Public Speaking Phobia: Who It Affects and How to Beat It

By: Suzanne Feinstein, PhD

If you have a fear of public speaking, you aren’t alone. According to a 2024 Gitnux Market Data Report, 77% of people deal with this common fear called Glossophobia.

People with this type of phobia may avoid speaking in public situations altogether or suffer through speaking situations with severe anxiety. These intense feelings aren’t exclusive to large audiences.

Sufferers might experience similar feelings in smaller groups or in more intimate situations. The good news is there is help and support available.

Here’s a guide to overcoming the fear of public speaking.

What Does Glossophobia Feel Like?

When some people have to speak in front of others, they experience intense feelings associated with the body’s fight-or-flight response. This is your body’s way of protecting you from a perceived threat.

When this occurs, the brain instigates the release of adrenalin and stress hormones. Your blood sugar, blood pressure and heart rate may begin to rise, sending a rush of adrenaline through your bloodstream.

Symptoms of the fight-or-flight response include:

  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hyperventilating
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle tension
  • Dizziness
  • Urge to get away

Causes of Public Speaking Phobia

Although the fight-or-flight response once kept people safe from wild animals or enemy attacks, it’s not quite as effective in a public setting. Understanding the root of your phobia can help you begin to manage it.

Often, people with a fear of public speaking worry about being judged, rejected, or embarrassed. They may remember an unpleasant or scary experience when they had to speak before an audience.

This trigger can affect them anytime they have to speak in a public setting. Social phobias like Glossophobia can run in families, although the science behind this isn’t completely understood.

Diagnosing Public Speaking Anxiety

Public speaking phobia is classified as a social anxiety disorder. It causes symptoms such as panic attacks and intense distress. Although it’s normal to feel nervous in certain social situations, people with Glossophobia may have extreme symptoms that affect their quality of life.

This type of phobia can interfere with someone’s ability to thrive in school, at work, or in social situations. It can hold them back from job opportunities, trying new things, or simply enjoying their life.

A licensed therapist or psychologist can diagnose public speaking anxiety and develop an individualized plan of treatment.

Therapy for Public Speaking Phobia

If the fear of public speaking interferes with your life, you should consult a mental health professional. There are targeted treatment plans that can help you manage Glossophobia.

Psychotherapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is effective for many people with Glossophobia. A therapist can often help individuals understand the root of their anxiety.

For example, if you worry about others criticizing you, it may stem from being mocked as a child. Working with a therapist can help you explore any fears or negative thoughts that contribute to your fear of public speaking.

A therapist can work with you to help reshape your negative thoughts and lessen these overwhelming fears.

Some examples of public speaking phobia may include:

  • Thinking you can’t make a mistake
  • Thinking others will criticize you
  • Thinking others will view you as incompetent or stupid

Therapy can help you understand that everyone makes mistakes and it’s okay if you’re not perfect. Most people aren’t aware if you make a mistake or leave something out of a presentation.

You will learn that most people want you to do well and succeed. Reminding yourself of this can help you relax and remember that what you have to say is relevant.

After identifying your fears, it helps to practice speaking before small supportive groups. This can help you build confidence to speak in front of larger audiences.

Medications

For some people, the combination of therapy and medication is optimal in relieving the fear of public speaking. In these cases, a prescribing doctor may choose a specific medication to target public speaking anxiety.

Beta-blockers, often prescribed for high blood pressure or heart issues, can be effective in treating the physical symptoms of Glossophobia. Benzodiazepines are another class of medication that may be prescribed.

Doctors may also prescribe antidepressants and anxiolytics if the social anxiety affects your everyday life.

Tips for Navigating Public Speaking Situations

There are things you can do on your own to make public speaking situations easier to manage. Some tips include:

Know Your Material

It’s not necessary to memorize a presentation, but you should be familiar with what you plan to present. You may want to have an outline of the key points you plan to make.

Spend some extra time focusing on your introduction. This can help you start your presentation with less anxiety and more confidence.

Script the Presentation

Writing out or typing your presentation can help you feel more confident about what you have to present. Rehearse it until you know it. Then, throw the script away.

Practice Often

Practice your presentation in front of a friend or small group. The more you practice, the more your confidence will grow. This can help you feel more confident about future presentations too.

Video Yourself Speaking

If you want to see how you look as you speak before others, videotape yourself speaking. It’s a great way to see whether you’re looking at the audience, fidgeting, or talking too fast. These are things you can work on and improve for future public speaking situations.

Include the Audience

One way to make any speech better is to involve the audience in some way. Jot down questions you may want to ask your audience and questions you can anticipate from them.

Whenever appropriate, involve your audience to keep their attention and make your presentation more authentic to your audience.

Conquering the Fear of Public Speaking

If the thought of speaking in front of a crowd seems terrifying, you’re not alone. Public speaking phobia is a common problem that many people face each day. The good news is that it’s treatable.

Treatment typically begins with identifying the root cause of the problem and working with a mental health professional to determine the best treatment plan for you.

Dr. Suzanne Feinstein is a clinical psychologist who uses a variety of evidence-based treatments to help people transform their lives. If you’re ready to change your life for the better, schedule a free 15 minute consultation with Dr. Feinstein today.

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