you if you can relax and speak slowly.

Before you start the talk try to relax and take a few deep breaths. If you feel really nervous then you could always try imagining the audience in their underwear...

   See alsoHow to Build Self-Confidence and Improve Self-Esteem

To conclude ...

The feelings of nervousness you feel before speaking to an audience are completely normal. But you can overcome this fear by repeatedly speaking in front of a group of people. Start off with small groups, as that is likely to be easier, then slowly work up. In no time, you will be presenting and speaking in front of a crowd without any fear at all.


  1. Excellent article on public speaking fear.

  2. Good informative article. Nice tips on overcoming glossophobia. Thanks...

  3. It's important to understand that everyone gets nervous (more or less) before speaking in public. This is normal and nothing to be ashamed of. Accepting it can help to ease some of the anxiety that comes with the fear of public speaking.
    Excellent article here. Thanks for the detailed discussion and strategies.


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