Glossophobia or speech anxiety is the fear of public speaking.

The word glossophobia derives from the Greek glōssa, meaning tongue, and phobos, fear or dread. Some people have this specific phobia, while others may also have broader social phobia or social anxiety disorder.

The aspect of speaking publicly whether it be in front of a group of unknown people, or a close group of friends, is what triggers the anxiety for the speaker.

The speaker may be comfortable if they speak in front of a group of complete strangers, but when it comes to speaking in front of family/friends, their anxiety skyrockets, and vice versa. Some speakers are more comfortable in larger groups, and some are more comfortable speaking to smaller groups.

The concept of Public Speaking Anxiety comes from the student’s fear of embarrassment if they speak in front of different crowds of people. Students have a fear of making mistakes or messing up or just being judged in general by their audience.

Most of the anxiety that students have of speaking publicly stems from a previous experience that ended with them making a mistake or being judged by their audience or their audience not being as interested in the topic as the speaker thought they would be.

Help and relief

Training courses in public speaking and/or organizations such as Australian Rostrum, Toastmasters International, POWERtalk International, and Association of Speakers Clubs can help people to reduce their fear of public speaking to manageable levels.

To temporarily treat their phobia, some affected people have turned to certain types of medications, typically beta-blockers.

Communication Apprehension is the “fear or anxiety about real or anticipated communication

In some cases, anxiety can be mitigated by a speaker not attempting to resist their anxiety, thus fortifying the anxiety/fight-or-flight loop. Other strategies involve using one’s nervousness to enliven an otherwise fearful speech presentation.

A speaker’s anxiety can also be reduced if they know their topic well and believe in it. It has been suggested that people should practice speaking in front of smaller, less intimidating groups when they’re getting started in public speaking. Additionally, focusing on friendly, attentive people in the audience has been found to help.

Traditional advice has been to urge fearful speakers not to take themselves too seriously, and to be reminded that mistakes are often unnoticed by audiences. Gaining experience in public speaking often results in it becoming less anxiety-provoking over time.

Recent studies suggest that there is a close link between fear of public speaking and self-efficacy and that attempts to help presenters improve their self-efficacy will also reduce this fear.

Loosening up a “tough crowd” by asking questions promotes audience participation. A speaker may also find this exercise to be helpful when their mind “goes blank”, as it gives them time to regain their train of thought.

New treatments for glossophobia are starting to emerge through the medium of Virtual reality where environments with sufficient realism can evoke a response in the user allowing for a virtual form of exposure therapy known as VRET these self-administered treatments have been shown to be effective, but it is a relatively new field and more research is needed.

Causes and symptoms

The causes and symptoms of glossophobia can be linked in some ways. If there has been a prior event or circumstance that led to the speaker having a fear of speaking in front of a group of people, then that is what will constantly be on repeat in their head.

Which will then lead to them going blank during their speech, shaking, stumbling over words, and remaining dependent on note cards so they do not have to make eye contact with their audience.

In addition, other key causes of this anxiety have been identified as the novelty of the experience, the characteristics of the audience, the illusion of transparency and the degree to which the speaker identifies public speaking as a performance as opposed to an act of communication.

Symptoms include: shaking, sweating, butterflies in the stomach, dry mouth, and rapid heartbeats.

The more specific symptoms of speech anxiety can be grouped into three categories: physical, verbal, and non-verbal. Physical symptoms result from the sympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) responding to the situation with a “fight-or-flight” reaction.

During the phobic response, adrenaline secretion produces a wide array of symptoms which enhances the “fight or flight” response.

As Garcia-Lopez (2013) has noted, symptoms can include acute hearing, increased heart rate, and blood pressure, dilated pupils, increased perspiration and oxygen intake, stiffening of neck/upper back muscles, and dry mouth. Uncontrollable shaking is also common and often occurs prior to the phobia-eliciting stimulus. Symptoms may sometimes be alleviated or mitigated by medications such as beta-blockers.

Verbal symptoms of the fight or flight response include (but are not limited to) a tense or quivering voice, and vocalized pauses (which tend to comfort anxious speakers). One form of speech anxiety is dysfunctional speech anxiety in which the intensity of the fight-or-flight response prevents an individual from performing effectively.

*This article uses material from the Wikipedia article Glossophobia, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License 3.0 (view authors).