Man biting his nails in fear

Actor and comedian Jerry Seinfeld, once famously said in one of his stand-up comedy routines, that most people fear public speaking more than death. Which means, he explained, that during a funeral, most people would prefer to be the person in the casket, rather than the person delivering the Eulogy!

The fear of public speaking is the most common fear or phobia, a phobia which surpasses the fear of death, spiders, and heights!

In fact, the US National Institute of Mental Health has reported that glossophobia affects a whopping 73% of the population.

The fear of public speaking is technically termed Glossophobia.

Glossophobia symptoms

The prospect of speaking in public is so nerve-wracking for the vast majority of people that they feel physically sick and experience a whole array of unpleasant symptoms, many of them akin to those in a full-blown panic attack – the feeling of a racing and pounding heart that is about to explode out of their chest, a red face, churning stomach, a dry mouth and a blank brain. Not to mention an urge to run for the hills!

Our body tries its best to help us escape from the threat we are facing – in this case the threat of public speaking! Our acute stress response is triggered, mediated by the sympathetic nervous system, and the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol are secreted into the blood stream.

When we first dip our toe into the world of public speaking, we feel fearful, afraid of failing and embarrassing ourselves in front of others. These performance anxieties may in fact, be evolutionary in origin, stemming from our primeval fear of being rejected by our tribe. Eons ago when we hung out in tribes, being rejected by our tribe, was a fate worth than death. It meant being left to fend for yourself in the world, and hence to potentially die.

Causes of glossophobia

But why do we get nervous to speak in public in the first place? Why exactly do we feel threatened?

I always pose this question to my audiences and get similar types of responses. They include reasons such as:

  • Having had a painful past experience when public speaking, and not wanting to ever “fail” or get hurt and embarrassed again.
  • Feeling self-conscious in the spotlight.
  • Being a perfectionist, and being scared of making an error.
  • Fear of “going blank”/freezing
  • Fear of showing your nerves, for example revealing your trembling hand or your shaky voice
  • Fear of being sick and throwing up
  • Fear of not having an interesting, compelling presentation and boring your audience to tears. “Death by PowerPoint” comes to mind here!
  • Fear of judgment or negative evaluation by others.
  • Fear of not being worthy of giving the presentation and asking yourself: Who am I to be the expert? What do I know? Also termed impostor syndrome.
  • Fear of not being able to answer the audience’s questions.

Overcoming Glossophobia – Your journey to be a calm and confident public speaker starts here!

In forthcoming blog posts, my intention is to give you tips, techniques and strategies to deal head-on with these commonly-held fears.

So, you overcome your public speaking nerves and anxiety and are an empowered and unstoppable speaker!

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