What are the Symptoms of Fear of Public Speaking ?

Are You Shaking in Your Shoes?

The symptoms of fear of public speaking are many and varied. They can afflict everybody from the most accomplished and experienced speaker to the novice with varying degrees of intensity.

If you get nervous before opening your mouth to speak in front of a room full of people, be assured it’s a fairly normal response. Most people have a few twinges of excitement/anxiety before a public performance of any type.

While that might not make you feel better, if you're in the grip of dealing with some of the more intense symptoms of fear of public speaking there are effective solutions.

You can learn about some of those tips for dealing with acute anxiety here.
But before you go it helps to know a little more so you know exactly what you're coping with.

When you understand what is going on you are less likely to leap to other conclusions. The heady mix of fear and excitement preceding a major event is very powerful and can cause a myriad of debilitating manifestations. Any of these could easily be mistaken or misinterpreted as something more, perhaps even a major illness.

So Let's IDENTIFY & NAME -

Some of the Many Symptoms of Fear of Public Speaking

A large part of overcoming any problem is to know and recognize what is happening, mentally, emotionally and physically when we are in the middle of it. Therein lies the difficulty because what tends to happen when we’re wracked by powerful reactions is a loss of clarity. Everything gets lumped together and we can no longer separate or name the elements. We just know we are feeling ‘not good’.

Use this symptoms of fear of public speaking checklist to help identify what is happening.

You are fearful or anxious if you experience any of the following common symptoms of fear of public speaking when you have a speech to give.
The intensity or degree to which you feel the discomfort may vary from slight to extreme.

Symptoms of Fear of Public Speaking are:

  • Procrastination: putting off planning and preparing through telling yourself ‘It really is very easy.’ and ‘It will just take ‘xxx’ amount of time and effort’. This is avoidance. Some people are very adept at it, keeping it up right to the last minute. When the deadline for delivery approaches they whirl into overdrive and if the *performance/speech (*substitute whatever is you are doing e.g. presentation etc) goes badly, the excuse is ‘There wasn’t enough time.’ If it goes well they feel justified. The personal cost of procrastination is unnecessarily upsetting yourself and others. You put an extra burden in place on top of what is already there.


  • Minimizing: convincing yourself the task at hand is much less than it actually is. There are a variety of minimizations. It could be the task will take less time to prepare for properly or perhaps it is seen as not very important to the people who will receive it, or to the person giving it. Whatever the guise of minimization employed, the root psychological cause lies in feeling fearful about the performance. Making the task appear smaller than it actually is apparently brings it under control. If something is unimportant or small, we do not have to feel threatened or frightened of it. Minimizing belongs in the same family group as underestimating. Chronic underestimating or minimizing is a symptom of someone unable to face and grasp reality clearly. Their judgments let them down.


  • Denial: ‘forgetting’ you agreed or undertook to speak/perform. Sometimes when we are deeply fearful or threatened, we protect ourselves by ‘forgetting’. The event ‘slips our mind’ completely. We do not remember having made the commitment. The degree of denial can vary from total ‘forgetting’ to partial. The latter could be ‘forgetting’ the time the event was to take place, or the venue or leaving crucial bits of equipment behind.


  • Avoidance: throwing out objections as to why we should not do what is being asked of us and perhaps suggesting others whom we say will do it better or who are more appropriate choices. The root of avoidance is commonly fear, despite the generous coating of plausible rationalizations to hide it. Avoidance lets you know you may have issues about ‘being seen’. Perhaps the fear is being frightened of being seen as a fool, inadequate or weak by those who really matter.


  • Totally Panic Stricken?

    Literally and truly paralysed by fear?

    If that's you and you know what you're experiencing is beyond normal manageable anxiety check out Barry Joe McDonagh's article on Public Speaking Panic Attacks.

    There is hope and there are solutions.

  • Obsessive or repeating negative thoughts and images: imaginings in which whatever is feared most by the would-be performer occurs. The imagination works overtime in technicolor with surround sound creating potent pictures of every worst case scenario possible. The result is always public humiliation. Examples: The audience walks out laughing. You find yourself on stage naked, speechless and without any of your notes.


  • Butterflies-in-the-stomach: nervous or delicate tummy. You may feel a little queasy. At the strong end of the spectrum, some people experience severe nausea and even vomiting.


  • Diarrhea: that old cliché, ‘scared s***less’ has its basis in truth. When we get frightened running to the lavatory is part of its physical manifestation.


  • Excess sweating or perspiring: another old cliché fits: ‘to sweat it out’. Being very nervous or under intense pressure activates the sweat glands.


  • Heart rate quickens: the more under stress we feel, the faster our heart beats.


  • Rapid shallow breathing: breathing using only the top of the lungs. Under duress we tend to breathe more shallowly. We snatch small breaths and therefore get less oxygen into our bodies. Because we have less oxygen, we need to breathe again more quickly. This becomes a cycle of rapid, small breaths reinforcing our feelings of discomfort. In the extreme we may end up feeling light-headed and faint.


  • Shaking hands & knocking knees: There’s a cliché to fit this too. ‘To shake in one’s shoes’ is to be so terrified we can not control our limbs. They shake regardless of how much we try to stop them.


  • Clumsiness: temporarily loosing fine motor skills and judgment. Example: Instead of placing a glass carefully on the table. We drop it, spilling the water. It seems we are concentrating so hard on survival; there is not the surplus energy available to service non-critical functioning.


  • Excessive drop or rising of body temperature: getting either too hot or too cold regardless of the external temperature. Everybody else is comfortable but you suddenly have to either put more clothes on or take some off. Both states are a reflection of a nervous system under stress.


  • Dry mouth: the salivary glands appear to stop operating and all the moisture you should have in your mouth dries up. The result is you can’t speak properly because you need the lubrication. Your tongue will feel too big and awkward.


  • Talking too fast/ mumbling/stuttering/stammering/ squeaking…: speech echoes how we feel. If our breathing is too quick and shallow and our mouth is dry, the voice is going to suffer. We will be unable to shape our words properly, let alone get them out audibly.


If you recognise yourself as suffering from any of these symptoms of fear of public speaking, be kind to yourself.You will survive but you can do more than that, you can thrive by acknowledging and managing them.

Many of these are known to me. I won't say they're old friends but we've learnt to accommodate each other.

I remember once being convinced I had caught a terrible stomach flu, just as I recall shaking knees, dry mouth and more.

When they first appeared I remember not understanding the relationship between them and the up-coming event I'd been preparing for. Later when I did, much of the advice given was contradictory and some of it less than helpful. Stopping what you really want to do because you can't find a solution to managing the symptoms of fear of public speaking is not an answer I wanted to hear.

You can find out here what I found most useful for dealing with acute anxiety. These are user friendly effective tips for meeting the symptoms of fear of public speaking and dealing with them.

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If you're reading about symptoms of fear of public speaking for a friend or relative caught in their grasp, please don't tell them they're weak or tell them to stop giving speeches. Instead help them to find a suitable management strategy. If you can get on to it soon enough, fear doesn't have to become a dominating factor. Use the suggestions above as a starting point.

To understand more about why people react the way they do and have symptoms of fear of public speaking read through the fight or flight page.

Check here for tips guaranteed to reduce the impact of symptoms of fear of public speaking. This page contains many essential tips for overcoming performance anxiety by focusing on how to craft and deliver a successful speech. The real answer isn't to give in but to get better.

If you're here looking to understand a child suffering some of the symptoms of fear of public speaking and want some long-term tips to to help build their self confidence, read this page. It contains many Speech and Drama suggestions and activities for children from kindergarten through to about 9 yrs.old. If your child falls outside of the age group, there is plenty here, that can be readily adapted to suit. Go there now. Help them to help themselves.




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User friendly effective tips to deal with acute anxiety

What is Happening to Me? The Fight or Flight Response Explained

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"Words are of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind."
Rudyard Kipling