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Glossophobia or speech anxiety is the fear of public speaking or of speaking in general. The word glossophobia comes from the Greek γλῶσσα glōssa, meaning tongue, and φόβος phobos, fear or dread. Many people only have this fear, while others may also have social phobia or social anxiety disorder.
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- intense anxiety prior to, or simply at the thought of having to verbally communicate with any group,
- avoidance of events which focus the group's attention on individuals in attendance,
- physical distress, nausea, or feelings of panic in such circumstances.
The more specific symptoms of speech anxiety can be grouped into three categories: physical, verbal, and non-verbal. Physical symptoms result from the sympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) responding to the situation with a "fight-or-flight" reaction. Since the modus operandi, or method of operating, of the sympathetic system is all-or-nothing, adrenaline secretion produces a wide array of symptoms at once - all of which are supposed to enhance your ability to fight or escape a dangerous scenario.[original research?] These symptoms include acute hearing, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, dilated pupils, increased perspiration, increased oxygen intake, stiffening of neck/upper back muscles, and dry mouth.[original research?] Some of these may be alleviated by drugs such as beta-blockers, which bind to the adrenaline receptors of the heart, for example.[original research?] The verbal symptoms include, but are not limited to a tense voice, a quivering voice, and vocalized pauses—which tend to comfort anxious speakers.[original research?] One form of speech anxiety is dysfunctional speech anxiety, in which the intensity of the fight-or-flight response prevents an individual from performing effectively.[original research?]
Many people report stress-induced speech disorders which are only present during public speech. Some glossophobics have been able to dance, perform in public, or even to speak (such as in a play) or sing if they cannot see the audience, or if they feel that they are presenting a character or stage persona rather than themselves. Being able to blend in a group (as in a choir or band) can also alleviate some anxiety caused by glossophobia.
Estimated 75% of all people experience some degree of anxiety/nervousness when public speaking.
Help and relief
Organizations, such as Australian Rostrum, Toastmasters International, POWERtalk International or Association of Speakers Clubs, and training courses in public speaking help reduce the fear to manageable levels. Self-help materials that address public speaking are among the best selling self-help topics. Some affected people have turned to certain types of drugs, typically beta blockers to temporarily treat their phobia.
- Rothwell, J. Dan. In The Company of Others: An Introduction to Communication. New York: McGraw Hill, 2004.