Fight Or Flight? The Battle Of Speaking In Public

I am one of those people who absolutely dread speaking in public. The thought of standing in a classroom or auditorium filled with people and delivering a speech nearly makes me sick to my stomach. I have always wondered why certain people are so terrified of public speaking and why others think it is no big deal. When I graduated high school in 2013, I knew that college was going to force me out of my comfort zone and public speaking was something that I needed to do in college and in my career if I wanted to be successful. As time progressed, I definitely feel like I have become a better public speaker, but I still do not find it any easier to speak publicly even though I am a junior and this is my sixth semester at Penn State.




 After doing some research, I actually found that there is a technical term for the fear of public speaking and that term is glossophobia. Usually when I am afraid or not good at things I tend to assume that I am the only who suffers from that fear. Most of the times my assumption is completely false, just like this time. Fear of public speaking is quite common, according to Statistic Brain, around 5,476,000,000 people suffer from some sort of speech anxiety. That is just over 5.4 billion with a B, people. That accounts for just about 74% of the world’s population. So if you think you are the only who hates speaking in public, you’re definitely not. Most likely, the next person you run into on the street shares your feelings about public speaking. This makes glossophobia one of the most common fears or phobias in the world.

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Why are over 5 billion people scared of speaking in front of other people?

The reason why most of us hate speaking in public is because our body’s natural reaction to stress kicks in. This reaction is called the “fight or flight” response which is caused by our body’s sympathetic nervous system. When the sympathetic nervous system kicks in, we start to sweat, fidget, and our heart starts racing. Why do we feel so stressed out? That could be due to a number of reasons like the fear of messing up and the overall pressure of the situation. I also believe that when you speak to an audience that you do not really know, certain people’s comfort levels, including mine, can drop significantly because they are not sure how those audience members are going to react. In my opinion, this is fairly similar to when my high school teacher called on me to answer a question that I did not know. My heart would immediately start racing, I would begin to breathe heavily, and my voice cracked as I muttered “I don’t know.” That is the same fight or flight response that your body gives during public speaking. The fight or flight response has evolved dramatically over the years. Thousands of years ago, our ancestors used this same exact response when they felt their life was threatened by a predator.


Is it possible to become a better public speaker?

The short answer is yes, but it is much easier said than done. With all things in life, if you want to get better at something it is important to practice. Public speaking is something that virtually every single person will have to do in their careers. A number of relaxation techniques can be deployed which tell your fight or flight response to chill out including deep breathing. At Penn State, CAS 100 is a great class for people to practice public speaking. Next time you’re nervous about giving a speech, remember you are not alone. I am most likely ten times as nervous as you are.

7 thoughts on “Fight Or Flight? The Battle Of Speaking In Public

  1. Naseem Memari

    This is an interesting article because the topic is so relatable to so many of the student body. I have always had a fear of public speaking, and when I got to high school it became prominent that speeches were a part of classes. That made me super nervous because I was afraid of being judged, as many people were afraid of that as well. I joined a business club in high school, and by senior year, I was an officer and had to do multiple conferences, competitions, and speeches in general. It for sure forced me to become a much more confident speaker, but I can still get that “fight-or -flight” response mentioned from your article depending on how I feel about the speech.

  2. Darby Helen Smith

    I found this post to be very relatable and interesting! I also struggle with getting up and doing presentations in front of classes and I have always questioned why that is because I am otherwise pretty confident and outgoing. I am totally fine with answering questions in class and talking in front of people in a more relaxed setting but I end up freaking out when having to speak formally in front of a large group of people. Your post answered my questions and I was very surprised by the high number of people having the same issue!

  3. Elizabeth Anne Galante

    Reading your post was definitely one of the most relatable post that I have read. Since I am younger I have always been the outgoing, bubbly, loud girl yet when it was time for me to take CAS100 (Public Speaking) during summer session and Penn State this summer, all those qualities quickly vanished and I could understand why. I didn’t understand why someone who was not remotely shy couldn’t get themselves to confidently stand up in front of students were quickly became my close friends and deliver my speech. I was well aware that everyone was in the same position as me and that nobody was judging me but for some reason I could never get up and speak. After reading about the statistics and how many other people go through this same fear made me feel a lot better about how much anxiety I get when being called on or having to talk in front of a lot of kids.

  4. nam5542

    I can definitely relate to this article as I had had problems being able to speak to a public audience. It does take a lot of effort to become a better public speaker, which entails having to do it more and more to get used to speaking publicly. I can remember my first speech in CAS 100, and boy did it not go well.

  5. Ademilola Esther Badejo

    I’m one of those people that aren’t actually afraid of talking in public. Sometimes I will occasionally get nervous, but after a few minutes I’m perfectly fine. The advice I have is anyone that wears glasses and is afraid to speak in public, take off your glasses. Now if you’re unlike me and have perfect vision, I can’t help you too much. I would say buy fake prescription glasses but 1.) If you have to read then you can’t use your glasses which defeats the purpose. 2.) I think wearing the wrong glasses can harm your eyes. I tried to help though! Enjoyed your post!

  6. Jon Shanfelder

    From the statistics in your post, it is not surprising at all that I accumulate a great deal of anxiety when I have to give a public speech. I believe the best way to go about overcoming this fear is to start small, really small. I think giving a short, 3-4 minute speech to an audience around 5-7 people is the best way to overcome that initial barrier. I think the hardest thing for me is that I think that other people can see that I’m nervous, which make me more nervous. It is a ruthless and unforgiving cycle. Confidence is also a key factor in my opinion. Here is an article about how to overcome public speaking:

  7. Bernarda Jarrin Alvear

    I enjoyed to read this post since I have a terrible fear to speak in public but I am glad I am not the only one. It is impressive that 74% of the world’s population has the same fear. I thought that it was much less but again similar to you, I tend to think that I am the only one who has a certain fear. I found a very interesting article that actually talked about how this fear has transcended through many generations. On prior times public speaking would mean disagreeing and that could mean death. Here is the link of the article. It talks about different theories about why people have developed fear of public speaking but it also offers some solutions.

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