Where does a fear of public speaking come from?
Updated: Sep 7
At one point or another, most of us have had to stand up, face the crowd and speak publicly. Whether it be delivering your High School English speech, presenting an idea at work or congratulating a friend on a job well done, these situations seem to follow us throughout our lives. While for some the idea of public speaking causes little more than a faint flutter of nerves, for others the fear is very real and intense, sparking a debilitating freeze response, or avoidance of the situation all together.
So what actually is a fear of public speaking all about? The fear of public speaking, or Glossophobia as it is also known, is characterised by an intense fear or anxiety of having to communicate in public with others, or being put in a situation where this could potentially arise. Being able to communicate your ideas clearly and effectively can be such an important part of the road to success in many aspects in life. It can help you to promote ideas, advance in your career or encourage others to take a certain view or action on a topic. However, if suffering from glossophobia, this fear may prevent you from speaking up in a meeting to pitch your idea, present your solution to a particular problem or take a risk to share your viewpoint and stand out from the crowd. So how does this fear arise, and why do people suffer from it?
1. Previous bad experiences
Ever been in the situation growing up where you try to impress your friends by doing a cool trick on your skateboard, scooter or bike and it goes horribly wrong? Nobody gets hurt, but you feel embarrassed, a little humiliated, and overall far less inclined to try the trick again in a hurry. The same result can occur from a bad previous public speaking experience. This can originate from a number of different situations. Maybe you tried to speak up when you were young and felt you weren’t heard, or maybe you were trying to communicate an idea and felt you weren’t understood or had your idea laughed at. Fear is often generated as our bodies’ response to try and protect ourselves from risky situations – including ones that cause us both physical and/ or mental harm. If we have a bad experience, no matter what it may be, it’s only natural that we then try to avoid putting ourselves in that situation again. However, the longer we avoid such circumstances, the more fear we can generate around the act or performance itself too.
2. Negative thoughts around performance
What we think and believe about ourselves can have a huge impact on the way we present and perform in front of others. Positive self-confidence can make a performance, just in the same way that self-doubt and anxiety over one’s own ability can hinder it. People who are predisposed to feelings of anxiety may often find public speaking more challenging and try to avoid it where possible. This fear, physiological and psychological in the way it presents, may even kick in before the actual event, with an individual becoming stressed over the preparation and anticipation of being put in such a situation. In some cases, people suffering from anxiety or glossophobia, may even become anxious about the anxiety that they expect to experience from their upcoming performance – which further creates more fear around their already challenging communication situation.
3. Changing our internal narrative
Feeding into this anxiety can be negative views or thoughts of one’s own ability to communicate publicly as a speaker. Thoughts such as “I’m not good at public speaking” or “I can’t speak in front of an audience” feed into that anxiety and fear around pitching your idea or opinion in front of a crowd. Public speaking becomes viewed as something that you need to have a special skill for, and that in undertaking such a performance you are subjecting yourself to the judgement of your audience who all seem to be evaluating your ability based on your presentation. This thought pattern, especially if not confident around public speaking, can inhibit your communication, continuing the feedback loop of fear and anxiety as it relates back to such experiences. One way we can look to break this cycle is through changing those negative thoughts to more positive ones. If we consider the thought that any conversation or discussion had in the presence of another person might also be considered as ‘public speaking’ then we can make way for a new appreciation of our own abilities and performance. This change in thought can be helpful in offering more confidence to the speaker as it shifts the focus to the understanding and providing evidence for the fact that we can effectively be heard and understood, furthermore reducing the element of fear.
Feeling a little too relatable or certain that you too have a fear of public speaking? Take the free fear of public speaking test.