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CBT for public speaking anxiety

public speaking anxiety

We’ve all but a very few experienced it – public speaking anxiety. Whether it was our first and only time speaking or whether we have an on-going issue with presenting at work or college, public speaking can bring us searing levels of anxiety and put us under enormous emotional and physical stress before, during and even after the event itself. Also known as Glossophobia, fear of public speaking, or public speaking anxiety can manifest a wide range of symptoms. Here are some of the most well-known:

  • Dizziness/unsteadiness
  • Hot or cold sweats
  • Fear of losing control
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Nervousness
  • Chills or sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Fear of dying
  • Difficulty breathing, a feeling of suffocation or hyperventilation
  • Fear of choking
  • A panic attack: a sudden overwhelming combination of the above symptoms. It may also feel like you are ‘going crazy,’ having a heart attack or sometimes even feel like you’re dying

According to studies, a huge 75% of us Brits suffer from public speaking anxiety and many of us will avoid all possibility of having to address a room full of people, often by avoiding jobs and roles which could be really good for us but which require that most dreaded of tasks.

And according to, statistically, far more of us claim that we would prefer death to giving a speech!

Even comedian Jerry Seinfeld used to joke that at a funeral, most people would rather be lying in the casket than delivering the eulogy. So what can we do to address this public speaking phobia and move on with our lives?

Help for public speaking anxiety using CBT techniques

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a practical therapeutic approach to anxiety and phobia which has at its heart the researched theory that our behaviour patterns and emotional reactions are strongly influenced by the thoughts we have about that situation. In other words, how we think and interpret an event affects how we feel and act.

In terms of public speaking anxiety, this means that as our negative and fearful thoughts about giving the presentation or speech start to build, we may find ourselves both physically and emotionally experiencing the outcome not yet happened. In this experience may be two or more of the symptoms above and also a deeper emotional pain we cannot control.

We project a reality which is therefore not only not true but which then has the potential to cripple our efforts and leave us feeling like we’ve been through the mill.  Some experts describe this as ‘watching a false movie;’ we play out a fictional yet powerful scenario in our minds which usually includes a failure of some kind or a replaying of a past perceived failure, further compounding our discomfort.

CBT uses practical, ‘in-the-moment’ tools to help sufferers directly address their public speaking performance issues. Here’s why it’s become a popular way to combat this condition:

Identify the root causes and triggers of your anxiety such as stress, work, relationships, family issues or partnerships. Many of us who suffer with public speaking anxiety will have had a negative experience at some point where we felt exposed in front of others or in front of key people in our lives which left us with a lingering feeling of vulnerability and even pain. Identifying these triggers is the first step to disempowering them and reducing symptoms.

Examine the thoughts, feelings and behaviours surrounding stress and anxiety. In the current situation where the need for public speaking there may be other issues going on such as a wider feeling of failure, confusion or depression and even compulsive behaviours which can be surrounding and exacerbating the phobia. Examining these associated issues reduces glossophobia and can give much-needed perspective on the single issue of public speaking or performing.

Understand the progression of your anxiety in relation to life events. If not addressed, phobias tend to become worse and can be re-triggered again by life’s new events as they unfold. Old thought patterns can be given new thrust when another challenge comes along, making both situations difficult to handle. Having the perspective of how one issue can affect another builds key self-awareness.

Learn long-term coping strategies to manage and prevent anxious performance episodes and maintain the progress that you have made. There are hundreds of tips out there for coping with public speaking anxiety and glossophobia however it’s important that you know which ones will really work for you. Working with a CBT therapist will help you to discover these and hone your use of them whenever they are needed.

Further techniques for public speaking anxiety

Mindfulness meditation. This is an on-going practise such as exercise and healthy eating habits however meditation can be a very useful tool for anxiety of any kind, including that associated with public speaking. The practise of deeper, calmer breathing and observing the mind’s thoughts gives us a much clearer perspective and help to remove negative physical sensation cycles alongside negative thinking.

Get control. At the root of a lot of public fears and anxiety is a fear of the things we can’t control such as reactions and feedback. Focussing on the things we can control however, such as preparing well, finding out about timing, tone and researching the audience really help to reduce negative projection thinking and support the performance effort positively.

Do you have issues with public speaking anxiety or Glossophobia? We can help. At Fresh Mind Therapy we have found CBT to be the most effective approach for performance anxiety and have helped hundreds of clients benefit personally and professionally. If you would like to have a chat about how it might help you in as little as 6 sessions, get in touch with us now.

Resources for public speaking anxiety

Psychology today