Public Speaking Activities for College Students

Instructor: Josh Corbat

Josh has taught Earth Science and Physical Science at the High School level and holds a Master of Education degree from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Need some ideas to help college students in your classes become more comfortable with public speaking? This article will provide some simple, highly modifiable ideas to promote the skill of public speaking in your courses.

Experience is Key

Like many life skills, public speaking is just one skill that you can only really learn by doing. It is not wise to simply force students to get in front of an audience, though. There are several ways to ease students into an act that many people cite as their biggest fear. Some surveys have even uncovered that a large sector of the public fears public speaking more than death! Below are some ways to start students down the path to understanding there is no need to be so dramatic, and that public speaking is a skill that can be developed over time.

Start Small

However you choose to have students speak in front of an audience, it is important to start with short experiences. One-to-three-minute talks can be incredible learning experiences for students, especially if you (or their peers) provide them with useful feedback for improving their speaking skills. In the college setting, it also helpful to first set up the learning environment in a supportive way. Conduct some icebreaker activities and encourage students to get to know one another. Students will continue to fear an audience that they don't know. They can tackle unknown audiences as they get better at public speaking. A few suggestions for activities that start small are:

  • Ask students to think of a topic they are knowledgeable about. This can by anything from a hobby or interest (e.g. video games, their favorite author, or a political issue) to a life event (e.g. a significant birthday or a frightening experience). Have students write a one- to three-minute speech on this topic and deliver it to their peers.
  • Select a topic that everyone in the class will have some knowledge about (e.g. waking up early for class, registering for courses, navigating around town) and have everyone prepare a one- to three-minute speech that approaches the topic in a creative way.

Group Presentations

Another way to reduce students' anxieties is to have them give presentations or talks in groups. Using this as an early strategy will help them feel supported as they develop this complex skill. Often, students are visibly more comfortable when there is someone else taking some of the focus off of them. Group work is always a bit tricky, so be sure to support your students appropriately as they navigate the benefits and drawbacks of working with their peers. A few suggestions for group presentations are:

  • Ask group members to have a conversation about shared interests. Once a common thread is found, ask them to create a ten-minute speech about the topic. Students must divide the speaking equally.
  • Randomly provide topics to groups. Ask them to create a ten-minute speech about the topic. Although this might be a stressful experience for an individual, working through it as a group tends to be much easier. This can help reduce anxiety in future activities.

Providing Feedback

This probably goes without saying, but if you really want to help students develop the skill of public speaking, you should be providing targeted, constructive feedback throughout the process. A great idea is to record students speaking so they can see what you are talking about in your feedback. Is a student using 'um' or 'so' too often while they speak? They can see exactly what you're talking about if they can view themselves in a video! Feedback can also take the form of peer reviews. It is best to establish a collaborative, supportive learning environment first, though. Here are a few suggestions for providing feedback:

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