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What is glossophobia?
Glossophobia isn’t a dangerous disease or chronic condition. It’s the medical term for the fear of public speaking. And it affects as many as four out of ten Americans.
For those affected, speaking in front of a group can trigger feelings of discomfort and anxiety. With this can come uncontrollable trembling, sweating, and a racing heartbeat. You may also have an overwhelming urge to run out of the room or away from the situation that is causing you stress.
Glossophobia is a social phobia, or social anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders go beyond occasional worrying or nervousness. They cause strong fears that are out of proportion to what you’re experiencing or thinking about.
Glossophobia is the technical term given to a severe fear of public speaking. People who suffer from glossophobia tend to freeze in front of any audience, even a couple of people. They find their mouth dries up, their voice is weak and their body starts shaking. They may even sweat, go red and feel their heart thumping rapidly.
If you suffer from glossophobia you shy away from any opportunity to speak in public. Your symptoms are usually so severe you get terribly embarrassed and fearful of any public speaking.
Do you know that glossophobia is one of the most common phobias? As many as 75% people have glossophobia. Statistically, far more of us claim that we would prefer death to giving a speech.
Glossophobia can exhibit itself in many ways, including:
- Actors, actresses and musicians finding shows and concerts extremely difficult
- Businesspeople having a fear of making presentations
- The fear of making speeches at weddings
- The fear in anticipation of a public speaking event
- The avoidance of situations that might include public speaking
- Pilots and cabin crew feeling intensely uncomfortable having to make announcements to passengers during a flight
- Stuttering or stammering in public speaking situations
Symptoms of glossophobia, also known as speech anxiety, include:
- intense anxiety prior to, or simply at the thought of having to verbally communicate with any group,
- avoidance of events which focus the group’s attention on individuals in attendance,
- Physical distress, nausea, or feelings of panic in such circumstances.
When faced with having to give a presentation, many people experience the classic fight-or-flight response. This is the body’s way of preparing to defend itself against perceived threats.
When threatened, your brain prompts the release of adrenaline and steroids. This causes your blood sugar levels, or energy levels, to increase. And your blood pressure and heart rate rise, sending more blood flow to your muscles.
Common symptoms of fight-or-flight include:
- rapid heartbeat
- nausea or vomiting
- shortness of breath or hyperventilating
- muscle tension
- urge to get away
How is glossophobia treated?
If your fear of public speaking is severe or interfering with your everyday life, consult your doctor. They can work with you to develop a targeted treatment plan. Options for treatment plans include:
Many people are able to overcome their glossophobia with cognitive behavioral therapy. Working with a therapist can help you identify the root cause of your anxiety. For example, you may discover that you fear ridicule, rather than speaking, because you were mocked as a child.
Together, you and your therapist will explore your fears and the negative thoughts that go with them. Your therapist can teach you ways to reshape any negative thoughts.
Examples of this might include:
- Instead of thinking “I can’t make any mistakes,” accept that all people make mistakes or have omissions when presenting. It’s okay. Most of the time the audience isn’t aware of them.
- Instead of “Everyone will think I’m incompetent,” focus on the fact that the audience wants you to succeed. Then remind yourself that your prepared material is great and that you know it well.
Once you’ve identified your fears, practice presenting to small, supportive groups. As your confidence grows, built up to larger audiences.
If therapy doesn’t relieve your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe one of several medications used to treat anxiety disorders.
Beta-blockers are usually used to treat high blood pressure and some heart disorders. They also can be helpful in controlling the physical symptoms of glossophobia.
Antidepressants are used to treat depression, but they also can be effective in controlling social anxiety.
Here are some other tips to help you navigate public speaking situations:
- Know your material. This doesn’t mean you should memorize your presentation, but you should know what you want to say and have an outline of the key points. Give special focus to the introduction, because this is when you are likely to be most nervous.
- Script your presentation.And rehearse it until you have it down cold. Then throw away the script.
- Practice often.You should continue practicing until you’re comfortable with what you’re going to say. Then practice more. Your confidence will increase as you realize that you know what you’re going to say.
- Videotape your presentation. You can note if changes are needed. And you may be pleasantly surprised at how authoritative you look and sound.
- Work audience questions into your routine.Jot down a list of questions you might be asked and be prepared to answer them. When appropriate, plan to involve the audience in your presentation by asking questions.
Don’t be afraid of the sounds of silence. When you momentarily lose track of what you are saying, you may feel nervous and feel that you have been silent forever. But it’s probably no longer than a few seconds, so simply take a few slow, deep breaths and proceed. Remind yourself that even if the moment of silence was longer than a moment, that’s okay, too. Your audience probably figured that the pause was planned and they won’t mind a bit.