Fear of Public Speaking: Perception of College Students
Anna Carolina Ferreira Marinho, Adriane Mesquita de Medeiros, Ana Cristina Côrtes Gama, and
Letícia Caldas Teixeira, Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil
Summary: Objectives. The aims of the study were to determine the prevalence of fear of public speaking among
college students and to assess its association with sociodemographic variables and those related to the voice and oral
Methods. A cross-sectional descriptive and analytic study was conducted with 1135 undergraduates aged 17–58 years.
The assessment instruments were (1) a questionnaire addressing the variables sex, age, ﬁeld of undergraduate study,
voice, and frequency of exposure to public speaking, and (2) the Self-statements During Public Speaking Scale (SSPS),
which includes variables implicated in speciﬁc domains of public speaking. A descriptive analysis was performed of
the variables as well as uni- and multivariate logistic regressions to examine their association with fear of public speak-
ing. The level of signiﬁcance was set at 5%.
Results. In all, 63.9% of the college students reported fear of public speaking. As many as 89.3% of the students
would like their undergraduate program to include classes to improve public speaking. Being female, having infre-
quent participation as speakers in groups, and perceiving their voice as high-pitched or too soft increase the odds of
exhibiting fear of public speaking compared with students without those features.
Conclusion. A great number of undergraduates report fear of public speaking. This fear is more prevalent among
women, students who participate in few activities involving speaking to groups of people, and those who have a self-
perception of their voice as high-pitched or too soft.
Key Words: Speech-language pathology–Voice–Students–Speech–Fear.
Public speaking is an act speciﬁc to oral communication that com-
bines physiological, linguistic, psychological, and cultural factors.1
Public-speaking competence is one of the determinants of pro-
fessional success,2a strategic skill to gain a competitive edge,
credibility, and a positive reputation.3
Thus, the communication exceeds the function of conveying
information. The voice, the rhythm, and the expressiveness of
the speech are valued when it comes to persuading the people.4,5
However, one of the barriers to the communication process
is fear of public speaking—a type of anxiety prevalent in the
general Brazilian population6as well as in other countries.7–13
Fear of speaking leads to communication impairments with
an impact on the individual’s personal, social, and emotional
life.5,14 The causes include lack of speaking practice, insufﬁ-
cient command of the topic, and/or a negative self-image.12,13
Among the sciences that study the subject, speech-language
pathology assists individuals in building their communication
skills and controlling their public-speaking anxiety.5,8,13,15 However,
if the fear of speaking becomes uncontrollable, psychological
or psychiatric treatment is warranted.4,10,16
Focusing on how college students cope with their fear of speak-
ing reveals that the context is even more challenging. Every year,
millions of students are admitted to university. Their entry is
marked by new challenges and the promise of a profession.
Throughout their preparation years, undergraduates will be
tackling tasks demanding intellectual achievement as well as
public-speaking skills. In view of this, we wonder how stu-
dents are facing this situation and how they are being prepared
for the coming challenge of being judged by their competence
distinguished based on their skills— including that of commu-
We believe that an investigation of fear of public speaking
among college students will raise the interest of the academic
community in the importance of building public-speaking skills
and assist in planning and enhancing programs and/or speech-
language pathology consulting initiatives to that end.15
Accordingly, the aims of the present research study were to
determine the prevalence of fear of public speaking among college
students and to assess its association with sociodemographic vari-
ables and those related to the voice and oral communication.
The present work, a cross-sectional descriptive and analytic study,
was approved by the Research Ethics Committee under Tech-
nical Opinion No. 860.425.
In all, 1135 undergraduate students of an institution of higher
education responded to a questionnaire concerning fear of public
speaking. Of these, 765 were women and 360 men, with a ma-
jority of females (67.4%). Ages ranged from 17 to 58 years (mean,
23.2 years). The study was composed of 70 undergraduate pro-
grams of the university, with 34.3% of the college students
enrolled in health sciences programs, 35.3% in humanities, 26.4%
in exact sciences, and 4% in ﬁne arts.
Accepted for publication December 21, 2015.
From the Department Speech-language Pathology and Audiology, Universidade Federal
de Minas Gerais (UFMG), Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil
Address correspondence and reprint requests to Anna Carolina Ferreira Marinho,
Department Speech-language Pathology and Audiology, Universidade Federal de Minas
Gerais (UFMG), Av. ProfessorAlfredo Balena, 190, Belo Horizonte, MG 30130-100, Brazil.
Journal of Voice, Vol. ■■, No. ■■, pp. ■■-■■
© 2015 The Voice Foundation. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
ARTICLE IN PRESS
The research questionnaire was a dedicated self-report instru-
ment developed by the investigators. It consists of two parts. The
ﬁrst comprises 12 questions concerning the student’s age, sex,
presence/absence of stuttering, ﬁeld of undergraduate study, self-
perception of voice, inﬂuence of voice on fear of public speaking,
participation in activities requiring public speaking, and level
of interest in speech-language training for speaking in public.
All those questions elicited “yes” or “no” answers. For the item
addressing the student’s self-perception of the voice, they should
select how they rated their voices among the following choices:
adequate, hoarse, high-pitched, soft, deep, or nasal. The self-
rated voice was considered positive when the participants regarded
it as adequate, and negative when another description was chosen.
The terms used were easily identiﬁed by the general public. The
second part consisted of the Self-statements During Public Speak-
ing Scale (SSPS),12 a self-report measure adapted for Brazilian
Portuguese.11 This protocol relies on the cognitive theories pos-
tulating that social anxiety is the result of one’s negative
perception of oneself and of others regarding one. The scale in-
cludes 10 questions and 2 subscales: one of positive self-
statements (items 1, 3, 5, 6, and 9) and the other of negative
self-statements (items 2, 4, 7, 8, and 10) based on a scale of 0
(totally disagree) to 5 (totally agree) points. The maximum total
score is 50 points, obtained by the summation of the 10 items
of the measure, considering that the scoring of the negative
subscale should be reversed as proposed by the Brazilian group.12
Thus, the closer a score is to 50, the greater the positive eval-
uation and the less negative; conversely, the lower the total score,
the more negative the student self-rates in the public-speaking
situation. According to the mean data of the validation study,11
the values obtained for college students were 22 for the total score,
17.32 for the positive scale, and 5.08 for the negative scale.
The questionnaire and the informed consent form were sent
online, only once, to the students on the undergraduate campus
of the university using the SurveyMonkey software. The data were
gathered during 4 months. The inclusion criteria were: to be an
undergraduate student enrolled in the institution of higher ed-
ucation in the ﬁeld of arts, exact sciences, humanities, or health,
regardless of ethnicity, sex, or age. Students were excluded from
the study if they self-reported stuttering or failed to complete
the assessment measures. A pilot study was previously admin-
istered to 10 volunteers to verify the correct understanding of
the instrument. All the questions were deemed applicable because
the volunteers had no difﬁculty answering the questionnaire. The
participants spent 5 minutes on average to answer the questions.
The data were stored on a digital database and were subse-
quently analyzed. The response variable was fear of public
speaking and the explanatory variables were sex, age, ﬁeld of
undergraduate study, inﬂuence of voice on fear of speaking, self-
perception of voice, and participation in activities involving
speaking to an audience. The statistical analysis was done based
on the description of the self-perceived voice features and the
interest in speech-language lessons for public-speaking improve-
ment. The analysis of variance test was used to compare the scores
of the protocol SSPS in relation to the students’ sex. The anal-
ysis of the correlates of fear of public speaking considering other
variables was done using Pearson chi-squared test. The vari-
ables with statistically signiﬁcant associations (P≤0.05) were
included in the multivariate logistic regression model. The mag-
nitude of association for each variable taken separately with the
response variable was assessed through odds ratios. The vari-
ables that sustained an association were retained in the ﬁnal model.
The level of statistical signiﬁcance was set at 5% across tests.
The Statistical Package for the Social Sciences, version 20, and
the STATA, version 12.0 (Intercooled, Stata Corporation, Texas,
USA) software were used for the analyses.
As many as 63.9% of the undergraduates reported fear of public
speaking. Table 1 shows a statistically signiﬁcant association
between the fear of public speaking to the variables: female
gender, negative vocal self-perception, no inﬂuence of voice in
fear and little participation in public-speaking activities. The
groups with and without fear of public speaking did not differ
in age and ﬁeld of study.
Regarding the association between sex and SSPS scores, it
was found that women had more negative self-statements than
men (Table 2).
The descriptive analysis of the students’ perception of their
own voice and of their interest in the inclusion of speech-
language training in the curriculum is shown in Table 3. Negative
self-perceptions of the voice were more frequent for high-
pitched and soft voice features (Table 3). Of the college students,
89.3% would like their undergraduate program to include classes
for improvement of their public-speaking skills.
All the variables revealing an association in the bivariate anal-
ysis were retained in the ﬁnal multivariate model (Table 4). Being
a female and perceiving that the voice inﬂuenced public-
speaking fear nearly doubled the likelihood of reporting fear of
public speaking when compared with being a male and not ac-
knowledging the inﬂuence of the voice, respectively. Negative
self-perceptions of the voice increased by 53% the odds of a
student reporting public speaking fear compared to those who
perceived their voice as adequate. As expected, the association
of fear of speaking in public with scarce participation in activi-
ties of public speaking was strong.
A great number of college students reported fear of public speak-
ing. In the corporate world, oral communication is a critical tool
for professional survival. Large companies value it and welcome
job applicants who, among other skills, are capable of speak-
ing competently in public.4,17 Public speaking is considered an
anxiety-generating factor that leads to fear and has a negative
impact on personal and academic achievement.6,16,18,19
In the United States population, speaking in public is con-
sidered one of the most fear-generating activities.7–9 This is no
different among Brazilians: a study showed that fear of public
speaking afﬂicted 32% of the population of the largest Brazil-
ian capital.6In the present study, the majority of the sample
ARTICLE IN PRESS
2Journal of Voice, Vol. ■■, No. ■■, 2016
(63.9%) experienced fear of public speaking—a greater per-
centage than that found in the aforementioned study.
Percentually, fear of speaking to an audience was more prev-
alent among females, as noted in other studies.6,20 Some studies
note that fear of public speaking is independent of sex, ethnic-
ity, and age; yet in some cases, it has been more associated with
females.20–22 There was no signiﬁcant association of the vari-
ables age and ﬁeld of undergraduate study with public-speaking
fear. We believe that fear of speaking afﬂicts individuals regard-
less of their age or profession. According to the literature,
accumulated experience and enhanced ability to deal with public-
speaking situations can minimize negative impacts on
Current studies on voice have increasingly encouraged taking
into account the subjects’ self-rating of their voice.23–28 In our
study, we found that most students do not relate their voice quality
to fear of public speaking; nevertheless, the data analysis showed
an association between students with negative self-perceptions
of their voice and public-speaking fear. The predominant neg-
ative terms used by the undergraduates to refer to their self-
perceived voice were: high-pitched and soft. The literature
indicates that limited loudness—ie, lack of voice volume—
suggests insecurity, fear, and introversion when speaking.29,30 If
the voice is too high, this could imply that the speaker is child-
ish or frail,30 in addition to somewhat immature psychologically,
which could contribute to an impression of naïvety produced on
Association of Fear of Public Speaking with the Variables Sex, Age, Field of Study, Inﬂuence of Voice, Self-perception of
Voice, and Participation in Activities Involving Public Speaking (n = 1135)
Fear of Public Speaking
Male 171 41.6 199 27.5
Female 240 58.4 525 72.5 <0.001*
17–21 176 42.8 331 45.7
22–26 168 40.9 283 39.1
27–31 32 7.8 61 8.4 0.255
32–58 35 8.5 49 6.8
Field of study
Health 243 44.4 142 34.0
Exact sciences 188 29.6 114 26.7 0.702
Humanities 261 23.2 139 35.2
Arts 32 2.8 14 4.1
Inﬂuence of voice on fear of speaking
No 327 79.6 464 64.1
Yes 84 20.4 260 35.9 <0.001*
Self-perception of voice
Positive 191 46.5 227 31.3
Negative 220 53.5 497 68.7 0.001*
Participation in activities of public speaking
Frequent 159 38.7 110 15.2 <0.001
Rare 252 61.3 614 84.8
*Pvalue ≤0.05; Pearson chi-squared test.
Comparison of the Variable Sex with the Scores of the “Self-statement During Public Speaking Scale”
Total Score Positive Score Negative Score
Female Male Female Male Female Male
Mean 26.18 25.96 16.27 17.20 9.92 8.76
Minimum 16050 0
Maximum 49 47 25 25 25 26
SD 7.38 7.16 4.75 4.06 6.72 6.39
Pvalue 0.646 0.001*0.006*
*P<0.05; analysis of variance.
Abbreviation: SD, standard deviation.
ARTICLE IN PRESS
Anna Carolina Ferreira Marinho et al Fear of Public Speaking 3
the listener with regard to the speaker.30 Recent studies have in-
dicated that a low-pitched voice is charismatic, that is, a more
widely accepted voice compared with a high voice when it comes
to inﬂuencing and persuading the listener.31,32
In regard to the association of participation in activities of public
speaking with the presence of speaking anxiety, the data suggest
that college students who take part in many oral presentation
activities exhibited signiﬁcantly less fear than those reluctant to
speak to an audience. The literature conﬁrms that lack of ex-
perience accounts for increased fear of speaking, which is inherent
to an unknown situation.4,6,10,32,33
A difference was found between sexes in the SSPS scores.
Women had a higher mean negative score, whereas men scored
better on the positive self-statements. This indicates that public
speaking is a more challenging situation for women, presum-
ably because they perceive more negative elements in their
Regarding the students’ interest in public-speaking training
(Table 3), it was found that 89.3% of them would appreciate such
an addition to their curriculum. Astudy shows that after a basic
communication course, college students displayed a signiﬁ-
cant reduction in their anxiety when speaking to an audience,
as well as improved communication competence by the end of
the course, thereby becoming more conﬁdent and less anxious
in their overall communication.35
In light of the above data, we emphasize that universities should
acknowledge the importance of public speaking during the grad-
uation of students. Public speaking is a topic of social and
scientiﬁc relevance, and further studies are warranted, which
should focus on fear of public speaking with other populations.
Fear of public speaking is a prevalent subtype of anxiety among
college students. It occurs more frequently in women, in stu-
dents who rarely participate in activities involving speaking to
audiences, and in those who have a negative self-perception of
their voice and characterize it as high-pitched or soft. Most college
students appreciate and are interested in having classes for public
speaking in their university curriculum.
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Characterization of the Self-perception of Voice and In-
terest in Speech-language Training in the Curriculum
(N = 1135)
Self-perception of voice
Adequate 418 36.8
Hoarse voice 27 2.4
High-pitched voice 340 30.0
Soft voice 210 18.5
Deep voice 56 4.9
Nasal voice 84 7.4
Interest in speech-language training
Yes 1014 89.3
No 121 10.7
Notes: N: number of cases; %: frequency.
Multivariate Analysis of the Association Between Fear of
Public Speaking and the Variables Sex, Inﬂuence of Voice,
Self-perception of Voice, and Participation in Activities
Involving Public Speaking
Fear of Public
OR 95% CI
Female 1.95 1.49–2.56
Inﬂuence of voice on fear of
Yes 1.93 1.39–2.65
Self-perception of voice
Negative 1.53 1.16–2.02
Participation in public-speaking
Rare 3.41 2.56–4.53
Note: Logistic regression.
Abbreviations: 95% CI, 95% conﬁdence interval; OR, odds ratio.
ARTICLE IN PRESS
4Journal of Voice, Vol. ■■, No. ■■, 2016
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