What Is Glossophobia?

The Fear of Public Speaking

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, is the most commonly held situational fear among people. Public speaking causes feelings of anxiety in roughly 77% of the general population, and it can sometimes hinder a person's day-to-day life. This is especially true when it comes to school- or work-related situations that involve speaking in front of others.

Read on to learn more about glossophobia and healthy ways to cope with this fear.

Public speaking

Mikolette / Getty Images

Definition

"Glossophobia" is the official term used to define a fear of public speaking. It may sometimes also be referred to as public speaking anxiety.

Phobias are categorized into one of three categories:

  • Specific phobia: A fear related to a specific object, like spiders or confined spaces, or a situation, such as flying.
  • Social phobia: A fear that involves a significant and persistent feeling of social anxiety or performance-based anxiety.
  • Agoraphobia: A fear of situations or places that may cause feelings of anxiety, panic, helplessness, or embarrassment. This term is most often used to describe a fear of crowded spaces.

Glossophobia is a social phobia that causes more intense feelings than are normal to experience when it comes to public speaking. Instead of just butterflies in their stomach, those with glossophobia can feel extreme distress in situations that involve speaking in public, interacting with new people, or talking in a group.

Symptoms

People with glossophobia may experience a variety of symptoms depending on the severity of their condition. They may only experience a fear surrounding performance and public speaking, but it is possible they will also have other social anxieties.

Symptoms of glossophobia typically include:

  • A significant fear or dread of public speaking
  • Avoidance of situations that require speaking publicly, either formally in front of an audience or informally via small talk

Those with glossophobia may have other symptoms of social phobia, as well. These may occur before, during, or after a social situation.

Symptoms may include:

  • Avoidance of group conversations
  • Avoidance of parties
  • Avoidance of eating with others
  • Worrying about activities like speaking on the phone or in work meetings
  • Worrying about doing something embarrassing
  • Worrying about blushing or sweating
  • Difficulty doing tasks with others watching
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Worrying about being criticized or judged

Those with social phobia are more likely to experience anxiety and depression than the general public.

As with many phobias, glossophobia may also cause a variety of physical symptoms. Panic attacks are also possible and may lead to increased heart rate, chest pain or tightness, and trembling. Other symptoms include:

  • Hot flushes
  • Chills
  • Sweats
  • Feelings of choking
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling light-headed or faint
  • Numbness
  • Feelings of pins and needles
  • An urgency to go the bathroom
  • Ringing sound in the ears
  • Upset stomach
  • Confusion
  • Feeling disorientated

Causes

A fear of public speaking often begins in adolescence. Social phobias like glossophobia can be caused by a range of factors.

Biological Factors

Glossophobia may be due in part to genetics. Genetics can determine how the brain regulates feelings of anxiety, stress, nervousness, and shyness.

Some people may be born naturally shy, and find social situations difficult to navigate. Most people who have a social phobia have had a shy temperament their whole life.

Learned Behavior

A fear of public speaking can develop after learning the fear from a role model. A child with shy parents who avoid social interactions or speaking in public may be influenced to have the same fear.

A child who witnesses such avoidance may grow up to think speaking in public or socializing with others is upsetting and to be avoided.

Likewise, if a parent overprotects a child who is shy, the child won't have opportunities to become used to situations that involve new people or speaking in public. This can result in a social phobia like glossophobia later in life.

Past Experiences

A life event or past experience that is stressful or upsetting can cause people to associate negative emotions with situations that involve public speaking or interacting with others.

If someone has been criticized or feels humiliated, they may develop a social phobia. If a person is pressured into interacting in a way they are not comfortable with, they may also develop a social phobia.

Those who are bullied are more likely to hide away from others and be afraid of opening themselves up to more criticism by speaking in public.

Diagnosis

Since the fear of public speaking is a social phobia, it is typically diagnosed as a nongeneralized type of social anxiety disorder. Recent studies show that the fear of public speaking is a common feature of social anxiety disorder, but it may also be present without other signs of social anxiety.

For a person to be diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, a mental health professional will perform a psychological evaluation using criteria in the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

You may also undergo a physical exam or lab tests to look for any irregularities in physical health, which will often check a person's hormone, vitamin, and blood levels.

Treatment

Treating social phobias like glossophobia can be complex, and it may require a number of approaches. Psychological interventions like therapy are known to be effective in the treatment of fear of public speaking.

Treating social phobias involves talk therapies. These include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: Also referred to as CBT, this type of psychotherapy (talk therapy) is used to change unhealthy behaviors, particularly those that are related to anxiety, trauma, and depression.
  • Exposure therapy: This type of therapy can help a person overcome their avoidance of a certain object or situation by gradually exposing them to their phobia.

Typically, medication is not used in the treatment of phobias. However, a physician may prescribe medication for people experiencing significant symptoms of anxiety.

These may include:

  • Beta blockers
  • Tranquilizers
  • Antidepressants

Coping

Dealing with a fear of public speaking isn't easy. Many people feel nervous if they have to deliver a speech in front of an audience, but there are ways to cope.

The American Psychological Association suggests the following tips to cope with nerves when speaking in public:

  • Begin your speech or presentation with a discussion question: This gets the audience involved and talking and takes pressure off you for a while.
  • Recognize where your anxious feelings are coming from: Nervousness can be due to excitement. Remember that even if you feel nervous, you can still speak in public without failing.
  • If giving a presentation, remember it's about the topic: The people you are speaking to are focusing less on you personally and more on what you're saying.
  • Try to make eye contact: You may find that making eye contact with the individuals in the group you are addressing allows you to interact with them, and they may nod or smile as you speak, which can help boost your confidence.
  • If giving a formal presentation, rehearse a lot beforehand: It may help to rehearse in the actual space you will be giving a speech. Practicing in front of a group beforehand may help calm your nerves.
  • Experiment with different strategies to calm your nerves: Find out what works for you and then prepare in the same way every time you need to speak in public.

Summary

The fear of public speaking is a social phobia and may be caused by a number of factors, including genetics, learned behavior, and past experiences. It is the most commonly held fear, and people with glossophobia may experience anxiety surrounding either interaction with others, performing in public, or a combination of both. Treatment involving psychotherapy techniques is likely to have the best outcome on improving irrational fears related to public speaking.

A Word From Verywell

Having a fear of public speaking can be difficult, but if you have this fear, you are not alone. If glossophobia is interfering with your daily life and causing you to avoid situations, it may be worth seeking professional help. Making an appointment with a healthcare provider, especially one who specializes in mental health, is a positive step toward addressing and overcoming your fear.

Was this page helpful?
10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. King University. Glossophobia Be Gone: 5 Simple Methods to Curb Speech Anxiety. Updated May 16, 2017.
  2. Heeren A, Ceschi G, Valentiner DP, Dethier V, Philippot P. Assessing public speaking fear with the short form of the Personal Report of Confidence as a Speaker scale: confirmatory factor analyses among a French-speaking community sample. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2013;9:609-18. doi:10.2147%2FNDT.S43097

  3. American Psychological Association. Specific phobia.

  4. American Psychological Association. Social Phobia.

  5. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Social Phobia.
  6. Ebrahimi OV, Pallesen S, Kenter RMF, Nordgreen T. Psychological Interventions for the Fear of Public Speaking: A Meta-Analysis. Front Psychol. 2019;10:488. Published 2019 Mar 15.

  7. NHS. Social anxiety (social phobia). Updated March 13, 2020.

  8. NHS. Symptoms - phobias. Updated 26 October 2018.

  9. NHS. Overview - Phobias. Updated 26 October 2018.

  10. American Psychological Association. How to keep fear of public speaking at bay. Updated February 2017.