Glossophobia: Characteristics, Diagnosis and Treatment

The glossophobia is persistent, abnormal, excessive, irrational fear of public speaking. It is about a specific type of situational phobia that is limited to public speaking actions.

People suffering from glossophobia experience high feelings of anxiety whenever they have to speak in public, a fact that in most cases prevents them from doing such actions.

This alteration differs from social phobia through the feared element. While in social phobia the person fears any type of activity that requires socialization, in glossophobia the feared element is only the activity of public speaking.


At present there are interventions that allow to overcome the glossophobia, as well as a large number of formations that can be of great help to lose the fear of speaking in public.

In this article we review the main characteristics of glossophobia. Their symptoms, their causes and their diagnosis are discussed, the differences between glossophobia, social phobia and shyness are explained, and the treatments to be carried out to overcome the phobic fear to speak in public are postulated.


Glossophobia is a specific type of phobia. It consists of an anxiety disorder that is characterized by experiencing high feelings of fear when you have to speak in public.

The anxiety response of the person with glossophobia whenever he has to speak in public is extremely high. This fact usually entails the inability to perform the activity and, in most cases, escape from the feared situation.

Likewise, people with glossophobia have a marked tendency to avoid public speaking activities. The subjects with this alteration are aware that they fear these situations excessively and usually prefer to avoid them to avoid also the discomfort that they experience in those moments.

This fact usually has a negative impact on different areas of the person. Especially in the educational and labor fields, where such activities often have to be carried out.

However, a person with glossophobia is not only afraid of academic or professional oral presentations, but fears any type of public speaking activity, regardless of the context.

Glossophobia vs shyness

Fear and / or nerves when speaking in public is a normal and highly prevalent phenomenon. Likewise, the fear of speaking in public is usually accentuated in those people with greater degrees of shyness.

However, to properly understand the glossophobia it is necessary to take into account that it results in a psychological condition markedly different from shyness.

First of all, shyness is not a psychopathological disorder, while glossophobia is. Shyness is a term that is used to define a series of personality traits of the individual, which are not pathological.

In this sense, glossophobia is a more serious psychological condition than shyness. Timid people may present greater or lesser difficulties when speaking in public.

Likewise, shy people may also experience elevated feelings of anxiety before, during or after the public speaking activity. However, despite the difficulties, they are able to develop the activity with greater or lesser accuracy.

In contrast, people with glossophobia have much more marked anxiety responses and a much more intense fear of public speaking activity. This fact implies that in most cases they are not able to develop this type of activities.

The main difference between glossophobia and shyness, beyond the intensity of anxiety experienced in public speaking situations, lies in the type of fear that arises towards these situations.

The fear of speaking in public of a shy person is classified as normal, while the fear of a person with glossophobia is considered phobic. The main characteristics of the phobic fear of glossophobia are:


The fear experienced by a person with glossophobia towards the activity of public speaking is excessive compared to the real demands of the situation.

The individual with glossophobia interprets the fact of speaking in public as a highly threatening element and responds to it with the experimentation of extreme feelings of anxiety.


The typical fear of glossophobia is characterized by being irrational. The person with this alteration is aware that their fear is disproportionate and incongruous.

In shyness, the person usually associates fear of speaking in public with more congruent thoughts, which is why the anxiety response is usually smaller and more manageable.


Although the person with glossophobia is aware that there is no point in presenting such a high fear of public speaking activity, he can not do anything to control it.

The sensations of fear and manifestations of anxiety appear automatically and uncontrollably. In shyness instead, the person usually presents certain skills and abilities to manage their emotions of fear.


The fear of public speaking of glossophobia is invariably experienced whenever the person has to perform these activities. It is relatively independent of the context and characteristics of the situation.

Likewise, the fear of glossophobia does not respond to temporary factors or determined life stages.

In shyness, however, the fear of speaking in public can become more intense in specific situations and can vary over time.

Leads to avoidance

In order to talk about glossophobia it is necessary that the person avoid, in a systematic way, carrying out public speaking activities.

In shyness, however, despite experiencing anxiety or discomfort, the individual tends to expose himself to these situations when necessary.


The fear to speak in public of the glossophobia implies the appearance of an anxiety response whenever the person is exposed to this type of situations.

In fact, sometimes, anxiety manifestations can even appear with the simple imagination of public speaking activities.

The anxiety response of glossophobia is characterized by being intense and can manifest itself in three different planes: the physical plane, the cognitive plane and the behavioral plane.

Physical plane

The physical symptoms are the first to appear and those that cause the greatest discomfort in the person. The fear to speak in public makes that in this type of situations the brain of the individual increases its activity in the autonomic nervous system.

This brain phenomenon related to the fear response of the person implies the appearance of a series of modifications in the functioning of his body, which are usually very annoying.

The physical manifestations of glossophobia can vary markedly in each case, so they do not usually adopt a unique pattern of presentation. The person with this type of specific phobia can experience any of the following symptoms whenever they are willing to speak in public.

  1. Increase in the cardiac rate
  2. Increase in the respiratory rate.
  3. Palpitations and / or tachycardias.
  4. Drowning sensation
  5. Increase in muscle tension
  6. Increased sweating
  7. Pupillary dilation
  8. Dry mouth.
  9. Stomach and / or head pains
  10. Nausea, dizziness and vomiting.
  11. Feeling of unreality

Cognitive plane

On the cognitive plane of glossophobia, the development of a series of irrational thoughts about the activity of public speaking stands out.

These thoughts can adopt multiple forms and contents in each case, but they are always characterized by negatively attributing the fact of speaking in public.

The irrational cognitions typical of glossophobia are feedback with physical manifestations to increase the state of anxiety of the person.

The physical symptoms increase the negative thoughts towards the fact of speaking in public, while the irrational cognitions also increase the physical symptomatology of the person.

Behavioral plane

Finally, in order to talk about glossophobia and, therefore, differentiate it from shyness or other normal psychological conditions, it is necessary that the fear of speaking in public affects the behavior of the person.

In this sense, a behavioral symptom stands out above all, avoidance. A person with glossophobia will avoid exposing themselves to public speaking at all times, regardless of the consequences this may cause.

When the subject with glossophobia is not able to avoid it and is exposed to public speaking, it is usual for other symptoms to appear.

Behavioral changes marked by anxiety experienced in those moments such as blockages, inability to speak, stuttering or tremor in speech are usually common manifestations.

Likewise, sometimes the escape can also appear, a behavior that sets the person in motion and whose sole objective is to escape from their feared situation to avoid the discomfort that they are experiencing.


At present, glossophobia is a disorder that has well-established diagnostic criteria. These criteria are very useful to determine the presence or absence of the alteration, as well as to differentiate it from other anxious disorders.

In this sense, the criteria that must be met to diagnose glossophobia are:

  1. Fear or intense anxiety caused by the activity of public speaking (phobic element).
  1. The phobic element almost always causes fear or immediate anxiety.
  1. The phobic element is actively avoided or resisted with fear or intense anxiety.
  1. Fear or anxiety is disproportionate to the real danger posed by the phobic element and the sociocultural context.
  1. Fear, anxiety or avoidance is persistent, and typically lasts six or more months.
  1. Fear, anxiety or avoidance causes clinically significant discomfort or deterioration in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning.
  1. The disturbance is not better explained by the symptoms of another mental disorder.

Glossophobia vs social phobia

Glossophobia is a disorder very similar to social phobia that can sometimes be confused. However, it is important to keep in mind that glossophobia is not the same as social phobia.

The main difference between both disorders lies in the feared element. While in glossophobia the phobic stimulus results only from the fact of speaking in public, in social phobia all social situations are feared in a general way.

In this sense, a person with social phobia can present a phobic fear of having personal conversations, eating in public, writing in public or going to parties.

Thus, glossophobia can be understood as another symptom of social phobia. A person with social phobia may fear the fact of speaking in public identically as a subject with glossophobia.

However, people with glossophobia do not show phobic fear towards any other social activities feared in social phobia.


Glossophobia does not present a single cause but several factors that may be involved in its development.

It is usual for the etiological elements of the disorder not to be directly identifiable, since it is postulated that the development of the glossophobia depends on the feedback of different factors.

In this sense, some of the elements that can be associated with glossophobia are:

  1. Experience of one or more personal traumatic incidents related to the activity of public speaking.
  1. Visualization of one or several other traumatic incidents related to the activity of speaking in public.
  1. Progressive avoidance of public speaking activity.
  1. Negative beliefs about public speaking activity developed during the early stages.


To intervene in glossophobia, it is of vital importance to carry out psychotherapeutic sessions. Exposure to the phobic element is the main element that allows overcoming the fear of speaking in public.

The cognitive behavioral treatments are based primarily on exposing the subject to speak in public and work in those situations anxiety responses of the subject to gradually overcome the phobia.

Also Read: Ailurophobia: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

On the other hand, there are now multiple training programs to learn to speak in public that can be useful to control anxiety at those times.