Mark Twain once said, “There are two types of speakers: Those who get nervous and those who are liars. Then there was Jerry Seinfeld, who famously said, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

Public speaking anxiety or glossophobia (fancy name for the fear of public speaking), happens when you’re performing or expecting to perform a presentation or a speech in front of other people.

Fear of public speaking is frequently one of people’s biggest fear, in fact, it affects 3 out of 4 people or 75% of individuals that suffer from speech anxiety.

Why are we so scared of public speaking?

The reasons can vary widely and can be as unique as the individual, but to sum it up, you can see that all these reasons have one connecting thread – their mindset. Understanding the roots of this common fear can help us conquer it faster.


Fear of stuffing up and looking stupid

Nobody wants to look like a loser, especially in front of a crowd. This brings about the person’s need to impress their audience, and when they start thinking that they won’t be able to achieve that, they start feeling nervous.

They fear that they may disappoint their audience with their speech or presentation. There are also people who, at the moment they set foot on the stage and open their mouths, start to see their audience as a bunch of grinning mischiefs who are waiting for the speaker to make a blunder – whether it is pronouncing a word incorrectly, stuttering in the middle of a sentence, or the audio-visual failing. These speakers actually feel that their audience ‘wants’ them to fail.

Think about the last time you attended a speaking event or conference. As an attendee, did you ever wish that speaker would fail? Probably not – that would be a terrible thing. Your time is valuable, and it would be a waste of time to see a speaker flounder. The audience wants to get real value from a talk and wants to see the speaker succeed. That said, even failure is worse than not trying at all.


Fear of being judged

Some speakers become nervous not because of failing but because of being judged. When it comes to speaking engagements, speakers have a set topic, and it’s up to them to craft a solid presentation around it. One problem is that speakers often worry too much about what the audience will think of their speech – the content as well as the way they present it. They worry that the audience will not agree with what they are saying, or that the audience will start questioning the validity of the information they are presented (something that a person speaking to a group of professionals and industry leaders often feel).

A higher diversity of ideas and viewpoints correlates to better performance in all fields. A speaker’s job isn’t to parrot others but rather to present beneficial, thought-provoking information to a targeted audience.


A lack of self-confidence

Another common cause of speech anxiety would be a lack of self-confidence. When speakers are unsure of themselves and their presentation, it’s natural to start worrying and push sweat glands into overdrive. The lack of self-confidence can be brought about by a number of factors including poor preparation and inexperience.

How can speakers combat this? Rehearse presentations. Speech is generally more transient and casual than the written word. Practising a presentation in front of peers, family, or even a pet can drastically improve its quality and receive valuable speaking feedback.


Over to you

There are of course countless other reasons why people get nervous when speaking in front of others, but the ones mentioned above seem to be the most prevalent among people suffering from glossophobia.

The levels at which people experience this issue may be mild or extreme, but no matter what the level, they should strive to work on it if they aim to become a better public speaker.

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