Is Fear of Public Speaking Really America’s Biggest Fear?

Glossophobia or fear of public speaking is the world’s number one phobia, believed to affect about 75% of people during their lifetime. We investigate why so many fear public speaking

Most people don’t believe that Fear of Public Speaking is really the #1 fear in the world! Recent surveys have found that 77% of Americans listed public speaking as one of their biggest fears, and in this video we want to find out if Glossophobia (Fear of Public Speaking) really is a nationwide issue, why we’re so afraid of talking in front of strangers, and 3 techniques for overcoming this fear.

Full Video Transcript

Narrator (00:00)
Public speaking is most people's biggest fear. Apparently some people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death. Learning why we're so afraid of talking in front of strangers might just give us the tools to overcome our public speaking fears and deliver excellent, confident speeches. Let's find out.

(00:23)
We evolved to fear public speaking! Thanks to our ancestors us humans perceive eyes watching us as an existential threat, and this shows in the numbers. 77% of the US population report some level of fear regarding public speaking. With this phobia being so widespread, it's not surprising at all that there's an official medical term for a fear of public speaking. It's called Glossophobia.

(00:47)
The exceptions. Of course, like the guy who only eats junk food but maintains a six-pack there's always the natural exceptions who seem to thrive on stage, easily talking to crowds of hundreds of thousands of people. Take Tony Robbins. He oozes authority, charm, and charisma whenever a microphone is even pointed in his direction. What's going on? Why are some people seemingly naturals on stage while the rest of us break into a cold sweat the moment we're asked to speak in front of even a small group of strangers?

(01:18)
Why we're afraid of public speaking. Let's dissect this fear of public speaking that so many of us have and try to understand why we get the uncontrollable trembling, the sweating, and the other symptoms. By understanding why these things happen we can understand how to prevent it in future. What triggers our fear of speaking in front of people is a severe stress response before or during a public speech. You may no this stress response as fight or flight mode. It's where you're confronted with something terrifying like physical danger or extreme humiliation, and your body reacts physiologically with a stand and fight or run for your life type response.

(01:55)
We have this, arguably, over the top response thanks to our ancestors who lived in more dangerous environments where the risk of attacks and ambush was very real. For them, danger was so common that they developed an acute stress response to stay primed, which provided them with the tools they needed to either fight or run away to safety at a moment's notice. Although most of our environments are a lot safer today, this part of our brain still works the same way. When we perceive an upcoming stressful situation, just like giving a speech and risking failure and humiliation, our bodies react with the same fight or flight response.

(02:31)
Stress hormones. These stress responses activate parts of our nervous system that release hormones like adrenaline into our systems. Hormones like this are actually called catecholamines, but we'll just call them stress hormones here. These stress hormones get to work on beta receptors in the heart, causing it to pump with more force. This increases blood pressure, gives us racing heartbeats, causes trembling, and all the other symptoms that come with a fear of public speaking or glossophobia.

(02:59)
Ironically, if we're actually in a fight, the sudden release of these stress hormones into our bodies could be very useful. But when we're talking about delivering a speech in front of people, these pesky hormones might just leave you standing in front of a microphone trembling, heart racing, and your mind going 100 miles an hour.

(03:16)
What can we do to overcome these dreaded hormones and stress responses? Here's three proven ways to conquer a fear of public speaking so that your upcoming speech goes perfectly.

(03:27)
1. Lower the stakes. If we imagine that a lot is on the line for an upcoming speech, it's almost certain that our nervousness and anxiety will be ramped up. We are perceiving that the stakes are really high. Try imagining all the worst case scenarios that could actually happen during your speech and imagine it all the way through to the end. I know it's uncomfortable to even visualize this, but a lot of the time just taking a good look at some imaginary catastrophe in our mind is enough to make us realize that a mistake here or there or stuttering our way through to the ending of a speech usually doesn't even matter. This is exactly how you lower the stakes of an event in your imagination, and doing so has a really good chance of calming your fears and reducing nervousness in a run-up to your speech.

(04:11)
2. Practice, practice, practice. Then practice a bit more. I know, I know. Captain obvious over here. But it can't be overstated how much practice professional speakers put into their performances. If there's two versions of you, one has practiced a speech every night for 45 minutes over the course of two weeks and the other practiced once 45 minutes before going up on stage, the odds are heavily stacked in favor of the prepared person delivering a significantly better speech. Famous author and speaker, Brian Tracy, says that you should prepare for your speech so well that you could answer any possible question thrown at you about said speech. Now, this advice won't apply to all situations, but try keeping that thought at the back of your mind when practicing. You want to know the material so well that you're pretty much prepared for any hiccup that might occur and can quickly get back on track. Being that ready is almost certain to help with your fears and anxiety.

(05:05)
3. Take care of the details. No matter what kind of speech you're giving, like a wedding speech or a keynote speech at a conference, there's always layers of moving parts to the event. You need to take control of all the small details surrounding your speech in order to make sure that it goes as smoothly as possible. Taking care of details generally comes down to making a checklist in a run-up to your speech where you write down all the things that could go wrong or that you need to know ahead of time, then you run through that list and make sure each point is taken care of. Your list might include things like, what time am I speaking, or is there a microphone that I have to use, how will it get to me before my speech? Just having answers to simple questions like, what path do I take to walk on stage, will remove so many small stress points and leave you feeling a lot more ready and prepared for your speech.

(05:54)
In summary, we know that 77% of the US population is affected by fear of public speaking. We know that fear of public speaking is called glossophobia, and that glossophobia is caused by a severe stress response leading to the release of stress hormones in the body, which acts on the heart and gets it pumping faster, ultimately leading to all the sweaty, trembly, nervous anxiety symptoms most people experience when even thinking about talking in front of a large group of people. And in terms of solutions, we recommend lowering the stakes by visualizing worst case scenarios, practice, practice, practice, and then more practice, taking care of small details using the power of checklists. Using these three techniques, you'll be well on your way to overcoming your public speaking fears.

(06:42)
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