Public Speaking Phobia Sample

Table of Content

Public speaking phobia is an intense and irrational fear of being judged by others when speaking in front of the public or being embarrassed or humiliated in such situations, causing apprehension, terror, and avoidance (Teachman, 2010).

More accurately, it is not the examination and negative judgments themselves but the speaker’s emotional response to them, including the feeling of shame, rejection, or humiliation that causes intense fear in the speaker. Individuals recognize that their fear is excessive or unreasonable, but they feel powerless to change their responses (Teachman, 2010). Therefore, they avoid the feared situations, such as presentations, speeches, and meetings or endure them with intense anxiety or distress.

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In Bill’s situation, he suffers from an intense fear of public speaking and finds new ways to avoid situations that involve speaking in front of an audience until his recent promotion at work. The fear most commonly occurs around formal presentations and meetings, which is similar to Bill’s case. He has dreaded public speaking since high school and avoided public speaking classes in college.

Bill’s phobia of public speaking can be explained by a natural physiological reaction (anxiety and fear) in response to a stimulus (public speaking). This concept is known as classical conditioning (“Behaviorism”, 2011).

Classical conditioning occurs when a stimulus (possibly a learned stimulus, CS) elicits an innate response (US) or a physiological reaction. Conditioning stimulus (CS) is ignited through environmental factors. In Bill’s case, the CS could be people checking jokes or incorporating humor during Bill’s speech, which can stimulate a natural response or physiological reaction (US) such as shame and embarrassment.

According to classical conditioning, Bill’s phobia is a learned behavior that could date back to a time in which he encountered a similar situation in which the audience members laughed at his speech. In response to such an incident, he developed an aversive reaction to public speaking. Therefore, each time he is asked to speak in front of an audience, he recalls the incident that occurred in his past and develops a feeling of intense fear and rejection, and tries to avoid the situation.

Operant conditioning occurs when a response to a stimulus is reinforced (“Behaviorism”, 2011). There are two types of reinforcement described in operant conditioning: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, and punishment. Positive reinforcement occurs when a reward is given after a behavior that increases the likelihood of that behavior happening again (“Behaviorism”, 2011). An example of positive reinforcement is when Hanna’s parents buy her a new laptop after she gets good grades in school.

Negative reinforcement is the removal of an unwanted stimulus to increase the likelihood of a behavior recurring (“Behaviorism”, 2011). Therefore, both positive and negative reinforcement always increase the likelihood of the behavior immediately preceding it being repeated. Punishment, on the other hand, is the removal of a desired stimulus to decrease the likelihood of the behavior being repeated. For example, John’s mother took away his driving privileges when she caught him sneaking out of the house one night.

Bill’s phobia can be explained by operant conditioning in terms of negative punishment. His unpleasant experience with public speaking in the past decreased the likelihood of him ever speaking in front of a public again. Observational learning, also called social learning theory, occurs when an individual’s behavior changes after observing the behavior of a model (“Observational Learning”, 2010).

In social learning theory, the observer is likely to imitate the model’s behavior if the model possesses traits such as power, intelligence, or popularity that the observer finds desirable (“Observational Learning”, 2010). In Bill’s case, it could be that he encountered an incident in the past where the person he admired endured terrible consequences while speaking in public, and in response, Bill avoids situations where public speaking is required. “In observational learning, the observer will react to the way the model is treated and mimics their behavior” (“Observational Learning”, 2010), similar to Bill’s case.

In psychology, extinction refers to the gradual weakening of a conditioned response (learned response) that results in the behavior decreasing or disappearing (“Behaviorism,” 2011). In classical conditioning, extinction occurs when the conditioned stimulus (environment factor) is no longer paired with an unconditioned response (innate or natural physiological reaction). In operant conditioning, extinction is possible if the trained behavior is no longer reinforced, or if the reinforcement is no longer rewarding.

In Bill’s situation, the process of extinction can be used to help overcome his fear of public speaking. Bill’s anxiety initially occurred due to intense fear of failure or public embarrassment in case the audience disliked his speech or if he made mistakes during his speech. If the negative reaction is removed from the situation, or replaced by a positive reaction from the audience, such as applause after the speech, it can extinguish his phobia of public speaking. Although individuals who suffer from phobias, such as public speaking, find it difficult to overcome their fears and anxiety, gradual steps can be taken toward improvement.

Cognitive learning can assist in overcoming the fear of public speaking vastly. The ultimate goal of therapists integrating cognitive-behavioral techniques to overcome phobias in their patients is to replace the self-inflicting negative thoughts with positive thoughts. People who suffer from public speaking phobia often have misconceptions about their ability to successfully engage the audience in a positive manner (Cuncic, 2012).

Cognitive therapy can assist patients to look at old experiences of guilt, embarrassment, or anger over past situations and move forward with a renewed interest in public speaking (Cuncic, 2012). Cognitive therapy could help Bill suppress his public speaking phobia by replacing his underlying core beliefs, also known as schemes, which influence how we interpret our environment, in a positive manner (Cuncic, 2012). Cognitive therapy can help Bill become more assertive in social situations and gain confidence for speaking in front of an audience (Cuncic, 2012).

The majority of people suffer from intense fear regarding public speaking, some more than others. As mentioned above, environmental factors are important contributors to implementing such fears. Individuals who suffer from public speaking phobia have had bad experiences related to public speaking in the past that contributed to developing an aversive reaction toward public speaking.

However, when an incident occurs where the person is admired and applauded for their speech, their phobia can gradually become non-existent. Cognitive-behavioral therapists (CBT) can also assist these individuals in regaining confidence by positive thinking, and addressing perfectionism and being more realistic regarding speaking publicly (Cuncic, 2012). Cognitive therapists can also assist in dealing with procrastination with public speaking as well. Similar to Bill’s case, he avoided giving speeches at work, which he was required to do on a weekly basis. Cognitive therapy could be the best solution to help Bill overcome his phobia.


  1. Behaviorism. (2011). Retrieved from
  2. Cuncic, A. (2012). Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and Social Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved from
  3. Observational Learning. (2010). Retrieved from
  4. Teachman, B. (2010). Social Phobia and Public Speaking Anxiety. Retrieved from

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