Avoidance Only Increases Public Speaking Fear

Avoidance Only Increases Public Speaking Fear

Nicole Kennedy, Staff Writer

Teenagers love to talk, especially in class. Teachers constantly remind them their chatter is disruptive to the focus of their peers. Still, the ruckus rarely subsides. 

But tell a classroom of students they have to give a formal, memorized speech in front of the class, and suddenly, everyone’s mouths close shut.

When my English teacher, Jamie Donohoe, assigned my class a 2-3 minute speech, a silent terror fell over the sophomore classroom. Suddenly, writing a 10-page essay or reading the Odyssey felt like a mercifully easy assignment in comparison to the torturous few minutes we would be required to speak in front of an audience.

While the prospect of public speaking can be emotionally crippling to some, oratory skill is a valuable attribute that too few students practice and perfect.

Psychology experts calculated that 75% of Americans report having anxiety when put in front of a crowd. Glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking, afflicts a person’s ability to deliver a speech effectively or to the extent they had planned on doing.

From Shakespeare reenactments to formal debates, everyone at some point or another has experienced the anxiousness of an on “stage” moment.  Rather avoiding them, students would do well to seek out these opportunity to perform in front of an audience. 

While not everyone may be required to produce a TED talk, good public speaking skills will open doors to a variety of careers.

A BBC survey in 2014 found of 600+ employers “that among the top skills recruiters look for, ‘oral communication’ was number 1 and ‘presentation skills’ number 4.”

Addressing a room full of people is not exclusive to high school. Having kids deliver speeches or perform is preparing them for the real world.

Public speaking should be a mandatory part of the curriculum: When public speaking assignments are optional, many students opt out.  This simply reinforces a student’s negative view, reinforcing their fear and denying them the opportunity for growth as an effective oral communicator. 

For example, the final for sophomores in Human and Social Development involves presenting a previously learned unit to the class. However, many students use loopholes to avoid the anxiety of getting up in front of the class.

“A lot of people are making videos, or prerecording their presentation to play in class so that they won’t have to [speak in front of people],” said sophomore Jack Pawlokos. “It sounds like a reasonable idea because presenting in class can be stressful and people can be kind of shy.”

And stressed out or shy is what they will remain so long as their is a way to skirt around delivering a live presentation.

According to Psychology Today, through avoidance, we actually give the phobia or anxiety even more power and effect over the neurological system. Public speaking becomes the object of fear, and the longer we avoid it, the more it incites further states of terror or anxiety.

Psychologist say that the remedy is simple: Through the act of public speaking, the neurons of once-horrified students grow accustomed to the stimulus, and kids’ confidence and competence in front of a audience grows.   In other words, the more we avoid it, the worse it becomes.  The sooner and more often we do it, the less we worry about it.

“I think when they have more knowledge about what their phobia is and why they have it, they can overcome it,” agreed AP Psychology teacher Steven Dyer. 

This means that in not requiring students to speak in front of their peers, teachers are actually helping glossophobia take greater hold over their students. Only through constant repetition and exposure can kids begin the journey of harnessing their fear and reclaiming their consciousness from the paralysis they initially feel.

Teachers should have students presenting information to a live audience frequently.

In Intro to Psych, teacher Ryan Boyd always has students give quick informational explanations in front of the rest of the class. From explaining a project to reading an essay, all students are required to do this. Due to this constant repetition, many of Boyd’s students report an increase in confidence in public speaking.

“Public speaking is nerve-racking for everyone, but giving short presentations [in Psych] made me feel less nervous in front of people,” said sophomore Katie Stephens.

Some kids already attempt to better their speaking skills with specialized clubs or activities. Certain extracurriculars like the debate team and Mock Trial Club include lots of public speaking, and participants always feel a growth in their ability to command a stage. However, these activities have a finite amount of spots to give to students, and lots of kids have other commitments after school.

But if teachers include more public speaking, they would be providing them life skills.

“I was shy in high school and now [as a teacher] I think public speaking assignments force kids to break out of their comfort zone,” added Dyer.