Do You Have a Fear of Public Speaking?

By Sandy Lawrence on August 22, 2017 in Communication

Is a fear of public speaking holding you back?

Sometimes people need to learn to be a public speaker because the goal they want…perhaps selling more books, requires it.   Some people don’t do well in  any type of public situation. They might be shy and introverted.  They prefer to stay to themselves.

Still, others have no problem interacting in public on a routine basis but freeze over formal presentations where you have to get up and speak to a static audience. They might not want to be front and center and have everyone looking at them.

Either way, if they want to sell books, they have to get over it.

Fear of Public Speaking

Do either of these sound like you?  It may surprise you to know that many psychologists actually encourage shy clients to learn public speaking as part of their therapy (rather than have therapy to overcome a fear of public speaking).

If you suffer from glossophobia (fear of public speaking), it doesn’t really matter what initially caused your problem. But you have neural pathways that divert your emotions down well-worn tracks of terror and fear, accompanied by an orchestra of extreme physical symptoms.

Perhaps the simple thought of standing up in front of a bunch of people and speaking secretly makes you want to run, screaming, out of the room.

You are a true glossophobic if…

  • You experience a variety of physical symptoms when faced with a serious opportunity to speak in public.  These could include sweating, nausea, dizziness, diarrhea, irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath or asthma attacks
  • Your voice chokes up or trembles, and you have trouble literally speaking when you get up in front of a group
  • You feel as if your face is on fire
  • You find yourself going to extraordinary lengths to avoid public speaking

Glossophobia belongs under “social anxiety orders”.  Yet you may or may not have other social anxieties. Many people who suffer from glossophobia do not suffer from any other type of extreme social anxiety at all.

So What Causes Glossophobia?

Glossophobia can be caused by:

  • A traumatic public speaking event – This can go back to childhood. Perhaps you tried to give a book report. You stammered. People made fun of you. Your teacher was impatient or critical.  Or you froze up. You couldn’t get a sound out.
  • Insecurity and lack of self-confidence – This is by far the most common cause. It has nothing to do with speaking and everything to do with feeling that no one will want to listen to you or anticipating that people will be bored or critical.

For those of us who often speak for a living, it is hard to imagine being that scared to stand up and speak in front of people, but more people are afraid to speak than those who are not.

If you suffer from a fear of public speaking, you are not alone. Out of the top ten phobias human beings experience, it tops the list – ahead even of necrophobia (fear of dying)!

Cherokee Parable

There’s a Cherokee parable that has been making the rounds on social media lately.  It goes like this:

A boy ran to his grandfather, angry and in tears over a friend’s betrayal.

“It is not your friend you have to control,” said his grandfather. “It is the feelings inside you. There are two wolves living inside you: One wolf is black, filled with anger, envy, malice and every kind of evil. One wolf is grey, filled with wisdom, harmony, insight and kindness. These two wolves are fighting a terrible battle inside you all the time.”

Subdued, the boy asks: “Grandfather, which wolf will win?”

His grandfather leaned closer.

“The one you feed.”

It’s the same with public speaking or any other phobia. If you concentrate on your fear, you are literally feeding that fear. You are supplying it with everything it needs to grow.

Neural Pathways

When you repeat the same fearful comments – either to yourself or to others you are looking to for support – you are wearing another track into that well-established neural pathway, deepening it, making it stronger and harder to change.

What is a neural pathway?

A neural pathway is literally a channel in the white matter of your brain as neurons connect over and over again with the same myelin-insulated neurons in the exact same sequence at a stimulus such as a thought or an experience.

How do neural pathways work?

Think of flood water rushing along the ground. It finds a channel worn by previous floods and instantly diverts to rush down that channel, unable to stop and there are no exit points until it reaches the bottom of the ditch.

When you experience a traumatic event, that channel (i.e. neural pathway) is not cut gradually, over years and years of gentle erosion – it’s blasted through your white matter, and it’s such a deep channel that it can hi-jack your “water” instantly.

If you add years and years of erosion through reuse of the channel on top of that, well, Houston, we have a problem.  You are going to have to do some work to get over your fear.

In an upcoming post, we will discuss how to deal with the fear of public speaking and retrain your neural pathways.

Perceptive PR


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Sandy LawrenceView all posts by Sandy Lawrence


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