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The fear of speaking in front of a class

Anne Marie Merline, University Honors Program,
Anne Marie Merline, University Honors Program,

We all face fear, in the classroom, out of the classroom, teachers and students alike. The way to get over fear is to face it straight on.

One of the responsibilities I have is to have my students give a six to seven minute extemporaneous speech. Studies have shown that most people would rather literally die than to give a public presentation.

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As I am teaching my students how to give successful presentations that convey content for each course, I talk about fear.

Fear in speeches can be overcome by two important steps.

First, know the material you are going to present. The speeches in the Honors Program are based in research, so the students need to put some quality time into researching and organizing their material.

The second tenant of overcoming fear is to practice, practice, practice. I really wonder if my students really practice in front of other people before they present it in the classroom. I am sure most don’t want to take the time or think it too geeky to ask friends to become their “audience.”

Because I meet and talk with all of my students after their speeches, I find out how poorly high schools prepare their students for public speaking. Unless students participated in debate club or theater, students on the whole have very little practice getting up in front of others to present information. Students come to CSU assured of their writing skills, but not with their public speaking skills.

Every week, I assure students they have nothing to fear once they prepare for their presentations. I had to tell myself the same thing two weeks ago. For the second semester in a row, the new Director of the Honors Program has arranged for another faculty member to come and watch me teach.

Last semester, I had in a member of the Faculty Honors Council into my third-year seminar whom I did not know. As they mostly do, that class went well, and I got a positive review from her. This semester, a former colleague from a first-year seminar offered through the school of education that we taught in 14 years ago, who is now on the Faculty Honors Council was scheduled to come in to my morning class, an Honors Program first-year seminar.

So there I was facing the same fears of my students. In the preparation department, I have been teaching this course on the ideas and expressions of community for about 10 years. Although the material that I use for class is always evolving, I had to convince myself that I know the material.

Practice? The same 10 years of different faces and temperaments. You would think that my toughest critics had already come and gone. Brett, my former colleague and now faculty reviewer was not there to find fault with me, and if there were some doubts in his mind about my abilities to teach, would offer some suggestions to help me.

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He would not go ranting and raving to the Director about what a loser instructor that I am. I know that Brett, Dr. Mykles, and my students have great confidence in my teaching. Just like I have confidence in my students, whose speeches I have to assess.

But yes, the night before, I had trouble sleeping and had a nightmare of Brett showing up two and half hours early to the classroom where I teach, and I was there with him in my nightgown wondering why both of these things were happening.

In the morning, I got dressed, put on my teaching scarf for an extra sense of confidence, and went into the classroom and did my job. I faced my fear of being criticized.

That day was another opportunity for a lesson for the teacher. Never forget the how instructors and students are alike in their humanity. We always have to remember to face our fears and to remember how people around us want to support us to succeed.

Anne Marie Merline is a faculty member in the University Honors Program. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com

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