Speaking in front of others can be challenging for some, but there are ways to manage it.
Many have experienced some level of anxiety when it comes to speaking in front of others. From a slightly elevated heart rate to clammy palms, public speaking can make even the most experienced speakers and presenters a bit nervous.
For some people, though, the fear of public speaking can become intense and even debilitating. The anxiety it causes can start to seep into their daily lives and affect how they interact at work, school, or even events.
Despite the challenges that public speaking anxiety presents, there are strategies to manage its symptoms.
Public speaking anxiety is essentially the fear of public speaking. The possibility or reality of speaking in public can create feelings of intense nervousness, discomfort, worry, and anxiety.
Also known as glossophobia, public speaking anxiety is classified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) as a social anxiety disorder.
Public speaking anxiety is estimated to affect between 15% and 30% of the general population, according to a
When anxiety over public speaking creeps up, you may experience psychological and physical symptoms.
Some psychological symptoms you might have include:
- feelings of intense worry and nervousness
- fear, stress, and panic in public speaking situations
- feelings of dread and fear before speaking in front of others
- intrusive thoughts about public speaking
These feelings can cause you to actively avoid situations where public speaking opportunities may arise. This could include turning down a job opportunity, changing majors, or skipping out on important or meaningful events.
Public speaking anxiety can also affect you physically. You might have symptoms such as:
- heart palipations
- chest pain
- excessive sweating
- shaking or trembling
- shortness of breath
- trembling voice
- nausea or vomiting
- muscle tension
- panic attacks
There is no known exact cause of public speaking anxiety. But there are factors that may play a role in your anxiety about public speaking.
It may be a result of:
- a past traumatic incident with speaking in public
- history of anxiety or other mental health condition
- shy or nervous around others
- fear that others are judging you
- self-consciousness in front of a large group of people
- personality traits, such as being shy or reserved
- past traumatic events
- a family history of anxiety or other mental health conditions
- taking certain medications
- high intake of caffeine or other substances
- having generalized anxiety disorder or other anxiety disorder
There might also be no reason for your anxiety about speaking in public, and that’s OK.
If the fear of public speaking is affecting your daily life, it may be time to consider seeking support from a therapist or mental health professional.
A good place to start can be discussing your symptoms with a healthcare professional. They can determine whether there are any underlying causes for your symptoms and refer you to a mental health professional for further evaluation.
A psychological evaluation might be recommended to determine a diagnosis and recommend a course of treatment.
Public speaking anxiety is not its own diagnosis but rather is considered an anxiety disorder.
According to the DSM-5, you may have an anxiety disorder if:
- your anxiety causes extreme stress, which affects your daily life
- you avoid situations or cirumstances that cause you anxiety, or have strong anxiety if you can’t
- that you have anxiety nearly every day for more than 6 months
- your anxiety is excessive and out of proportion to the trigger (which in this case is public speaking)
- there’s not another mental health condition that could be causing your symptoms
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, consider seeking professional support. Only a mental health professional can make a diagnosis.
Once a diagnosis is made, you and the doctor or therapist can work together to form a treatment plan that works for you and your symptoms.
There are several types of therapy that can help you cope with or overcome public speaking anxiety.
Psychotherapy, aka talk therapy, can help you understand your symptoms and may even be able to help you determine the cause.
Perhaps you experienced an embarrassing public speaking incident as a child, or maybe a work presentation that didn’t go as well as you’d hoped.
Whatever the initial cause, getting to the root of your anxiety can help you more easily identify potential triggers and develop strategies to manage them.
Virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) is another therapeutic method for conquering speaking anxiety. This strategy has gained popularity in recent years — and for good reason.
Researchers have seen positive results, and a 2021 meta-analysis of 11 studies shows that VRET techniques can significantly reduce symptoms of public speaking anxiety.
Your doctor may recommend medication in addition to — or sometimes instead of — therapy, based on your symptoms and what may or may not be working to relieve them.
There are many prescription treatments available. Depending on your unique situation, you may opt for regular use (long term) or as-needed (short-term) medications.
Short-term medications are taken only as needed, such as right before making a speech or whenever your symptoms start to overwhelm you. Beta-blockers are the most commonly prescribed medication for managing anxiety in the moment rather than daily.
It can be challenging to live with public speaking anxiety, but there are ways that you can cope with your symptoms and prevent them from overwhelming you when you have to speak in front of others.
Being fully prepared is one of the most effective ways of managing public speaking anxiety, and there are many strategies you can use to make speaking situations more manageable.
- Create a script. A script is a great way to plan out everything you want to say during your presentation — and a great tool for practicing. If you’re worried that you’ll find yourself buried in your script rather than engaging fully during your actual speech, consider creating a detailed outline instead. This gives you a roadmap to refer to while also allowing for your natural and amazing self to shine though.
- Be familiar with your material. Knowing your material well will help you avoid any hiccups or roadblocks along the way. You don’t need to memorize your presentation word for word, but having a clear understanding of your speech and what you’re trying to convey will allow you to be more relaxed during your presentation.
- Block it out. “Blocking” is a stage term that refers to where actors stand or what actions they do during a play. If you don’t want to stand in a single spot during your presentation, consider adding some planned movement during transitions in your speech, such as “When I switch from point A to point B, I’ll take 3 steps left.” This is especially helpful for larger spaces, such as conference spaces or lecture halls.
- Practice, practice, practice. Go over your entire presentation. Then go over it again. And again. The more you practice, the more the speech will become second nature, so that you can deliver it with ease when the time comes.
- Record yourself. Watching your presentation can help you see where you may need to make adjustments, as well as show you what’s going well with your speech and delivery. This recording is just for you, and you don’t need fancy equipment; a smartphone or tablet will work perfectly.
- Enlist the help of others. Asking someone to help you can provide you with outside encouragement and support. Consider people you’re comfortable with, such as a close friend or loved one.
- Anticipate audience questions. If your presentation will be followed by a Q&A session, it can help calm your nerves by considering what questions the audience may ask ahead of time. This way, you can prepare your responses ahead of time and not worry about answering on the fly.
During your speech or presentations, many of the audience members share your fear. Public speaking anxiety is very common, and you’re not alone.
Public speaking anxiety is a type of social anxiety disorder that’s triggered by the fear of speaking in front of others. Also known as glossophobia, public speaking anxiety can cause physical symptoms such as an elevated heart rate, shortness of breath, and even panic attacks.
Therapy and medication are effective treatments for public speaking anxiety. There are also strategies you can try to manage or prevent your symptoms.
When giving a speech, remember to smile, make eye contact, and breathe. If your anxiety starts to rise, give yourself permission to acknowledge it and pause.
Take a deep breath, get centered, and carry on: You’ve got this.