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How to Overcome Your Public Speaking Phobia

written by: N Nayab • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 5/24/2011

Overcoming public speaking phobia requires a good understanding of the underlying causes and symptoms, and making a determined effort to take control of one’s lifestyle. Read on to find out the causes and symptoms of public speaking phobia, and the various approaches towards its cure.

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    Public Speaking Phobia A phobia is a fear out of proportion to the danger. Glossophobia, or fear of public speaking is an excessive and unwarranted fear of speaking in front of an audience to the extent that the fear interferes with one’s life and influences one’s action and choices.

    Glossophobia is not mere anxiety or discomfort that occurs when speaking in public. An estimated 95 percent of all speakers, which includes politicians and other orators who make public speeches as a matter of routine, experience some degree of anxiety or nervousness when speaking in front of an audience. But most of them cope with such occasions even if they do not enjoy them. People with public speaking phobia however tend to develop many adverse symptoms, and as such they avoid situations where they have to speak in public. This impedes the person’s social mobility, and their ability to further academic or career opportunities. They can become lonely and develop poor self-esteem, which can bring on depression.

    Image Credit: flickr.com/Jonny Goldstein

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    Symptoms

    People suffering from public speaking phobia suffer from stage fright or intense anxiety before making the speech. This manifests itself in

    • physical symptoms such as trembling or shaking, cold clammy hands, shaky voice, rapid heartbeat, increased blood pressure, sweating, blushing, dizziness, shortness of breath, digestive discomfort, dry mouth, nausea, panic attacks and the like. Such physical symptoms are a result of the autonomic nervous system of the body responding to the situation by a “flight" or “fight" plan as a response to the stress.
    • verbal symptoms such as tense voice, quivering voice, repetition of vocalized pauses such as “Umm" and “Ahh" and the like.

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    Causes

    Research has given broad indications, but has not yet established the specific cause of public speaking phobia.

    One major cause for public speaking phobia is psychological. Most people develop the phobia owing to negative experiences or fear of unfavorable evaluation by others. They also fear that they will make mistakes and look ‘stupid’ before others.

    Other cause for developing public speaking phobia include

    • traumatic events or negative experiences during childhood
    • poor self esteem, and wanting to ensure everything is perfect
    • genetic factors

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    Coping Through Effective Preparation

    How to overcome stage fright?

    Very often, a combination of good preparation and careful choice of topic to suit ones interest help resolve the psychological fear caused by the unknown and what the audience would think. Some tips in this direction include:

    • Practicing or rehearsing the speech, either alone or in front of a few trusted friends or well-wishers provides much-needed confidence to overcome stage fright.
    • People suffering from glossophobia usually forget what they are about the say. So a sheet of paper with key words or phrases can help to overcome such forgetfulness
    • Wearing comfortable and appropriate clothes has a positive effect on attitude and confidence.

    Organizations such as Toastmasters International, Powertalk International and Association of Speakers Clubs offer help, support, and training in public speaking that reduce the fear to manageable levels.

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    Diet and Exercise

    Public Speaking Phobia A healthy lifestyle and good diet choices help overcome public speaking phobia. Some pointers in this direction include:

    • regular and vigorous exercise increase feelings of mental and physical wellbeing
    • eating a healthy balanced diet helps the body maintain optimal blood sugar levels and enable better control over the self. Low blood sugar from inadequate food consumption can cause feelings of anxiety and depression
    • intake of caffeine found in colas, coffee, and chocolate increase the likelihood of panic attacks
    • consumption of alcohol and other drugs as a means to overcome fear does not help, and rather makes the condition more acute

    Image Credit: flickr.com/Christian Heilmann

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    Medications and Supplements

    One approach on how to cure glossophobia or fear of public speaking is through medications and supplements.

    Beta blocking drugs counteract the flood of adrenaline in the body, and help people relax before speaking in public. Examples of such drugs include "Bravina," touted as “the speech pill," “SocialFear Relief,"a homeopathic remedy, Confidrex, Xanax, Zoloft, Celexa, Valium and Paxil and others.

    Certain natural products serve as effective tranquilizers and antidepressants, providing temporary relief from anxiety and stage fright. Examples of natural supplements used as tranquilizers include kava, chamomile, valerian root, and passionflower. Examples of natural supplements used as antidepressants include St. John’s wort, tryptophan and tyrosine.

    Such drugs and supplements can however cause harmful side effects, leading to drowsiness and impaired motor functions among other states. The authenticity of the claims of such drugs to remove stage fright is not conclusive, and medication should be taken only with the approval of a registered medical practitioner.

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    Therapies

    Approaches such as hypnosis, meditation, psychotherapy, and Neuro Linguistic Programming claim to help overcome public speaking phobia.

    Psychotherapy techniques such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) focuses on changing thoughts and actions in a certain setting or situation. The treatment methods include conscious efforts to view social events differently, including learning skills to cope with the anxiety,and systematic exposure to seemingly threatening situations in a way that it becomes easier to face.

    Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) is a psychotherapeutic approach that aims to reshape and reframe attitude and mental framework to bring about changes in personality and perceptions.

    Hypnosis is based on the premise that trying to resolve the phobias at the conscious level of understanding does not work as the root cause is the fear embedded in subconscious memory. Such approaches aim to remove the fear by accessing the subconscious part of human memory.

    These approaches however remain controversial, with research yet to prove their effectiveness.

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    References

    1. Katz, Luise. “Public Speaking Anxiety." University Of Tennessee At Martin Counseling Center. Retrieved from http://www.utm.edu/departments/shcs/CounselingServices/Docs/publicspeakinganxietypamphlet.pdf on 12 November 2010
    2. Washington State University. Self-Help Information. College of Veterinary Service. Counselling and Wellness Service. "Shyness & Social Phobia." Retrieved from http://www.vetmed.wsu.edu/academic/counseling/shy.aspx on 12 November 2010
    3. Rothwell, J. Dan. (2004) "In The Company of Others: An Introduction to Communication." New York: McGraw Hill


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