I’m terrified of my public speaking class. How can I succeed? | Ask Kelly

a microphone overlooking a bright auditorium

Dear Kelly,

Next semester I am taking a public speaking class, and I am terrified! I have a fear of speaking in front of large groups. I wish I could skip this class, but since I can’t, what advice could you give me to help me be successful?

Oh yes, the often dreaded but essential public speaking course! So many people fear speaking in front of others and, because of that, hope to avoid taking public speaking. What students who feel this way may not realize, however, is their fear of speaking in public is more than likely the precise reason why the course is necessary. Being able to speak clearly and concisely is a skill that once you can master it, or at least feel comfortable with it, you will use throughout your life. In college alone, you will use this skill to present projects and research and to participate in open discussions about topics in your class. Outside of college, almost any job you have will, at some point, require you to speak in front of groups of people.

My best advice for this course is rather than try to avoid it, embrace the experience and try to learn as much as you can from it.

We develop fears for all sorts of reasons: Maybe something in your past caused you to have this fear, or maybe something you have seen or heard has helped to create it. The truth is you probably will not be the only person in your class who fears speaking in public. Your professor knows students feel this way and are empathetic and prepared to help each student develop the tools to succeed. If your professor is anything like mine was, they will be your greatest cheerleader.

So, instead of walking into class fearing the worst, I want you to see this class as an opportunity to develop a new skill that will help propel your future. On the first day, if you are given the chance to introduce yourself, let your professor and classmates know you have a fear of public speaking and your hope is to overcome that fear to open up new opportunities. By saying this, you are informing your professor that although you may be apprehensive, you are ready for the challenge. In addition, you are opening a door for your classmates who are also nervous to know they are not alone. This creates an environment where you want to see each other succeed. You become each other’s support and advocates. Each week, when you deliver your speeches, you will be encouraged by each other’s determination and progress.

In addition, you will begin to notice throughout the class that when you are speaking in front of people, no one is waiting or hoping you fail. Instead, they are generally interested in what you have to say. One thing I learned when I began giving speeches was that no one in my audience knew what my speech was; therefore, there was no way I could “mess up” the speech. I knew the point I was trying to get across, and if I didn’t say a part of my speech exactly the way I wanted to, I was the only person who knew.

When I was in the running for the Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership, I had to deliver a three-minute speech to a panel of judges. Through each round of the competition, I gave this same speech over and over again, each time to a different panel of judges. Guess what? Whether it was nervousness, adrenaline or distractions, my speech was never exactly the same, but the judges had no idea. They only knew what they heard, and what they heard was my passion for the technical college system and how it helped me succeed. They didn’t know when I left something out of the speech, changed a line or forgot a part because when those things happened, I just kept going.

The last thing I want you to remember is your mindset going into a class can determine how you perform. If you go into this class dreading it and assuming you are going to fail, it will be very difficult to push yourself past that. But if you change your mindset into something more along the line of, “I know this is a skill I currently don’t possess, but I intend to make the most of this course and look forward to developing this new ability,” you will see yourself pushing through each challenge you face.

As I have said before, changing the way you think can open doors for new opportunities. College is all about realizing your full potential, developing new abilities, and transforming into a more confident and prepared version of yourself. Don’t allow this one hurdle to stop your progress to becoming who you are meant to be. You are destined for great things and have earned the opportunity to become the best you can be. Each step along your journey, as you face new challenges, it is your courage, tenacity and determination that will help you develop the skills to walk into the future that you desire. You can do this, and furthermore, when you complete the course, you will see new potential in yourself that you may have never known existed. Embrace this opportunity. I know you will succeed.

And as always, I wish you health, happiness and continued success throughout your journey.

Do you have a question about coping with school in these challenging times? Each week Kelly Browning, an early childhood education/special education major and student ambassador at the Henry County Regional Academic Center, answers questions from the Mercer community. Email her at kelly.l.browning@live.mercer.edu or fill out our online form to submit your question anonymously.


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