The fear of public speaking is a type of social phobia characterized by an intense fear of social or performance situations. Social phobias can trigger physical symptoms, like heart palpitations, tremors, sweating, diarrhea, confusion, and blushing.
What Causes This Fear
Researchers have not pinpointed the exact cause of public-speaking fear or other types of social phobias. But, some possible explanations include:
- Over activity of the part of your brain responsible for fear.
- Genetic link—Social phobias may be inherited.
- Having overprotective or overly judgmental parents.
The fear of public speaking can be being successfully treated by cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). During CBT, people learn to change negative thought patterns and behaviors. People can then confront audiences under the supervision of a trained therapist. Instead of fleeing from the fear, individuals confront their anxiety with a goal of steadily reducing the dread they once felt.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other types of medications may also be used to treat the fear of public speaking.
Build Your Skills
Toastmasters International is an organization where members meet regularly to practice public speaking in a supportive environment. Toastmasters offers these tips for success:
- Be yourself.
- Know your material. Pick a topic you are interested in, using personal stories and conversational language to minimize the chance of forgetting your speech.
- Practice beforehand by rehearsing out loud. Use a timer to pace your speech.
- Know you audience. Begin by greeting people as they arrive.
- Familiarize yourself with the room by arriving early. Practice using the microphone and other visual aids.
- Picture yourself giving your talk in a clear and confident voice and manner. Imagine the audience clapping and how their positive response will boost your confidence.
- Realize that everyone is rooting for you. Audiences want you to be interesting, entertaining, and informative.
- Do not apologize for problems or nervousness. These usually go unnoticed.
- Focus on your message and the audience, rather than your anxieties.
- Gain experience to further build your confidence.
If you are interested in gaining experience by joining Toastmasters International, the organization has meetings throughout the United States.
American Psychiatric Association
National Institute of Mental Health
Canadian Mental Health Association
Canadian Psychiatric Association
Public speaking tips. Toastmasters International website. Available at: http://www.toastmasters.org/Resources/Public-Speaking-Tips. Accessed July 31, 2017.
Social anxiety disorder. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115906/Social-anxiety-disorder. Updated November 8, 2016. Accessed July 31, 2017.
Social anxiety fact sheet. Social Phobia/Social Anxiety Association website. Available at: http://socialphobia.org/social-anxiety-disorder-definition-symptoms-treatment-therapy-medications-insight-prognosis. Accessed July 31, 2017.
Social phobia (social anxiety disorder). National Institutes of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/social-phobia-social-anxiety-disorder/index.shtml. Accessed July 31, 2017.
Last reviewed July 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Last Updated 7/8/2020