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:
- Problems with the amygdala—Some researchers suggest the trigger may be a small structure in the brain called the amygdala. This is the central site in the brain that controls fear responses.
- Genetic link—Social phobias may also be inherited. For example, scientists have discovered a gene in mice that affects learned fearfulness.
- Problems with brain chemicals—Scientists are also exploring a biochemical basis for the disorder, with the idea that heightened sensitivity to disapproval may be hormonally or physiologically based.
Social phobias may also be fueled by environmental factors. For instance, a fear of public speaking may be acquired from observing the fear in others, a process called observational learning or social modeling.
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 medicines 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:
- 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.
- 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 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. So, you are sure to find a chapter in your community!
- Reviewer: Brian Randall, MD
- Review Date: 11/2011 -
- Update Date: 11/21/2009 -