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Fearing public speaking?

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

There is almost no way of getting through the years at school or the workplace without being the centre of attention in some way, shape or form. Delivering a talk, presentation or pitch is part of how many industries operate, and what about the speeches at family events like weddings and gatherings? With some confidence, we can say that it is inevitable that we will stand up and say something to a group of people at some point in our lives. For some, there might be some nerves around it, but for others there is glossophobia.

More likely to be known as a fear of public speaking, glossophobia is the official term for the condition which makes it nearly unbearable to stand up and talk to an audience. Surprisingly, there is research out there which suggests that 75% of people are affected by it, particularly since we live in a time when listening to people speaking, whether in person or through recorded lectures and speeches in front of audiences is incredibly common. But the fear of delivering a speech is still met with some unhelpful advice: imagine the audience naked / remember that you are the BOSS / be a predator and unleash your inner tiger! In truth, there is so much more going on that just prentending that these things will make it easier.

There is also an evolutionary perspective on this phobia. Back when humans were hunter gatherers, the only time we were ever truly being watched, we were the prey to some pretty significant predators. This meant that our amygdala was alerting our brain that we were being watched and that this was a significant threat to us. Bringing it forward to modern day, our amygdala still operates in the same way. It is aware that we are being monitored and therefore send those same signals to our brain. For those with glossophobia, that is when the fear of speaking publicly really kicks in.

From this, it can be said that the natural response to public speaking is to become nervous and have a heightened awareness of the position we are in. But it isn’t the same for everyone. It isn’t a case of everyone understanding “how it feels”. Anxiety around public speaking, which gives way to glossophobia is a departure from feeling uncomfortable that we are being watched and all attention is on us. Here are some of the ways in which those with the phobia are affected:

  • Physical symptoms are very common and are often similar to those experienced by sufferers of other phobias. Muscles can become tense, particularly around the neck and shoulders; the body may begin to shake; intense perspiration; stomach cramping; and a dry mouth are all likely.

  • Verbal symptoms are also common and can often lead to exacerbate the persisting anxiety. Things like long pauses (often symbolising a mind blank), stumbling over words, mis-pronouncing phrases and a quivering voice are signs that the speaker may be suffering from glossophobia.

With glossophobia, there is no doubt that the challenge of delivering a public speech is immense. There is the ongoing feeling that those who are listening are judging the speaker with such scrutiny that a sufferer can be overwhelmed with the anxiety that forms the basis for phobias. But the upshot is that, like other phobias, there is a pathway to move past this fear. oVRcome are continuing their work around utilising exposure therapy and virtual reality to support those with phobias, such as a fear of public speaking, to take control and become less affected by the triggers. Stay tuned for more.


If the content of this article has got you thinking, or you would like to read more about the subject, why not check out this previous article about social anxiety? There are significant parallels between the two that can offer a little more insight into the life of those with glossophobia. Or altnernatively you can take the free test for fear of public speaking.

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