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Supporting & Assessing Nervous Student Speakers

Instructor: Michael Quist

Michael has taught college-level mathematics and sociology; high school math, history, science, and speech/drama; and has a doctorate in education.

Nervous student speakers feel a sometimes disabling discomfort when they try to make a public presentation. This lesson will give teachers creative ideas for assessing and helping students who are uncomfortable in public speaking environments.

Nervous student speakers feel a strong discomfort when making a public presentation. This lesson will give teachers creative ideas for assessing and helping students who have problems speaking in front of a group.

Nervous Student Speakers

When Sarah walks up to the podium, she begins to sweat. Her knees shake. She feels like she is going to be sick. The audience is a blur. She is terrified that she will mess up in front of everyone. By the time she is in position, Sarah is a wreck.

Anyone Can Get Nervous When Asked to Speak
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Nearly everyone has some level of discomfort when asked to speak in front of others, and students can be particularly subject to nervousness. They are usually still developing their identities, and can be unsure of their own value and acceptance. As a teacher, you can help them develop confidence. You can also identify the ones who need extra help.

Assessing Student Speakers

When assessing student speakers, it is critical to be objective. We are all charmed by those who seem to have a natural gift for talking to people, and it is tempting to give charismatic students good responses, while grading down those who are less comfortable in front of the class. As you're establishing the criteria for a speech or other presentation, try to keep in mind some elements that really matter for the development of the student:

  • Is the student attempting to establish self-discipline? Did she overcome her fears, and step up to the task? Is she improving?
  • Was the presentation effective for its intended purpose? You can stumble all over the stage and stutter every word, and yet effectively convey a deep concept effectively. Effective communication is as much or more about what is conveyed than it is about how charming the person is who is conveying it.

Grading is only one side of assessing a student speaker, however. You also want to look for students who seem to be terrified of and paralyzed by the idea of public speaking. They hide when you ask for volunteers. They will choose any presentation path other than the public speaking one, if given the choice. They will be absent on the days presentations are to be given. They may even fall apart when they attempt to speak, breaking down into tears or running off the stage. Helping students overcome their nervousness can make an important difference in their lives.

Overcoming Nervousness in Public Speaking

There are many techniques for helping students overcome their fear of public speaking. Some of those techniques include:

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