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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. As Garcia-Lopez (2013) has noted, 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. Some of these may be alleviated by drugs such as beta-blockers, which bind to the adrenaline receptors of the heart, for example. The verbal symptoms include (but are not limited to) a tense voice, a quivering voice, and vocalized pauses—which tend to comfort anxious speakers. 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.
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.
It has been estimated that 75% of all people experience some degree of anxiety/nervousness when public speaking. In fact, surveys have shown that most people fear public speaking more than they fear death.  If untreated, public speaking anxiety (as other mental health problems) can cause serious detrimental effects on people in general, and undergraduate students in particular, as it may prevent them from accomplishing their educational goals. A recent study conducted by Garcia-Lopez, Diez-Bedmar, and Almansa-Moreno (2013) has reported that previously trained students could act as trainers to other students and help them to improve their public speaking skills.
Help and relief
Training courses in public speaking and/or organizations such as Australian Rostrum, Toastmasters International, POWERtalk International, and Association of Speakers Clubs can help people to reduce their fear of public speaking to manageable levels. Self-help materials that address public speaking are among the best selling self-help topics. To temporarily treat their phobia, some affected people have turned to certain types of drugs, typically beta blockers.
A speaker's anxiety can be reduced if they know their topic well and believe in it. It has been suggested that people should practice speaking in front of smaller, less intimidating groups when they're getting started in public speaking. Additionally, focussing on friendly, attentive people in the audience has been found to help. Many suggest that speakers should remember to not take themselves too seriously, and further suggest that they should remind themselves if they make a mistake that there is a good chance the audience won't have noticed. Gaining experience is public speaking often results in it becoming easier for the person.
Loosening up a "tough crowd" by asking questions promotes audience participation. A speaker may also find this exercise to be helpful when their mind "goes blank", as it gives them time to regain their train of thought.
- Fritscher, Lisa. "Glossophobia". About.com. Retrieved 17 March 2011.
- Garcia-Lopez, L.J. (2013). Treating...social anxiety disorder. Madrid: Piramide
- Hamilton, C. (2008/2005). Communicating for Results, a Guide for Business and the Professions (eighth edition). Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth
- Woods, T. (2014). Fear of Public Speaking.
- Garcia-Lopez, L. J., Diez-Bedmar, M.B., & Almansa-, Moreno, J.M. (2013). From being a trainee to being a trainer:helping peers improve their public speaking skills. Journal of Psychodidactics, 18, 331-342.
- Rothwell, J. Dan. In The Company of Others: An Introduction to Communication. New York: McGraw Hill, 2004.