Understanding Public Speaking Anxiety

Having a fear of speaking in public is one of the most common types of fears or phobias, more common even than the fear of heights, spiders or death.  Public speaking anxiety, which is deemed to be a form of social anxiety disorder and also known as glossophobia or performance anxiety, is believed to affect between fifteen to thirty percent of the population.

If you have a fear of speaking in public it can give you both physical and psychological symptoms which can vary in their intensity.  Whilst it’s natural to feel a little nervous before making a speech in front of a large or even small audience, for some people it can be overwhelming.  This fear can start to have a negative impact on their lives causing them problems at school, work or at social events.

Physical Symptoms

These can vary in individuals but can include:

  • Blushing
  • Quivering or weak voice
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness or pain in the chest
  • Heart palpitations
  • Diarrhoea or needing to pass water
  • Feeling nauseous or vomiting
  • Muscle tension
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Sweating or feeling clammy
  • Panic attacks
  • Upset stomach

Psychological symptoms

These can include feelings of:

  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Worry
  • Nervousness
  • Fear
  • Panic or intrusive thoughts

These feelings can creep up on you prior to the event but can feel so intense that you might end up turning down job opportunities or be reluctant to attend important social occasions.

What Causes This Fear

Thers is no single reason for being afraid of public speaking and generally it will be specific to each individual. It might be that they had a previous bad experience when speaking in public that has left them feeling traumatised.  It could be part of their personality, that they are naturally shy or timid and feel nervous in social situations.  If they lack confidence or have feelings of low self-worth or self-esteem, they may fear being judged by others.  A high caffeine intake, certain medications or a family history of anxiety can also have an effect on your ability to speak in public.

The symptoms that it causes are part of the bodies fight or flight response, which is a normal reaction when you feel afraid or in danger.  The body releases adrenaline to help you fight any perceived threat, however when there is no actual threat, you feel like you are losing control and this can be disturbing.


There are many ways to help yourself manage and overcome your fear of public speaking.  Taking steps and preparing before a speech can help you manage your anxieties these can include:

  • Choosing a topic that interests you and researching it beforehand
  • Become familiar with the venue and if possible have a pre speech practice there
  • Prepare yourself for any unexpected questions people may have for you
  • Visualise yourself performing well and accept that a little anxiety is fine
  • Have written notes but don’t have a script, think more of a detailed outline to follow

Professional Help

If you are still struggling your doctor may be able to either provide antianxiety medications or refer you to a therapist.  Psychotherapy a form of talking therapy can help you get to the route of your anxiety associated with public speaking, as well as helping you build your confidence and overcome your fear.  Written by Jan, Jeana and Wendy at Barnsley Hypnosis and Counselling (UK). For more free Information click above link.

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