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What is Glossophobia? Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment for the Fear of Public Speaking

For many of us, public speaking is dreaded and avoided. Whether they’re college presentations, work conferences or speeches at weddings, speaking in front of an audience puts us on the spot.

These are challenges, but they can also be opportunities: an opportunity to advance your career or share treasured memories at an important social event. While we might fear failure and embarrassment, there’s also the chance to enrich our lives and the lives of those around us.

If the thought of speaking in public makes your mouth dry, or you break out in a cold sweat, you might avoid these opportunities like the plague. You might miss out on chances to build your social and professional network, and as one component of a wider anxiety disorder, this fear can impact life daily.

But the fear of public speaking is not final: it can be challenged, treated and overcome. Let’s cast a light on glossophobia to discover its symptoms, causes, and finally the steps you can take to claim back your voice.

What is Glossophobia?

Glossophobia is the medical term for public speaking anxiety or PSA. While anxiety around public speaking is common, affecting up to 75% of the population, for a common anxiety to become a phobia it must be characterized by intense and irrational fear.

Public speaking anxiety is defined as a social anxiety disorder in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; American Psychiatric Association) and affects around 15 - 30% of the population [1]. For many people with public speaking anxiety, it impacts their daily life — holding them back in work, education and even infiltrating social environments with large groups of peers.

Glossophobia Symptoms

Almost everyone can relate to glossophobia or a fear of public speaking. Up on stage, with all eyes on you and a bright spotlight causing beads of sweat on your forehead, you feel exposed: out in the open, no escape, and on show.

It’s important to recognize that this is a common experience — in fact, almost every audience member likely feels the same thing to some degree! This commonality can also be used to disguise the seriousness of your phobia too: instead of seeking help, you tell yourself it’s normal, and that there’s no need to face your fears.

So let’s look at the symptoms of glossophobia, which can be both physical and psychological. Knowing these helps you understand when it’s time to take action.

Physical Symptoms:

  • Sweating: Excessive sweating, particularly on the palms and forehead.

  • Shaking: Noticeable trembling or shaking of the hands and body.

  • Dry Mouth: Feeling of dryness in the mouth and throat.

  • Rapid Heartbeat: Increased heart rate and palpitations.

  • Shortness of Breath: Difficulty in breathing normally.

  • Nausea: Feeling sick to the stomach or experiencing gastrointestinal discomfort.

Psychological Symptoms:

  • Intense Anxiety: Overwhelming fear or panic before and during speaking engagements.

  • Avoidance Behavior: Going to great lengths to avoid situations where public speaking is required.

  • Negative Thoughts: Persistent negative thoughts about one's ability to speak in public.

  • Loss of Focus: Difficulty concentrating and staying focused during a speech or presentation.

  • Self-doubt: Lack of confidence and belief in one's ability to speak effectively.

These symptoms can significantly impact your personal and professional life, leading to missed opportunities, compounding anxiety and a loss of confidence.

What Causes Glossophobia?

So what causes glossophobia, and why are some 75% of the population anxious about public speaking? These are two different questions: PSA is common because public speaking makes us feel exposed; but why does a common fear turn into an anxiety disorder for some people? Let’s take a look at the causes of public speaking anxiety.

Genetic Predisposition: Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to anxiety disorders, including glossophobia. Family history can play a role in the likelihood of developing this condition.

Negative Experiences: Traumatic experiences related to public speaking, such as embarrassing incidents or severe criticism, can trigger glossophobia. An unkind teacher at school or a fumbled wedding speech can create a lasting impact and reinforce the fear of public speaking.

Lack of Experience: Inexperience or lack of practice in public speaking can turn a common anxiety into a true phobia. Without regular exposure to speaking opportunities, you might feel increasingly anxious when faced with such situations. 

Personality Traits: Certain personality traits, such as introversion or perfectionism, can make individuals more susceptible to glossophobia. Introverted individuals may feel more anxious in social situations, while perfectionists may fear making mistakes.

Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking

Even when a fear of public speaking feels insurmountable, there’s hope. Phobias affect the way we think, leading to irrational thought patterns and fears compounding on anxiety. But facing these fears gradually through exposure, and challenging unhealthy ways of thinking through therapy can unravel your fear.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a widely used therapeutic approach that helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors. Through CBT, individuals can learn to challenge irrational fears and develop healthier coping mechanisms.

Exposure Therapy: Gradual exposure to public speaking situations can desensitize individuals to their fear. Starting with small, manageable speaking tasks and gradually progressing to larger audiences can help build confidence and reduce anxiety.

oVRcome’s Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy: Our innovative app-based program combines cognitive behavioral therapy with approachable virtual reality exposure, allowing you to face your fears from the comfort and safety of your own home. Our programs are clinically proven to provide long-lasting results [2]. 

Relaxation Techniques: Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation, can help calm the mind and body before and during public speaking engagements.

Public Speaking Courses: Enrolling in public speaking courses or joining groups such as Toastmasters can provide valuable practice and feedback. These courses offer a supportive environment to develop speaking skills and gain confidence, and form the perfect next step after virtual reality exposure therapy.

Medication: In some cases, medication may be prescribed to manage severe anxiety symptoms. Beta-blockers such as propranolol [3] can help control physical symptoms of anxiety, making it easier to confront a stressful situation. While medication can help you gain experience of and exposure to public speaking, it alone doesn’t tackle the root cause of your fears.

Living with Glossophobia: Preparing for Public Speaking

In addition to treatment programs, there are many small steps you can take to feel more prepared when you have a speech, presentation or public event.

  • Preparation is Key: Thoroughly preparing for a speech or presentation can boost confidence and reduce anxiety. Practicing multiple times and familiarizing oneself with the material can make a big difference.

  • Focus on the Message, Not the Audience: Shifting focus from the fear of judgment to the importance of the message can help alleviate anxiety. Remember that the audience is interested in what you have to say.

  • Celebrate Small Wins: Acknowledge and celebrate small achievements in public speaking. Each successful speaking experience builds confidence and reduces fear.

Facing your fear of public speaking in a manageable way — through virtual reality exposure or small, well-practised speeches — can gradually strip public speaking of its power.

Wrapping Up

Whether it’s called glossophobia, fear of public speaking or public speaking anxiety, it’s something most people experience at some time in their lives. But challenging this common fear can give you more confidence, at work, school or when you’re called up as best man at a wedding. If the thought of that tap on the shoulder sends a shiver down your spine, then oVRcome’s fear of public speaking program could help you. Take our free test today to find out.


1. Pull CB. Current status of knowledge on public-speaking anxiety. Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2012 Jan;25(1):32-8. doi: 10.1097/YCO.0b013e32834e06dc. PMID: 22156935.

2. Lacey, C., Frampton, C., & Beaglehole, B. (2022). OVRcome – Self-guided virtual reality for specific phobias: A randomised controlled trial. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.

3. Szeleszczuk Ł, Frączkowski D. Propranolol versus Other Selected Drugs in the Treatment of Various Types of Anxiety or Stress, with Particular Reference to Stage Fright and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Int J Mol Sci. 2022 Sep 3;23(17):10099. doi: 10.3390/ijms231710099. PMID: 36077489; PMCID: PMC9456064.

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