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Around 75 percent of humans worldwide have the fear of public speaking, also known as glossophobia. The origin of the word is Greek, with ‘glosso’ meaning speech and ‘phobia’ meaning fear. The definition of public speaking is the process of communicating information to an audience. The concept of public speaking anxiety and fear comes mostly from the fear of embarrassment when speaking in front of different audiences (Wikipedia). This fear is one of the most commonly reported social fears today. Public speaking can put people in pressured situations that do not normally occur within our everyday life, can we combat this internal fear by implementing public speaking skills at a younger age?
The three main reasons that people fear speaking in front of others are self-consciousness, the fear of appearing nervous, and the concern that others are judging you.
The initial fear usually arises when people overestimate the stakes of communicating their ideas in front of others, therefore viewing the speaking as a possible threat to credibility, image, and chance to reach an audience (Genard).
People start to feel self-conscious when they are unaware of how a situation might turn out, and how their own actions could affect the outcome. It is common to be fearful of how people see others in a situation, especially when it is uncomfortable for the person speaking. The fear that the audience can see when a speaker is anxious or uneasy can make it very uncomfortable for the speaker because they are focusing on the after effects, and not the presentation or speech they are giving in that moment of time.
Lastly, judgment from audiences and peers is a big fear for a lot of people. This reason can easily lead to forgetting important points in a speech or presentation. While the speaker is focusing on the audience judging every move they take, it takes the speaker’s mind longer to remember the information they are presenting in the first place. Similarly, some people can know their entire presentation or speech when they practice, and then their mind goes completely blank when prompted in front of an audience. Others will shake nervously when they start speaking. This makes the speaker focus more on if others can see that they are nervous, rather than executing the speech itself. This more commonly causes the individual to forget what they are talking about.
When someone is prompted with a fear, some people might feel as if they are not even sure why this seemingly small thing gives them so much distress. Now we know that we have our brains to thank for that. The limbic system, a system of complex nerves and networks in the brain, activates two responses to fear. It notifies the pituitary gland to emit the stress hormone. Once it is released, that causes epinephrine and norepinephrine to be released as well, which are the hormones that respond when someone’s body goes into fight or flight. These are the reason someone may feel the heightened sense of awareness when nervous. The brain also triggers the sympathetic nervous system to respond, causing heart rate increases, muscle tensing, and blood vessel dilation. The responses the body is presenting condition you into making the decision to either confront the situation at hand or run from it (Dunnigan).
The initial question is, can implement public speaking skills into the curriculum at a younger age diminish the fear of public speaking as a high schooler or adult? Most individuals who have a fear of public speaking were never taught the skills necessary to speak in front of an audience. When teenagers finally get to high school, speeches and presentations are one more new and potentially scary thing that is integrated into their lives. If children were taught public speaking skills in elementary school, less fear and anxiety would be present at an older age because they would already be skilled at it. A few steps to take while teaching children how to speak in front of others are, at least one mandatory speech each school year. This way students are dipping their toe into the public speaking pool at a younger age than high school. If a child shows signs of speech anxiety, there are some tips a teacher or parent can make known, such as : make sure to know your topic well, get organized, and practice (Sawchuk). Something as simple as teaching what public speaking is all about can have a tremendous effect later in children’s lives when speeches and presentations become more prominent in their career as a student.
In conclusion, more than half of humans have speech anxiety or a fear of public speaking. The main reasons why many are afraid of speaking publicly in front of a crowd are because of other fears. The fear of being judged and embarrassed are the two most common. When an individual step out in front of an audience, a system in our brain, called the limbic system, activates hormones that bring out our ‘fight or flight instinct. This tells our bodies to react as if it is in a situation that could be deadly, it increases heart rate, breathing, and causes muscles to tense. Lastly, integrating public speaking skills into curriculum in lower grades could potentially save millions of children from growing up with this fear of public speaking.
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