Co-authored by William “Marty” Martin, PsyD (DePaul University), Susanna Gallor, Ph.D. (University of Massachusetts), and Michael Mason, Ph.D., LPC (University of Virginia)
Presenting, conveying information to others publicly, is a core competency for professionals in all disciplines. However, it is estimated that nearly two out of three college students fear public speaking. Additionally, one in five adults in the general population suffer from speaking anxiety. It has been said that more people fear public speaking than death itself. This may feel true for those who have significant anxiety about public speaking. A recent study found that while death is the most prevalent fear among people, public speaking is the second most prevalent, followed by financial problems as the third.
Though speaking in front of a group is common in communication courses, it’s a reality for faculty in all courses and can come in many forms:
Public speaking can occur in various course modalities—online, in-person, synchronous, or asynchronous. Fear and anxiety are not limited to specific nuances.
The most effective speakers are clear, confident, and relaxed. Psychologists call this state of mind flow. It’s in this state that we can achieve peak performance while presenting. As a faculty member, emphasize to your students that one is not born a natural speaker or even a terrible speaker, but it is possible to cultivate skills to increase speaking effectiveness. Beyond being clear, confident, and relaxed, it is critical for students to learn how to effectively manage their fear and anxiety.
Eliminating fear and anxiety should not be the main goal. Some anxiety—or more specifically, arousal—is conducive to enhancing public speaking performance. In fact, a moderate amount of anxiety can actually be motivating and energizing.
As a faculty member, remember to focus on feedback that can be developmental and constructive, not just evaluative. By deploying developmental feedback, you can focus on how a student displays valuable speaking skills—such as pausing, volume, gestures, and visual contact. You can bring attention to what the student did well, discuss opportunities for improvement, and express appreciation for their effort and skill.
Providing meaningful feedback on presentation skills can help students develop what is an important lifelong skill. It can also help students identify stress and anxiety that presenting can spark. Identifying and understanding stress triggers can make it easier to develop ways to deal with it. As faculty, fostering an environment that is supportive and comfortable can make a difference in the overall mental health and wellness of students. You can find more ideas and resources for providing this type of support to students from other faculty in our Supporting Student Mental Health & Wellness webinar.