There’s no shame in admitting it. “I have glossophobia.” No, it’s not the fear of shiny surfaces… or spray paint… or lip gloss. It’s the all-too-common and widespread fear of public speaking.

Picture it. You step to the podium, or simply to the front of the room. You’ve been introduced, you’re prepared and ready to go. Notes in hand, you take a deep breath and…

Your heart starts racing, palms get sweaty, and a paralyzing fear grips you. Perhaps, like one of my clients, a grey wall slams up between you and your audience, and you start to panic.

It’s okay. You’re not alone. Anxiety over public speaking is said to impact more than 75% of the population, and for some, it is more deeply feared than dying.

You could simply avoid it. If you don’t do it, you don’t have to worry about fearing it, right? (That’s why I don’t get on top of tall mountains on a pair of skis. Nope.)

But for many, public speaking – whether to tens of people or to thousands – is a crucial part of advancing their businesses or careers.

Frankly speaking, avoiding speaking opportunities can limit your visibility and recognition in your field.

It can lead to missed opportunities for leadership, hinder relationship building, and restrict your ability to influence and inspire others.

Conversely, getting a handle on your glossophobia can make a huge difference in the impact you’ll have on your business or career and on those who are meant to hear your message.

Root Causes: Why Public Speaking Scares Us

Three of the most common causes of glossophobia stem from other fears:

  • Fear of Judgment and Criticism: The anxiety about how others perceive us, and the dread of negative evaluation, are often at the heart of glossophobia. As humans, we fear being regarded as lacking knowledge, or, to be more blunt, we don’t want people to think we’re stupid.
  • Perfectionism: A desire to deliver flawlessly can create immense pressure, feeding the fear of making mistakes publicly. And the mere idea of making mistakes in front of dozens, or even thousands of people? That can be paralyzing. We naturally want to be the expert.
  • Past Experiences: Previous negative experiences can condition us to expect the worst. Some people carry trauma from childhood into their adult lives and speaking opportunities – the one time they forgot their lines in the school play, or faltered on the debate stage, or simply got tongue-twisted while reading aloud or delivering an oral report. Others vividly recall being loudly and soundly contradicted the last time they dared offer an opinion in a panel discussion or in a business meeting.

Do any of these sound familiar? The good news is that there are ways to overcome each one and get past your glossophobia and into the world of confidently communicating – AND dealing with criticism AND not being perfect AND letting go of past experiences.

Strategies to Overcome Glossophobia

  1. Acceptance and Understanding: The first step in overcoming glossophobia is acknowledging it. Understand that this fear is common and that most speakers, even seasoned ones, experience nerves.
  1. Gradual Exposure: Start small. Speak in front of a mirror, then to a small group of trusted friends or colleagues. Gradually increase your audience size as your comfort grows.
  1. Preparation and Practice:
    • Thorough preparation can alleviate much of the anxiety associated with public speaking. Know your material well and rehearse it multiple times.
    • Practice in diverse settings – from a quiet room to a more realistic environment that mimics your actual speaking scenario.
  1. Breathing and Relaxation Techniques:
    • Learn and practice breathing exercises. Deep, controlled breathing can be a powerful tool to manage physical symptoms of anxiety.
    • Engage in relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation or mindfulness meditation to calm your mind.
  1. Focusing on the Message, Not the Fear: Shift your focus from your fears to the message you want to convey. Concentrate on the importance of your content and the impact it could have on your audience.
  1. Seek Feedback and Constructive Criticism: Practice your speeches in front of a supportive group who can provide constructive feedback. This can help you identify areas for improvement and build confidence.
  1. Embrace Imperfection: Accept that perfection in public speaking is a myth. Mistakes are a natural part of the learning process and usually go unnoticed by the audience. After all, people really have no clue what you were planning to share. As my late husband used to say, “that’s why they put erasers on pencils.” Wise man, was my Saul. As for me, whenever I make a major goof (or even a minor one), I tell myself that maybe I’ll be perfect next month. LOL!
  1. Visualization Techniques: Visualize a successful speaking experience. Imagine yourself speaking confidently, engaging the audience, and delivering your message effectively.

Long-Term Approaches for Sustained Improvement

  • Join a Speaking Club or a Practice Group: Consider joining a local speaking club or group where you can regularly practice public speaking in a supportive environment.
  • Continuous Learning: Invest in books, online courses, or workshops on public speaking. Continuous learning can improve your skills and boost your confidence.
  • Professional Guidance: If the fear severely impacts your professional life, seeking guidance from a coach or therapist can provide personalized strategies and support.

Embrace Your Professional Journey

Conquering glossophobia opens doors to countless opportunities. It’s about finding your voice and letting your ideas resonate. Every great speaker started somewhere. With patience, practice, and persistence, you too can transform your fear into a stepping stone for success and confidence.

Start by identifying one strategy from this post and commit to putting it into action. Remember, overcoming glossophobia is a journey – each small step is progress toward becoming a more confident, impactful communicator.

If you’d like to hop on Zoom for a chat with me about any communication challenges that are bugging you, here’s a link to my calendar: