Getting up to speak in front of any type of audience is a nerve-wracking experience for most people. But for some of us, it can be a full-blown phobia that actually has a clinical name: Glossophobia.
A large number of people suffer from glossophobia, which is officially described as a “fear of public speaking”. For these people, the physical and mental effort of speaking in front of a crowd can be overwhelming. It can cause problems in many areas of an affected person’s life, such as slowing professional progression, and causing anxiety over common social situations.
There are strategies to help overcome glossophobia and more severe public speaking anxiety, however. Through mental techniques, physical exercises, nutritional supplements, breathing and correct preparation (amongst many other solutions); you can prevent public speaking anxiety from effecting your big moment so that you can give the best public speech possible!
Read on as we look into what causes public speaking anxiety in the first place, and then look at several hard-learned tricks & tips that can help you overcome any public speaking nerves/anxiety, and maybe give the best presentation or public speech of your life.
What is Glossophobia?
Glossophobia is a type of anxiety disorder, referring to a strong fear (or phobia) of public speaking . If you have ever suffered from glossophobia, then you may have experienced a quick onset of physical symptoms when faced with speaking in front of an audience – even an audience of just a few people.
Glossophobia is categorized as a social phobia, with several similarities to the condition of stage fright. Although the symptoms of glossophobia and stage fright do overlap, many who suffer from glossophobia find that other social situations, like meeting new people, or performing tasks in front of a crowd, can be handled with relative ease. Yet when it comes time to speak in front of a group of people, those same people experience a, sometimes overwhelming, stress response.
Is Glossophobia (Fear of Public Speaking) the number one fear in the world?
The exact number of people who experience glossophobia varies from source to source, and is hard to pin down. But the consensus is that ‘fear of public speaking’ is a very common affliction.
One popular survey found that a fear of public speaking affect’s nearly 40% of all Americans, making the phobia the second most common fear behind snakes . Further surveys have found that the reach of glossophobia is even more extreme, claiming that 75% of people suffer from some form of public speaking anxiety at some point .
What are the symptoms of public speaking anxiety?
The symptoms and severity of public speaking anxiety can vary from person to person. The clinical condition, Glossophobia, is experienced by some with only light side effects; and for others glossophobia can be debilitating.
Here are the common symptoms of glossophobia :
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle tension
- Dry mouth
The science behind public speaking anxiety symptoms
Public speaking anxiety and glossophobia (clinical term for ‘fear of public speaking’) are caused by a stress response in our body, known as the “fight or flight” response. This fight-or-flight response causes the body to produce more of the hormone epinephrine (also known as/called adrenaline), which further causes physiological changes such as an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, sweating, and a tensing of the muscles .
The fight-or-flight response is originally a survival mechanism in the body; built to respond to stressful, life-threatening situations in which we either need to fight for our lives, or escape.
This response was a necessary bodily reaction when the world was full of daily, inherent, life-threatening risks (think emerging from a bush and unexpectedly staring down a predator like a tiger). Over time, as life-threatening situations & risks like this have become less common, the fight-or-flight response evolved to be triggered by other stressful situations, including public speaking.
The reason why some people experience the fight-or-flight response in this very specific situation is not always clear. There are a number of reasons someone may suffer from public speaking anxiety and/or glossophobia .
It may be biological. One particular study found that mice that show less fear and anxiety produce offspring with lower levels of anxiety . Additional studies indicate that there may be a link between social anxiety disorders (such as glossophobia) and genetics , as higher rates of social anxiety disorders are reported in relatives of people who suffer from these conditions.
The cause of glossophobia and public speaking anxiety may also be psychological. Our past experiences and environmental factors may result in a person developing public speaking anxiety. Some psychological causes may include :
- Negative self-talk
- Fear of failure
- Overplaying the pressure of the occasion
- Fear of embarrassment or being judged
- Lack of experience
While there’s no test that can tell you for sure, understanding the inherent cause of public speaking anxiety can help you find the right strategy to overcome it.
Beta-blockers for public speaking: Do they work?
You may have heard about many performers (musicians, professional public speakers, actors, etc.) who used to experience pre-performance jitters and anxiety symptoms, benefiting from using beta-blockers.
Beta-blockers are a type of pharmaceutical drug that doctors typically prescribe for cardiovascular conditions like high blood pressure, angina (chest pains) and irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia) . The full name is beta-adrenergic blocking agents and their main function is to block the release of adrenaline and other stress hormones .
Because of the way beta-blockers work within the body, many public speakers use them to block the symptoms of performance anxiety and glossophobia. Further research into public speaking anxiety tells us that performers are experiencing the physical symptoms of performance anxiety in the first place because of the adrenaline pumping through their bloodstream and their heart working with greater force when on stage or in the spotlight.
By blocking the release of stress hormones; beta-blockers are preventing the heart from going into overdrive, keeping blood pressure low, and keeping performance anxiety symptoms at bay .
We have a full article about using beta blockers for public speaking on the blog, where we concluded that :
When you’re feeling anxious about something, like giving a public speech, it is to be expected that you’ll feel some level of stress. Naturally, you will feel somewhat of an adrenaline rush as a part of that stress response. For most people, that stress response is not a big deal, and they might even use it to their advantage to up the intensity of their performance .
But if you experience performance anxiety, that stress response has gone too far. You are experiencing a much greater effect of the adrenaline hormone, which causes your heart rate to skyrocket, along with other symptoms of stage fright and anxiety.
Since beta-blockers block the effects of adrenaline, they also prevent you from experiencing the physical symptoms of that same anxiety. Remaining physically calm has an overall calming effect, which then allows you to get through your speech and keep your stress response at bay.
So yes, beta blockers do work for blocking the effects of adrenaline.
But there are some disadvantages to using beta-blockers for your public speaking anxiety, the main one being a risk of dependence on beta-blockers, and withdrawal potentially causing other problems such as high blood pressure.
So beta-blockers are relatively safe to use when you need a quick public speaking anxiety solution, but it might be a good idea to start incorporating some natural alternatives to beta blockers if you want to remain a solid performer for the long term.
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14 tips to ease public speaking anxiety
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett was asked in an interview “What habits did you cultivate in your 20s and 30s that you see as the foundation of success?”
Buffett, who has been dubbed the “Oracle of Omaha,” is one of the most successful investors of all time and runs Berkshire Hathaway, which owns dozens of companies, including insurer Geico, battery maker Duracell and restaurant chain Dairy Queen. He answered the interview question : “You’ve got to be able to communicate in life and it’s enormously important. Schools, to some extent, under emphasize that. If you can’t communicate and talk to other people and get across your ideas, you’re giving up your potential.”
Buffett followed this up in the interview by admitting that he was “terrified” of public speaking early in his career. He decided that to reach his full potential, he had to overcome his fear of it .
If you are faced with a similar challenge, similar public speaking fears, then there are several techniques and tricks to help you overcome your public speaking fears. And I can’t promise you the same results as Buffett, like becoming one of the wealthiest investors in the world, but public speaking skills have numerous benefits for your life/career, so on to the public speaking anxiety tricks:
1. Practice Practice Practice
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 .
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 :
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.
Whenever someone asks the PerformZen team how they can get better at public speaking, we typically offer up this quote by the American writer, publisher, artist, and philosopher, Elbert Hubbard:
“The only way to learn to speak is to speak and speak, and speak and speak, and speak and speak and speak.”
2. Full Trial Run-Through
This is a direct follow-on from the ‘practice’ tip above, and it is time-consuming: but the best way to reduce nervousness & anxiety is to practice your speech. Speech planning is annoying (or at least you may be perceiving it that way) and you live a busy life. But without proper preparation, your talk will not be as impactful as it could be!
We recommend writing down your talk, in full, and then polishing it until it is great (remove anything & everything unnecessary, make sure that you can pronounce every word, etc.) and then finally: train it. Over and over again. In front of your family, friends, colleagues. At your Toastmasters or local speaking club. Ask someone to film your speech (or set your phone up to self-record) so that you can have a look at it and get rid of quirks and/or lines & paragraphs that are not flattering. All of this preparation will boost your self-confidence and reduce your anxiety before the live speech. Public speaking is one of those rare areas in life, outside of education, where more & better preparation directly correlates to better results.
If you don’t have others nearby who you can run through your speech in front of – say you’re on a business trip – talk to an indoor plant, a wall, a mirror (although this can be too distracting for some)… anything. We want you to talk out loud and really perform your speech before the live event, as many times as possible. Only writing it down and reading it a few times will not help as much as properly training it .
3. Know Your ‘Battleground’
Humans are territorial animals, in fact it has been remarked that territorial behavior in humans is an important factor in the evolution and preservation of the species, as a whole .
This is why we recommend tapping into your primal brain before a speech, talk or presentation and ‘mark your territory’ in order to calm anxiety about the situation, while also getting you motivated and pumped about delivering your speech.
This can be done mentally, for your own purposes, by walking the stage or room before the event begins. Picture yourself performing your (well-practiced) speech in the space, and notice the smaller details of the area while you have the free mental capacity to take it all in. Set a perimeter in your minds eye, knowing where you can move and walk around, what angle(s) the majority of the audience will see you from and if you have to make any adjustments for that (clothing adjustments, etc.). Knowing your ‘presentation area’ before your talk or speech, removes some of the unknowns from the back of your mind which can pile-on and lead to public speaking anxiety; less unknowns means less stress.
4. Breathing Exercises
Certain breathing techniques have repeatedly proven effective in stopping the onset of physical symptoms caused by the body’s stress response; the same stress response that is overwhelming you when experiencing public speaking anxiety.
Breathing exercises can offer a short-term fix that you can put into practice before you need to address an audience. One particular exercise is known as “diaphragmatic breathing” or “belly breathing”, in which you take deep breaths, engaging the stomach and the diaphragm. In contrast to regular, unconscious breathing, an effort is made to bring the breath down into the stomach, which should rise and fall with each breath .
Diaphragmatic breathing has long been used in meditation, and meditative practices like yoga and tai-chi. Studies have shown deep breathing to have positive effects on cognition and stress, adequately reducing levels of cortisol, a hormone that gets released when we are stressed or anxious . It also helps reduce blood pressure and improve heart rate variability, which works to lessen the severity of symptoms one may experience with public speaking anxiety.
5. 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 .
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 talk or presentation that you can, there are a lot of similarities; as the saying goes “how you do anything is how you do everything“.
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 .
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 :
- Foster a positive mood
- 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.
6. Take a Public Speaking Class
One of the best ways to improve public speaking and your comfort with it — and leave the fear of public speaking in your past — is to take a public speaking courses. There are many options out there for public speaking classes, whether you take them at the university level or online in your spare time.
Warren Buffett, the most successful investor in the world that we mentioned above, decided to sign up for a professional development course on public speaking early on in his career in order to tackle his performance anxiety for good. His learning didn’t go off without a hitch — he actually dropped the class out of fear before enrolling for a second time — but he eventually completed the course, a decision he now cites as “a key reason for his profound success” .
Invest in yourself as a public speaker in the same way that you would by going to school to earn a degree or certification for a better-paying job, if you are considering getting into public speaking as a career.
7. Get ‘Into Your Body’
Getting into your body essentially means doing some physical activity prior to your speech. Some people like to go for long walks, but personally we are fans of yoga. Pull up a basic yoga routine video on YouTube whenever you feel anxiety welling up before a big presentation or speech, as yoga can really help your fight against performance anxiety by improving how you respond to stress.
Research has shown that yoga increases your heart rate variability (HRV), which is the difference in the time interval between heartbeats. A higher HRV indicates your body’s increased ability to deal with stress .
A regular yoga practice can make you more resilient in stressful situations, and improve how your body reacts to prevent anxiety symptoms like heart palpitations and trembling.
According to an article in Harvard Health, yoga can work as a natural anxiety relief by reducing the impact of an exaggerated stress response, which is precisely what causes stage fright and public speaking anxiety in the first place .
8. Fear Setting
You have probably heard that you should visualize positive outcomes if you want to succeed. But there’s another approach, and that is actively visualizing the worst, and coming to terms with it.
It’s the practice of fear-setting, which is based on the philosophy of Stoicism. It was recently made popular by Tim Ferris in his famous TED talk , who calls stoicism “an operating system for thriving in high-stress environments, and making better decisions.”
But Tim Ferris did not come up with the concept of fear-setting. It has been around for thousands of years. It was initially known as the Stoic premeditatio malorum, or the premeditation of evils .
There are three steps to fear-setting, and it works like this:
Fear Setting Step 1 – Ask: What can go wrong?
Define everything that can go wrong in your audition. For example, you might get so nervous that you could make several mistakes, and not get the role.
What happens then? Get very clear on the worst things that could happen in your audition.
Then define steps you can take to prevent the worst things from happening. Maybe that means practicing harder than you ever have before. Or perhaps it means you meditate and do yoga for 20 minutes each day leading up to the audition. It might be that you get an audition coach.
Finally, make a list of all the things you can do to recover in the event your worst-case scenarios do come true .
Fear Setting Step 2 – Then Ask: What could go right?
Fear-setting is not all about doom and gloom. In the second part of this three-step exercise, you list everything that could go right for you even attempting to audition for the role.
Even if you don’t get the role, you might make a connection in the hallway that could lead to other opportunities. At the least, you will gain experience and learn from it.
Take the time to list all the potential benefits for just making the attempt.
Fear Setting Step 3 – Finally, Ask: What happens if you don’t take action?
The last part is designed to scare you into action. List what happens if you don’t try. Explore what your life would look like in the near future if you don’t take any action. You might find out that your fear of the status quo is greater than of failure, which would push you into action.
For detailed instruction, be sure to check out the TED talk. You can also read more in our detailed article about fear-setting for anxiety.
9. Natural Supplements
Some natural dietary supplements can also help offset the symptoms of public speaking anxiety, and promote a higher level of mental clarity when you need it most.
Just as beta-blockers do, supplements can reduce symptoms like high blood pressure and an elevated heart rate that occur with anxiety disorders.
Additionally, you can use supplements to boost certain neurotransmitters such as GABA, which promote calmness and mental clarity. GABA is believed to play a role in anxiety disorders , so regulation of this may be additionally beneficial for anxiety disorders like glossophobia and public speaking anxiety.
For an additional mental boost and assistance with your public speaking anxiety, you can try PerformZen before your speech.
Not only does PerformZen help you remain calm under pressure by boosting GABA neurotransmitters in your brain , but it also helps with mental focus by combining magnesium and vitamin B6 .
It will help you calm the nerves and at the same time improve your cognitive performance so that you can be at your sharpest when it matters most.
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While up on stage or in front of an audience, consider keeping a glass of water next to you while you speak in case you need it. Sometimes squeezing some lemon into your water can help as well, as it contains citrus acid which can help break up mucus that leads to sore throat, lemon is rich in vitamin C and anti-oxidants which boost your immune system and it increases salivation and helps to moisten or lubricate the throat .
Try to avoid sugary beverages before speaking. These can dry out your mouth and make it harder to talk clearly and at louder volumes. And finally, remember to drink water throughout your day to stay hydrated and keep your mind sharp and body ready to present… especially if you exercised before .
11. Focus on the Story, Not Your Audience’s Thoughts
As part of preparation for your speech, particularly when writing it, you should have already done the research on your audience and you should already know what they want or need to hear from your speech. It’s your market research: “know your market”
If you’ve done the research on your audience, you can rest well knowing (with a certain level of confidence) that your message will resonate. But there will always be someone in the audience during your speech who’s on their phone or yawning. Remember that there will always be people who are bored or tired and that none of these audience reactions have anything to do with you personally.
So the goal is to just focus on conveying your message or telling your story instead of what you think the audience is thinking while giving your speech .
Let your personality shine through as you are talking to your audience and they will connect with you on a human level — and want to hear more from you. So get out of your head; focus on your story and not on ‘what they’re thinking’ in order to perform/present at your best.
12. Have The Small Details Planned Out Beforehand
There’s layers of moving parts in most events that you may be speaking at, whether it’s a wedding speech or your a keynote speaker at a conference. You are going to have to take care of all the details surrounding your own speech in order to make the actual talk go as smoothly as possible. That is, in fact, the secret of most great performers, they take care of all the small details beforehand so that when they get on stage and present, it looks effortless.
When we say ‘take care of all the details’, it essentially comes down to creating a checklist in the lead up to your speech and thinking of all the things that could go wrong or that it would help you to know, and running through that list to make sure that each point is taken care of.
This checklist might include small things, like finding out what time you will be speaking, who you may be following in the speaker order, knowing where to enter and exit the stage from, finding out what kind of microphone/sound system is being used and if there’s anything you need to know about speaking into them clearly so there’s no audio issues, knowing if the speech will be recorded and if you will need to face certain angles so that the recording looks good… and all of these ‘tiny’ details that need to be covered beforehand in order to make your speech great!
13. Tech Backups
In the same vein as the point above, if you are going to be using any tech in your talk or presentation, a laptop and projector for example, make sure you prepare for the speech to go smoothly by connecting everything up before the live event, and if possible try disconnecting & restarting everything a few times to make sure that everything still works when everything has been switched on and off multiple times.
If you are presenting in a really high-stakes scenario or an event with an extremely large audience and using tech, I would recommend having backups available for each piece of the tech chain (from duplicate USB keys with your slides to a spare laptop and/or projector that can be wheeled in last minute if there’s errors).
There is a saying in the military: “two is one and one is none” ~ and this is all about having redundancies. It may seem over the top and slightly neurotic, especially if nothing goes wrong with any of your tech. But the moment your laptop crashes and wont restart right as your speech is starting, you will be so thankful that you over-prepared and had redundancies in place.
14. Post-Speech Debrief To Improve For Next Time
No one ever stops growing. Even if you gave the best speech possible, there are always ways to improve.
Stop focusing on perfection and focus on delivering the best speech that you can at this point in time, then go back, review, and learn to improve for your next amazing speech . If there is a video of your speech, watch it and make notes on how you can improve on it your speech for the next time. Ask yourself questions like:
- How do you think you did?
- Are there areas you think you could have improved?
- Did you seem stiff or make any weird facial expressions?
- Did you use a PowerPoint presentation to your advantage? Did it help?
- Did you use “ummm” or other filler-words too often?
- How was your rhythm?
Write everything down and keep practicing to improve. In time, you will banish all of your fears and anxieties around public speaking .
What’s the best way to overcome public speaking anxiety?
Public speaking is a very fear for a lot of people. Luckily, there are some tried and tested techniques and tools to help you overcome your public speaking anxiety. Breathing exercises may prove effective at stopping the onset of symptoms related to the elevated stress response, while simple activities listed here like ‘getting into your body’ & increasing your HRV (heart rate variability, which is the difference in the time interval between heartbeats) could help address the underlying causes and deliver a long-term solution.
In addition, taking a natural supplement like PerformZen before you get up to speak may help promote a feeling of calm and mental clarity, offsetting the most common public speaking anxiety symptoms.
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