The fear of public speaking is one of the most common fears in people, so let us have a look at how to overcome the fear of public speaking.
So, how to overcome the fear of public speaking? There are some less commonly used methods we will take a look in this article:
- Changing your thought patterns
- Using beta blockers
- HearthMath method
- Other less common methods
In the first part of this post, we will look at how widespread the stage fright is. After that we will take a look at some of the less common methods used to relieve the speaking anxiety.
The glossophobia: Are you alone?
There is a lot of unconfirmed content on the Internet about the frequency of occurrence of the fear of public speaking (glossophobia). Therefore, as a result, there is a lot of data that creates misconceptions in people. For example, according to www.glossophobia.com, about 75% of people are afraid of public performances. Well, since they do not provide proof of how this number was obtained, it is difficult to verify the validity of the claim.
In my 2013 Master’s thesis that studied 504 participants, I dived deeper into the different types of international research on the performance anxiety. Today, I will introduce you to some of the more exciting findings.
How many people are afraid of public speaking?
- The 2001 Gallup study (USA) revealed that 40% of people were afraid of public speaking.
- Tomas Fumark’s study of 2000 highlighted that the stage fear prevailed in 77.1% of the people suffering from social anxiety disorder. Of 2,000 study participants, 24% of the respondents indicated that stage fright was an issue.
- A total of 9,282 people participated in the 2008 US study that revealed that the worst fear in the context of social anxiety disorder was the fear of public appearance or presentation (21.2%). If we also add business meetings or class discussions (19.5%), it turns out that 40.7% of people are afraid of public speaking situations (ibid).
- A total of 202 second-year students (101 men and 101 women) took part in a study at the University of Malaysia in 2011. The results showed that 80% of the respondents suffered from an average or above average level of the stage fright.
One way or another, these studies clearly show that the glossophobia is not something that only a few suffer from. My own study revealed that:
- an average or above average level occurred in 65.4% of the respondents;
- I would specifically like to point out that a high level of the stage fear occurred in 36.5% of the respondents.
Professional musicians vs. stage fright of public speaking
We are all human beings, and professional performers are no exception. Many famous performers have admitted that they used to be so terrified of going on stage that they felt like fainting. Barbra Streisand, for example, could not appear on stage for the whole of 27 years after she once forgot the lyrics at one of her concerts.
This has been confirmed by Peter Mak, who studied professional musicians in 2010 and found that ca. 60% of the participants suffered from stage fright. Of these, 20% have reported that the level of stage fright affects their professional career.
Papageorgi, Creech, and Welch (2011) conducted a survey among 244 musicians, which revealed that solo performances generated greater tension than the group ones. Without quantifying the results, they claim that stage fright was a concern for a significant majority of participants.
Men vs. the stage fear and women vs. the stage fear
A telephone survey was conducted in the United States in 2001, with a total number of participants reaching 1,016 people (over the age of 17). This survey studied the worst fears of Americans. It was revealed that 37% of men and 44% of women suffered from the glossophobia.
My MA study also showed that as compared to men, the percentage of individuals with an average or above average level of the fear is significantly higher in women (65%) than it is in men (53.4%). A particularly noteable difference occurs when comparing people with a high level of the fear of public speaking. In this case 42.4% of the women obtained the score in the test (only 18.8% of the men).
However, the results of the study carried out at the University of Malaysia showed a bit different results. This study (2011) revealed that the level of the fear was quite similar in both men and women, i.e., there were no significant differences.
Does it decrease with age?
Well… in general, the answer is yes. In my Master’s thesis, I also studied how people of three different generations cope with the glossophobia.
To sum it up, 47.3% of baby boomers suffer from an average or a above average level of the glossophobia. Those percentages are significantly higher for Generations X (64.6%) and Millenials (79.1%). Have a look at the chart below.
However, it is also quite logical that the younger you are, the less experience you have with public appearances and the less ability to cope with the situation.
So, is the fear of public speaking something special?
Everything I have mentioned above should make it clear that it is not something unique or rarely present. Quite the contrary, this is something very common.
Now, let us have a look at how to overcome fear and anxiety.
How to overcome the fear of public speaking?
A wide variety of strategies, methods, and treatments are used to deal with it. In general, it is important to understand that the fear does not disappear. Only focussing on the problem can guarantee relief.
In this section, in addition to the conventional methods (proper preparation, positive thinking, etc.), I will bring out some of the primary ways of relieving the glossophobia found in the specialized literature.
Which medicine can help?
Peter Mak points out that medications with beta blockers are commonly used. These help reduce the physiological symptoms, but not always stress. In addition, he also mentions a variety of sedative techniques, such as yoga or mediation. He also adds that there is not enough research on the latter that would allow for substantive conclusions about their efficacy.
According to Katrin Aedma, besides medicine and antidepressants that have a short-term effect, psychotherapy can be an excellent solution, e.g., group therapy. Group participants are asked to read fearsome situations out loud and rank them according to the fear strength level. Then, they experience being in all the situations starting from the less fearsome one. She asserts that in this way, a person can experience that nothing happens when a person is convinced that there is nothing to be feared.
How to overcome the fear by changing your thought pattern?
D.T. Kenny (2005) recommends such methods of thinking and spiritual healing as the Alexander Technique and Mensediech. Maret Mursa, a teacher at the Drama School of Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, also recommends using the Alexander Technique, which, due to its positive effect on coordination, is applied in music and drama schools around the world.
Among other things, it is also used to teach young actors. This technique is based on the principle that each person functions as a whole, and in order to achieve a healing change, a person must learn to constantly avoid unintentional, unnecessary, and harmful habits (such as speedy responses to stimuli, excessive tension in muscles and joints, as well as excessive tension and effort).
These habits are repeated daily and become part of the subconscious, so part of learning and applying the Alexander Technique is to become aware of what we actually do.
The HearthMath method
Peter Mak also uses the HeartMath method in his study, which has a direct effect on reducing the impact of physical and indirect cognitive responses. Using this method, he found that the performance anxiety decreased in the participants significantly.
The HeartMath method gives people a chance to find a better balance through their thoughts, emotions, and body signals, which, in turn, improves performances. This method is simple and scientifically proven.
Less common methods
D.T. Kenny refers to the Stanton study, in which hypnotherapy was used on students suffering from the fear of public speaking. It was found that the students experienced a significant decrease in the level of the fear. However, Kenny emphasises that the participants were not tested in different public speaking situations, but the study was rather based on self-assessment.
Acceptance of stress followed by an encouraging speech for oneself, which Peter Mak mentiones, is a rather effective method. He refers to the Court-Jackson study in 2007, according to which the participants who motivated themselves with a little encouraging speech shortly before or during presentation, suffered less fear than those who did not.
All of the above shows that there are several options to showcase the performance anxiety, which, according to some of the studies, should also work. However, it must be kept in mind that the choice of a method depends, in the first place, on the person in question and on the context in which his fear of public speaking manifests itself.
A method that can be effective in one situation may not have any particular effect on another one.
Prevalent common methods
In my 2013 Master’s thesis, I studied the main tools to overcome the fear of public speaking used by the participants.
With almost equal frequency, it turned out that the most prevalent means are thorough preparation and knowledge obtained through training, i.e., being ready for presentation (67.9% and 65.4% respectively).
The next most useful tool is plenty of practice (52.2%). Given the frequency of use of PowerPoint presentation program, it was not surprising that this tool was considered effective (46.3%).
Does practicing in front of a camcorder help?
Practicing in front of a camcorder is a tool used the least, found effective by only 3.4% of people. In addition, it should be pointed out that 18.9% of the respondents deemed it necessary to attend public speaking classes.
Having twenty years of experience in public speaking and public speaking training, I can assure you that practicing in front of a camcorder helps a lot. I am therefore convinced that the last two responses may indicate a lack of relevant experience, which means they cannot be adequately evaluated.
Other methods to overcome the fear of public speaking
In addition to the options mentioned previously, it was also possible to enter one’s own answer in the box „Other answers“. A total of 7.4% of the respondents (N = 30) chose this option. Similarly to the question specifying the reasons behind the stage fright, there were many answers that qualify as part of the survey.
The answers given by the respondents can be broadly classified into three categories: a. Learning about the background of the audience and conversing with the audience b. Therapy or sedatives c. The fear of public speaking cannot be suppressed.
How do people of different ages prepare for the presentation?
The generations section indicates the most significant differences in thorough preparation, highly valued by Generations X and Millenials. Paradoxically, baby boomers generally find that the most important thing is knowing you are ready, which creates a contradiction. How can you know you are ready without having preparation?
The study also found that, unlike baby boomers (53.4%) and Generation X (59.1%), Millenials (41.1%) pay significantly less attention to practice. There is an explanation to the above-mentioned results, i.e., why the level of fear of public speaking in Generation Y is significantly higher than among older generations.
The use of PowerPoint or similar presentation tool has been found to be more prevalent among Millenials, where it is considered necessary by 55.4% of the respondents. It is somewhat surprising, however, that the use of this tool is more preferred among baby boomers (50.7%) than among Generation X (40.3%).
Speaking about the use of technical tools, it was surprising that the use of the camcorder was supposedly much lower in Generation Y (2.7%) than in Generation X (4.5%).
To wrap it up
Now that we have clarified the main reasons for the occurrence of the glossophobia, think about whether and what you are afraid of when it comes to public speaking, and then think about what you can do by yourself to overcome the fear of public speaking.
Keep in mind that performance anxiety mostly occurs due to your imagination, so it is possible to overcome it and perform well through proper preparation and change of thought patterns.
What is performance anxiety? If we look into stage fright (including speaking in front of a group of people), this is a specific communication-based anxiety resulting in a person experiencing physiological excitement, negative feelings, or specific behavioral responses to the actual or expected act of public speaking (full article here)
What is the fight-or-flight response? People react with the fight-or-flight response in similar situations related to fear of public speaking. This means that our physiological system prepares us for fighting (i.e., presentation) or fleeing (e.g., rushing from the stage or rushing one’s scheduled presentation).
What is social anxiety disorder? Social anxiety disorder is a condition in which the fear of a situation where one has to make a presentation or where others are watching is very strong. Sometimes, the fear is so intense that such situations are avoided completely. (full article here)
- Aedma, K. (2012). Public speaking without sweat of fear.
- Kenny, D.T (2005). A systematic review of treatments for music performance anxiety. Anxiety, Stress, and Coping
- Mak, P. (2010). Peak Performance & Reducing Stage Fright. Implementation research HeartMath training programme with students of the Prince Claus Conservatoire
- Papageorgi, I., Creech, A., Welch, G. (2011). Perceived performance anxiety in advanced musicians specializing in different musical genres