The fear of public speaking is known as glossophobia. It comes from the Greek word γλῶσσα glōssa, meaning tongue, and φόβος Phobos, meaning fear or dread.
You may know of someone who can’t seem to stop talking when he is engaged in lively discussions with friends, but freezes up when asked to speak in public.
Based on a survey conducted by Chapman University Survey on American Fears, 25% percent of Americans are terrified of public speaking. In comparison, less than 15% of them have a fear of flying or aerophobia.
So why do people fear speaking in public, and what are the signs or symptoms exhibited by persons suffering from this condition?
Signs and Symptoms of Glossophobia
- Persons who suffer from glossophobia exhibit the following signs and symptoms:
- Sudden increase in blood pressure
- Increased sweating or perspiration
- Dry mouth and shortness of breath
- Hardening of the back or shoulder muscles
- Feeling of sickness or panic when confronted with speaking in public
- Increase heart rate or even palpitation
- The feeling of dizziness and nausea
- A deep feeling of anxiety with the thought of having to speak in front of a group
Causes and Common Triggers of Glossophobia
Below are some of the causes and common triggers of glossophobia:
- Prior bad experience in public speaking which made a lasting impression on one’s mind. Or learned it from someone close to him or her that speaking in public is unpleasant or dangerous.
- The thought of giving a speech or presentation makes one to experience anxiety, even losing sleep and appetite.
- The thought of the audience criticizing him or her.
- Fear of looking very nervous in front of the audience.
- Fear of brain freeze, or going blank and not know what to say.
- Belief that he or she lacks the talent as a public speaker.
- Fear of appearing very nervous, like a shaky voice, dry mouth or other physical reaction.
Treatments of Glossophobia
Unless a person that has a glossophobia plans to enter a career where public speaking is crucial to his or her growth, such as a politician, a teacher, a coach, or other similar careers, there is no compelling reason to seek treatment. Unlike other phobias where one could be confronted with his or her fear daily (fear of birds, strangers, etc.), public speaking seldom comes in everyday life.
But in case treatment is needed, here are the known treatments for persons suffering most types of phobia, including glossophobia:
For most phobias, exposure therapy is said to be the most successful. There are several studies conducted about treatments of phobias using imaginal exposure. Based on the same studies, 90% of subjected to the treatment exhibited a considerable fear reduction. And around 65% no longer experienced any symptoms of their phobias.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
This is another form of treatment for persons with phobias. It is a psycho-social intervention that aims to improve mental health. What it does is it helps the patient to challenge or change their thoughts or beliefs in addressing their problems. This treatment was originally meant to treat depression, but has since been expanded to treat other conditions including anxiety, which is common and exhibited by most or all phobic people.
Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT)
In this type of therapy, the patient is given a simulated experience using computer programs and artificially created environments. They use Virtual Reality gadgets to provide the patient a controlled stimuli as part of the treatment. They then monitor the patient’s reaction. It’s a series of VR-based treatment where it involves adjusting the virtual environment. Sometimes smell or adding vibrations allow the clinician to determine the level of the patient's reaction to the stimuli. Replaying virtual scenes multiple times with or without adjustment depending on the patient's reaction.
Once the person has successfully conquered his fear of public speaking, it may further help him by joining a group where he can hone his skill in speaking.
Societal and Cultural Impact of Glossophobia
Having a glossophobia limits a person’s career growth opportunities. There are cases where a person will turn down a promotion if it would involve speaking in front of an audience. Or they may avoid social events where they may be expected to give a speech. This could also affect your personal relationships. Imagine turning down to be the best man at your best friend’s wedding simply because you are terrified to give a small speech.
How Common Is Glossophobia?
Glossophobia is one of the most common phobias in the world. In the USA, around 25% claimed to have a fear of public speaking. While there is no available data for other countries, it may be safe to assume that the figures may not be far off. After all, fear of public speaking seems to be universal, across all societies and cultures.
What Should You Do If You Have Glossophobia?
As with any type of phobia, the best thing to do is seek medical or professional help. Psychotherapy is one way to help you, as the psychotherapist will find out the root cause of your fear. Joining online support groups related to your phobia may also help, as you will be able to find other people that are experiencing the same fears as you.
If your fear of public speaking is your perceived lack of skill or expertise in a particular topic, practice could be your best bet. You must be able to overcome your fear, with the treatments that we have discussed above. Once that’s done, you may want to join groups such as Toastmasters where you can slowly build your confidence and learn the skills of effective public speakers.
Most people don’t want to embarrass themselves in front of an audience. That’s why public speaking is one of the most dreaded things a normal person fears. But with all fears or phobias, it can be overcome with help from professionals. Emotional support from friends and loved ones will also help us get through it.