Fear of Public Speaking

The most common phobia in the world

Glossophobia, more commonly called the fear of public speaking, is thought to be the most common of all phobias. As many as 75 percent of all people are afraid to speak in front of an audience. As comedian Jerry Seinfeld joked in a famous bit, the average person would rather be dead inside a casket than have to speak at a funeral.

Though it’s normal to feel some performance anxiety, some people are affected to a much greater degree than others. In some cases, a fear of public speaking may be linked to a more serious anxiety disorder. Symptoms of performance anxiety include:

  • Becoming distracted, perhaps by pervasive thoughts of failure
  • Feeling helpless or overwhelmed
  • Feeling nauseous or having “butterflies” in your stomach
  • Performing worse in front of an audience than you had performed in practice
  • Having your mind “go blank” or forgetting some details of what you’re supposed to be doing

If you experience any of the symptoms above to such a degree that it is negatively affecting your life or academic performance, consider seeking professional help.

Getting Over Performance Anxiety

The best way to get over your fear of public speaking is to develop a good attitude about giving presentations. Don’t think of them as an obligation. Instead, look at them as an opportunity to share your unique ideas with your peers. You voice your opinions when you’re with your friends and in small study groups, so try to transfer this aspect of your personality to a larger classroom setting.

Fear of the unknown is the reason many people dislike giving presentations. The truth is that there are few times during college when you’ll have more power to determine what happens in your class than while you are giving a presentation. Don’t fear the unknown; you control the unknown. Keep in mind that your classmates understand your anxiety. In fact, if it’s a class where everyone has to give a presentation, chances are that most of them are going to feel just as nervous before they have to get up to speak.

The more presentations you give, the easier they’ll get. Try not to shy away from classes that require public speaking. Though giving presentations may not be enjoyable at first (and though you may never become truly comfortable when speaking in front of an audience), the practice will be valuable because it will help prepare you for presentations you may have to give in a future career.

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