Glossophobia or speech anxiety is the fear of public speaking. The word glossophobia comes from the Greek γλῶσσα glōssa, meaning tongue, and φόβος phobos, fear or dread. Many people only have this fear, while others may also have social phobia or social anxiety disorder.
Stage fright may be a symptom of glossophobia.
- 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.
The more specific symptoms of speech anxiety can be grouped into three categories: physical, verbal, and non-verbal. Physical symptoms result from the sympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) responding to the situation with a “fight or flight” reaction. Since the modus operandi of the symphatetic system is all-or-nothing, adrenaline secretion produces a wide array of symptoms at once - all of which are supposed to enhance your ability to fight or escape a dangerous scenario. These symptoms include acute hearing, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, dilated pupils, increased perspiration, increased oxygen intake, stiffening of neck/upper back muscles, and dry mouth. Some of these may be alleviated by drugs such as beta-blockers, which bind to the adrenalin receptors of the heart, for example. The verbal symptoms include, but are not limited to a tense voice, a quivering voice, and repetition of “Umms” and “Ahhs”—vocalized pauses—which tend to comfort anxious speakers. One form of speech anxiety is dysfunctional speech anxiety, in which the intensity of the “fight or flight” response prevents an individual from performing effectively.
Many people report stress-induced speech disorders which are only present during public speech. Some glossophobics have been able to dance, perform in public, or even to speak (such as in a play) or sing if they cannot see the audience, or if they feel that they are presenting a character or stage persona rather than themselves.
Estimated 95% of all speakers experience some degree of anxiety/nervousness when public speaking (Hamilton, C. (2008/2005). Communicating for Results, a Guide for Business and the Professions (eighth edition). Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth).
Help and relief
Organizations, such as Toastmasters International, POWERtalk International or Association of Speakers Clubs, and training courses in public speaking help reduce the fear to manageable levels. Self-help materials that address public speaking are among the best selling self-help topics. Some affected people have turned to certain types of drugs, typically beta blockers to temporarily treat their phobia.
- Rothwell, J. Dan. In The Company of Others: An Introduction to Communication. New York: McGraw Hill, 2004.