The Fear of Public Speaking: Why Many of Us Have It

Glossophobia is Fear of Public Speaking. 75% of people experience this phobia. Expert Fred Miller addresses the causes and cures for glossophobia.

Glossophobia is the Fear of Public Speaking. It is derived from a Greek word, glosso, meaning tongue, and Phobus, fear. Up to seventy-five percent of us have it, to one degree or another. It holds many people back from reaching their potential.

It is a fear worth confronting and overcoming because, as my mantra says: “Speaking Opportunities are Business, Career, and Leadership Opportunities.

People who take and make Speaking Opportunities:

  • Grow their businesses.
  • Advance their careers.
  • Increase their leadership roles.

The first step to lessening the fear is to understand why so many people dread giving public speaking and delivering presentations.

My first response is, “Why not!

Think about it. Most of our conversations are one-on-one. Many of those are on a phone where we don’t see the person we’re communicating with. Increasingly, we communicate by texting or email. Those mediums eliminate seeing and hearing the other person.

It’s reasonable to assume standing in front of, and speaking with twenty, forty, or one hundred sets of eyeballs, is ‘out of our comfort zone.’ That’s a big reason we’re uncomfortable giving a presentation.

That un-comfortableness will, if presenting on a regular basis, ultimately lessen. (You did learn to eventually not fall off your bicycle, didn’t you?)

There are several very real reasons to have a Fear of Public Speaking.

  1. If you don’t know what you’re speaking about!
    Don’t get in front of an audience and talk about something for which you have little or no knowledge. That activity, rightfully so, will give you anxiety. You’ve got to know your subject and know enough to have ‘confidence in your competence’ on your topic. That knowledge lessens anxiety.
  2. If you don’t know the structure of a presentation.
    I’ll bet you, like me, have heard speakers talk and talk and talk without there being any rhyme or reason to their presentation. The topic might have been covered, but because a logical structure wasn’t followed, the audience didn’t GET IT! Just as the recipe for a delicious cake dictates specific ingredients are added in specific amounts at specific times; there is a proven structure to a great presentation.This, like most skills, can be learned.
  3. If you haven’t practiced before the event.
    Practicing is not optional!

    • Bands who have been together for many years and play music they’ve played hundreds of time, rehearse before big concerts.
    • Professional ball players attend spring training and show up before games for batting practice.
    • Actors and actresses continually rehearse their roles.

    Why would anyone think they could “wing” it when delivering a presentation?

  4. Sometimes the Fear of Public Speaking is Situational.
    • Size of Audience.
      Speaking one-on-one is something we do all the time. For most of us, it’s very natural and easy to do. What about speaking with five people? Ten people? What number in the audience makes someone nervous? A good analogy is a Fear of Heights. Standing on a stool or step stool is not a big deal. A stepladder is okay. Climbing a twenty-four foot extension ladder to clean out my gutters - not me!
    • Specific People in the Audience.
      Maybe speaking with audiences is easy until - your boss, coworkers, or spouse is seated in the front row. - “Yikes!” Example: A financial advisor I know regularly speaks without fear, to audiences of hundreds of retirees. However, if several of his colleagues are in the seats, he feels he is under a microscope and nervousness raises its head on him.
    • If a Request is Made.
      Presenting might usually produce little angst unless the attendees will be asked to do something the speaker is uncomfortable asking. This could be appealing for a donation, asking to sign a petition, or inviting people to pledge something.
  5. Then there are the “What Ifs?”
    • What if the audience doesn’t like me?
    • What if the speaker they had last month was really, really, good and compared to him or her I stink!
    • What if I forget something? I must be perfect!
    • Then there is, perhaps, the biggest What if? What if I’ve got nothing to talk about? What could I ever present to an audience that anyone would have an interest in hearing? (I often hear this in the public speaking classes I teach.)

Here’s my response: Everyone has experiences and knowledge people would love to hear about and could benefit from. The problem is often we are ‘too close to ourselves’ and ‘looking in the mirror’ for answers. As a good friend once told me, “We don’t know what we know!”

One of the best ways to find, ‘What to talk about’ is to work with at least one other person.

When I coach clients, “I Listen and Ask Questions, so they hear themselves!” You can do the same when working with others to discover ‘What to talk about.

Ask questions like:

  • What did you learn from that?
  • What will you do differently next time?
  • So what?
  • Why would anyone want to hear that story?

From now on. . . No more, “Nothing to talk about,” excuses for not giving a presentation!

A great way to get started on your presentation is to use a Speaker’s Template.
It’s available FREE here:

Fred E. Miller is a local Speaker, Author, and Presentation Coach. The title of his first book is, “NO SWEAT Public Speaking!” Businesses, Individuals, and organizations hire him to improve their public speaking and presentation skills. For more information, contact Fred at: