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Glossophobia or speech anxiety is the fear of public speaking. The word glossophobia derives from the Greek γλῶσσα glōssa, meaning tongue, and φόβος phobos, fear or dread. Some people have this specific phobia, while others may also have broader 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.
During the phobic response, adrenaline secretion produces a wide array of symptoms which enhances the "fight or flight" response. As Garcia-Lopez (2013) has noted, symptoms can include acute hearing, increased heart rate and blood pressure, dilated pupils, increased perspiration and oxygen intake, stiffening of neck/upper back muscles, and dry mouth. Uncontrollable shaking is also common and often occurs prior to the phobia-eliciting stimulus. Symptoms may sometimes be alleviated or mitigated by medications such as beta-blockers.
Verbal symptoms of the fight or flight response include (but are not limited to) a tense or 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-fueled speech disorders which are only present during public speech. Some individuals with glossophobia 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 other than themselves. Being able to blend in a group (as in a choir or band) has been reported to also alleviate some anxiety caused by glossophobia.
It has been estimated that 75% of all people experience some degree of anxiety/nervousness when it comes to public speaking. If untreated, public speaking anxiety can lead to serious detrimental effects on one's quality of life, career goals and other areas. For example, educational goals requiring public speaking might be left unaccomplished. However, not all persons with public speaking anxiety are necessarily unable to achieve work goals, though this disorder becomes problematic when it prevents an individual from attaining or pursuing a goal they might otherwise have – were it not for their anxiety.
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 medications, typically beta blockers.
In some cases, anxiety can be mitigated by a speaker not attempting to resist their anxiety, thus fortifying the anxiety/fight-or-flight loop. Other strategies involve using one's nervousness to enliven an otherwise fearful speech presentation. A speaker's anxiety can also 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, focusing on friendly, attentive people in the audience has been found to help.
Traditional advice has been to urge fearful speakers not to take themselves too seriously, and to be reminded that mistakes are often unnoticed by audiences. Gaining experience in public speaking often results in it becoming less anxiety-provoking over time. Recent studies suggest that there is a close link between fear of public speaking and self-efficacy and that attempts to help presenters improve their self-efficacy will also reduce this fear.
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.
The causes of glossophobia may vary. Often, it can be linked to traumatic experiences, or fearful events occurring during childhood, adolescence and early adulthood in which the speaker endured a traumatic childhood experience related to the public speaking. Genetics may also play a role, as might evolutionary factors. In addition, other key causes of this anxiety have been identified as the novelty of the experience, the characteristics of the audience, the illusion of transparency and the degree to which the speaker identifies public speaking as a performance as opposed to an act of communication.
An uncommon cause for glossophobia may come from a medical condition or a health concern. A serious brain injury can lead to different phobias, including glossophobia.
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