Is Fear of Public Speaking Really The Number One Fear in The World?

According to a recent survey, over 40% of Americans say they have a fear of public speaking and the only fear more common was snakes (some even listed death as less scary then public speaking)! Fear of public speaking, or the medical term glossophobia, is extremely common in humans and has primal routes in our psychology. Here we investigate if the fear of public speaking really is the number one ranked fear globally, as well as dig in to why so many experience this fear and what we can do to help overcome it.

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Communicating your ideas and presenting them in a public setting is a key component of success in different life domains. Being good at public speaking can help you grow your business, advance your career and form strong alliances in your social and economic life.

Being a good public speaker can help you promote different ideas and get people to take action on the issues that directly affect them and society at large. However, achieving any of these things requires you to stand in front of your audience and deliver your pitch or idea. Unfortunately, a fear of public speaking can sometimes stand between you and the audience.

So, is public speaking the number one fear affecting people across the world? We believe so and this article will help you understand why public speaking is scary to a large number of people. We also look at several strategies to help you overcome public speaking anxiety, whether on stage, in a job interview, or any other setting. Here’s a quick video summary answering the same question:

The PerformZen YouTube channel answers the question: Is Fear of public speaking really America’s biggest fear?

Public Speaking Fear Key Takeaways

Without revealing the whole article, here are the most interesting & useful takeways about Public Speaking Fear:

  • Glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, is the worlds number one phobia, believed to affect about 75% of people at some time during their lifetime.
  • Most people have a hard time speaking in public due to four key reasons: physiology, belief systems, skills & ability and circumstances or context of the specific situation.
  • Pre-performance routines, communication orientation over performance orientation, more preparation and natural performance anxiety supplements are all solutions to public speaking fears.

What’s the number one fear in the world?

Also known as Glossophobia, fear of public speaking is the world’s number one phobia, believed to affect about 75% of people across the globe [1]. For some people, this fear might manifest as a slight feeling of nervousness at the thought of speaking publicly, while others experience full-on fear and panic.

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Most people who suffer from Glossophobia might try to avoid speaking in public and when they must speak to a large audience, they endure a weak, quavering voice and shaking hands. In this article, we’ll help you understand why public speaking might be scary for some people and how you can overcome it with preparation and persistence. But first, here are some key stats about the fear of public speaking.

Fear of public speaking statistics

Here are some, frankly surprising, facts and statistics about public speaking that you may not have known:

  • 75% of people have some level of public speaking anxiety
  • 89% of people who reportedly suffer from social anxiety also struggle with a fear of public speaking
  • About 15 million people struggle with Glossophobia every day in the US
  • Only 8% of people with Glossophobia seek professional assistance, despite its negative effects on their careers and wages
  • About 37% of men and 44% of women suffer from public speaking anxiety
  • Typically, the majority of anxiety experienced before presenting in public comes from a lack of adequate preparation

Why is public speaking scary?

The Classic Jerry Seinfeld stand-up joke about public speaking being more scary then death for many!

As Seinfeld talks about in the video above, most people have a hard time speaking in public (to the point that many rank ‘public speaking’ more scary then ‘death’). Even those who practice and eventually master the confidence to speak in front of an audience, many still make common errors like avoiding/not maintaining eye contact with their audience, which can be a big problem. While avoiding eye contact with your audience might seem like an effective strategy to cope with public speaking anxiety, it might actually make you more nervous [2].

To effectively cope with Glossophobia (a fear of public speaking), you need to understand some of the core tenants behind anxiety and social phobias. The exact reason why you might have a fear of public speaking might be hard to pinpoint exactly, but the theories exploring Glossophobia have identified four key contributing factors, which are:

1. Physiology

Fear is a physiological, psychological, and behavioral state that’s induced by a perceived threat to your survival or general well-being [3]. It involves the increased arousal of your autonomic nervous system due to a potentially threatening stimulus.

When faced with a threat, your body prepares for battle and this hyper-arousal makes you experience the emotion of fear, and interferes with your ability to comfortably perform in front of your audience. Eventually, this emotional experience prevents you from pursuing public speaking opportunities.

Research suggests that some people generally experience higher anxiety levels in different situations and might be more prone to the fear of public speaking [4]. Most people who are predisposed to anxiety find it quite challenging to conquer their Glossophobia and often choose to avoid public speaking altogether.

For others, the anxiety level is limited to situations involving larger audiences. However, the psychological signs of anxiety and fear that they experience while anticipating, preparing, and actually speaking in public are quite similar. Additionally, some people might experience anxiety sensitivity (fear of fear).

Anxiety sensitivity means that besides the fear of public speaking, you’re worried that your anxiety might impact your ability to perform in challenging situations [5]. People with high levels of anxiety sensitivity also worry that they’ll become overly anxious while performing to their audience and might come across as shaky speakers (potentially causing a negative feedback loop).

2. Belief Systems

our beliefs about our abilities as public speakers are a key factor that contribute to Glossophobia
People’s beliefs about their abilities as speakers and about public speaking, in general, are another key factor that contributes to Glossophobia. The fear arises when you overestimate what it will take for you to effectively communicate your ideas to other people, making you view the speaking event as a threat to your image, credibility, and the chance to connect with the audience.

Negative thoughts about yourself as a speaker can raise your anxiety and intensify your fear of public speaking. To help you understand how that happens, researchers make the distinction between a communication orientation and a performance orientation mentality [6].

Performance orientation is the perceived mental situation that contributes to negative public speaking anxiety [7]. People with a performance-orientation mentality view public speaking as an activity that requires special skills to impress the audience. In most cases, such speakers are more concerned with whether the audience will criticize their subject, dress code, knowledge mastery, and delivery. This negative force can greatly affect how you engage with your audience during a public presentation.

In contrast, a communication orientation approach helps you take a more conversational, relaxed, and engaging technique when addressing your audience. With a communication orientation approach, you’ll view public speaking as a chance to engage with several people on a topic that’s equally important to you and your audience. The approach helps you to understand the purpose of your speech as a way to deliver a certain message to your audience, putting you in a position to deliver a masterful speech.

3. Skills & Actual Ability

Skill level is a major factor that may contribute to your fear of public speaking. While a lot of people consider themselves great speakers, there’s (typically) always room for improvement. People who strive to improve their skills instead of depending on their natural talents can stand out among the rest. Fortunately, there are many approaches to improve your skills and increase your public speaking competency.

Increased competency boosts your confidence, which effectively works as a fear antidote. However, increasing your confidence alone doesn’t translate to effective public speaking. Luckily, many strategies work well to build your skills, boost your confidence, and reduce your anxiety levels.

4. Circumstances

By nature, most people are anxious or don’t think they’re good at public speaking. However, some situations & circumstances are likely to make you more anxious when speaking or presenting in public. Examples include:

  • Lack of experience – Like with anything else in life, experience builds your confidence. Without hours of stage presence under your belt, it’s normal to experience the fear of public speaking.
  • Status difference – When you’re about to speak to an audience comprising of people that you perceive to have a higher status than you (e.g. accomplished professionals), you might experience a higher dose of Glossophobia.
  • Evaluation degree – when there’s an imagined or real evaluation component to a certain situation; your fear of public speaking is stronger. If you’re addressing a group of people all making notes on evaluation forms and waiting to deliver their views or verdicts, you might be more anxious.
  • New audiences – While you might be experienced in speaking in public and addressing familiar audiences, fear might arise when your target audience changes. For example, you might be comfortable speaking to professionals within your area of expertise, but you might feel shaky when addressing other people.
  • New ideas – When sharing ideas that you haven’t shared in public before, your confidence might be shaken by the uncertainty of how people will receive the information. When your public address is about presenting new information, you might feel uncomfortable stating your stance, answering questions, and dealing with people trying to poke holes in your narrative.

Public speaking anxiety tricks

Most people have powerful stories, ideas to spread, and knowledge to share. The majority of people don’t dare to share their ideas, however, as they’re held back by their fear of public speaking and potential embarrassment.

According to researchers, targeting the factors that contribute to your fear of public speaking is an effective strategy to overcome it. Fortunately, there are several methods that you can use to conquer the fear of speaking publicly.

Some of these methods address the cognitive aspects of your fears, some focus on the physiological aspects, and other methods focus on the behavioral components that can contribute to high levels of anxiety and an overall fear of public speaking.

Here are several public speaking anxiety tricks that we use ourselves and constantly recommend to customers:

1. Learn to stay calm

Various relaxation techniques can lower the increased psychological activity that your body automatically produces in response to a situation or event that causes fear [8]. When it comes to public speaking, the fear-causing stimulus can range from the mere thought of speaking in public to the actual event [9].

Learning to remain calm while thinking of speaking in public or while preparing for it can help you actually stay calm during the live situation. The best relaxation techniques involve controlling your breath and trying to lower your heart rate to reduce muscle tension [10]. These techniques are ideal when used alongside gradual exposure to speaking in public.

It’s best to start applying these relaxation techniques when you decide to speak publicly while preparing to deliver the speech, and when you’re on stage presenting. With these techniques, you can gradually increase the size of your events as you learn how to remain calm through relaxation. Consider starting with speeches that you consider generally simple to prepare for and deliver and continue using relaxation techniques as you enter situations where the stakes are high.

2. Develop a Pre-Performance Routine

Successful athletes typically understand the importance of having a plan to help them compete. These athletes understand that peak performance goes way beyond skills and into the realms of mental preparation. You could say that it’s a complete marriage of mental and physical focus for peak performance readiness [16].

Pre-performance routines are part of the complex and vital process of training for peak performance, athletic or otherwise. And while you may not be able to directly compare athletic peak performance to giving the best public speech that you can, there are a lot of similarities.

A pre-performance routine in sports is defined as “a sequence of task relevant thoughts and actions which an athlete engages in systematically prior to his or her performance of a specific sport skill (Moran, 1996)” and the same principles apply to public speaking and other types of performances [16].

We have an excellent workbook available called The Fear Workbook which will help you generate your own pre-performance routine, with two main aspects to the exercises [17]:

  1. Foster a positive mood
  2. Actively avoid negativity

You will learn how to select activities, control your environment, set the right state of mind and more during your pre-performance routine. Check out the Fear Workbook here.

3. Focus on communication orientation instead of performance orientation

Taking a different cognitive approach also involves shifting your focus from being evaluated to giving value. You can train your mind to view public speaking as a chance to share ideas with people hoping they can benefit from them, instead of seeing it as a situation where you’re being judged or tested. This perspective shift will relieve you from worrying about how you’ll appear to your audience and help you focus on the best way to relay your message.

4. Get enough preparation

Nothing can take the place of practicing and preparing for your speech when it comes to overcoming your anxiety and fears. Write out a script of your key points, but don’t read from the script word for word [18].

Brian Tracy, famed keynote speaker and seminar leader as well as author of the best-selling book ‘Eat That Frog‘, shared one of his best tricks to combat a fear of public speaking in a recent article [18]:

Prepare for your speech so well that you could answer any possible question thrown at you.

This is a good tidbit of advice, you want to be so well prepared for your speech or presentation that if someone throws you a surprise question during your speech, you have some form of answer ready to answer them. This isn’t always possible with all speech topics/occasions, but keeping that thought in the back of your mind will keep you practicing and preparing even when you feel like you’re mostly ready, and that level of dedication and prep is what separates merely good speeches, from great speeches.

Can PerformZen help with a fear of public speaking?

While the tricks given above can help you overcome your fear of public speaking, many performers need pharmaceutical help overcoming Glossophobia. As such, most performers use beta-blockers such as Metoprolol and Propranolol to fight their public speaking anxiety issues [13]. However, if you’re not too keen on being dependent on beta blockers every time you’re talking to an audience, you might want to consider a more natural alternative.

With a natural solution like PerformZen Calm Performance Formula, you can alleviate your fear of public speaking without depending on prescription medication. PerformZen is an all-natural supplement that was developed to help public speakers become high-level performers by maintaining their mental focus and composure [14].

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Final Thoughts

While most people develop some jitters when asked to speak in public, performance anxiety is a serious problem for many people around the world. This common phobia affects about 75% of the world’s population and can have a significant impact on your success. Fortunately, you can improve your mental function and promote calmness to alleviate public speaking anxiety symptoms using some of the techniques shared above, or even a natural supplements like PerformZen.

Eric is a performance expert and a member of the PerformZen team since it was founded. Eric has battled anxiety his entire life and he is passionate about helping people gain control over the things that they fear most, with anxiety being at the top of that list for many!

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