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Glossophobia: Fear of public speaking - Causes, Symptoms and How to Overcome it

Glossophobia: Fear of public speaking

Glossophobia (or speech anxiety) is the fear of public speaking or of speaking in general. Glossophobia is one type of mental health disorder called social phobia.


Social phobic symptoms are very specific and therefore the same as a fear of public speaking, but not all of them are experienced by every patient. These will all show a persistent and continuing experience of the fear of performing in front of others or making a presentation where the fear of embarrassment may happen.

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.

There are many possible causes for fear of public speaking, but some of them appear to result from bad experiences, possibly during childhood, such as bullying, parental rejection or teasing. Many a time teenagers may become shy as they get older or even socially restrained.

Generally speaking, fear of public speaking starts in the later teenage years and continues on into adulthood. The person can suffer from the inability to perform or make presentations in front of others and therefore not experience normal situations whereby they can assess others reactions towards them.

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 patient 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

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.

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 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.

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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

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.

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 persons 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 also : How to Build Self-Confidence and Improve Self-Esteem


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