10 Tips for College Students on the Fear of Public Speaking

Are you a college student who fears public speaking? Are you unsure on how you can overcome your fears of public speaking? To help understand what type of impact a fear of public speaking typically has on college students and for tips on overcoming fears of public speaking, I have interviewed psychologist Nancy R. Cetlin, Ed.D.

Tell me a little about yourself.

“I am a psychologist by training, with over 33 years of experience. I am also a coach, and for the last 17 years, have specialized in helping clients, from children to seniors, to overcome fear of public speaking and other performance anxieties, such as stage fright, writer’s block, and academic anxieties. Coming from a background in the performing arts, I have a lifelong interest in fearless and optimal self expression. The goal for my clients is not only to help them overcome their fear, but to help them develop true confidence and their own most authentic and comfortable speaking style.”

What type of impact can fear of public speaking have on a college student?

“Fear of public speaking can have profound and far reaching ill effects on college students. Many students with fear of public speaking make important course selections and even choose their majors based on this fear. A student who fears public speaking will quite consistently avoid courses that may require them to speak, even if they would choose it first, otherwise. For example, a college student may avoid communication courses because there will be presenting, as well as business, or pre-law, and even change their choice of a major to avoid public speaking. These exam ples are from my own clients. Even in courses, which do not call for presenting, students with fear of public speaking will often find the most inconspicuous seat in the lecture hall and try to hide from the professor so that they will not be asked any questions. They will avoid asking questions, in spite of great interest in the subject, thus diminishing their learning experience.

These students may not apply for internships during college because of their fear of interviews. As they prepare for the world of work, they will avoid in person interviews and panic at the possibility of a group interview, thus potentially missing out on jobs that match their skills and personalities well, and for which they are well qualified.”

What are some tips for college students on fear of public?

“The following are my 10 tips:

1. First of all, understand that 75% of the adult population has fear of public speaking. It is not a weakness, nor anything to be ashamed of, and it can be overcome. You may feel better if you share this with others you think may also have the problem.

2. You may believe that any sign of nervousness and difficulty while presenting will cause the audience to judge you, and cause you to be a complete failure. This is just your fear talking and isn’t based on reality. Understand that your listeners are not really interested in you, but rather in the information you are about to deliver.

3. Many with fear of public speaking have high expectations of themselves. They think these high standards help them to perform better. This is completely wrong and in fact these excessively high standards make their fear worse. Getting your point across is good enough. My motto for them: ‘˜Competent is the new perfect.’

4. Think back to the comfortable state you have experienced during conversations with fellow students and friends. I call that state ‘conversation mode’ which is the best mental state and communication style for public speaking. Just watch someone who is comfortable speaking in public. You will see that they use a conversational tone of voice, even though most of the time they are the only one speaking.

5. Prepare well and know your content inside and out. This will make you more confident.

6. Divide your presentation into a few ‘chunks’ you can remember, and have large type notes for yourself, so you can glance down and ground yourself in your content. I do not recommend memorization.

7. Practice out loud in real time, with a friend present.

8. If you can, try to be at your presentation early enough to ‘meet and greet’ some of those who will be listening. You will be much more comfortable with your audience if you have already had some 1-1 contact with them.

9. You have probably noticed that some speakers ask the audience for a show of hands about a general question or begin by some kind of interaction with or among audience members. This is a good ice breaker and helps you to feel connected to the audience.

10. Don’t expect to be free of unwanted physical anxiety symptoms, like racing heart, shaky hands, flushing or even shaking voice. Treat them the same way you would a physical injury: don’t try to fix them; just focus all your energy on the content of your talk and keep going. Too many people try to make their anxiety symptoms go away or critique themselves while they’re speaking, robbing themselves of the ability to focus exclusively on the task at hand. Physical symptoms will be more likely to subside on their own if you keep your focus on the task. My motto about this: ‘You can’t be the viewer and the doer.'”

What type of professional help is there for a college student with fear of public speaking?

“Unfortunately there are a lot of people and programs that primarily teach public speaking skills, but don’t focus enough on overcoming the fear. If you are willing to make lots of mistakes in a friendly environment, try Toastmasters. Many professional speakers recommend it, and started their own speaking careers there. However, if you are too nervous for that, then seek professional help. Try to find mental health professionals or coaches who specialize in fear reduction, with a proven track record of helping clients overcome fears. Another route is through an organization, which promotes a method called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) www.EMDRIA.org . On that website you can learn about this powerful technique, and get referrals to professionals who are highly trained in it. Some professionals who use both Cognitive and Behavioral techniques have had success in treating this problem as well.”

What last words would you like to leave for a college student that has fear of public speaking?

“Here is the advice my clients in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s would all give you: ‘GET HELP NOW!!!’ Once my clients overcome most or all of their fear, they all say they wish they had tackled it many years earlier, since their careers and personal lives have been seriously compromised by this fear. They would tell you that running away from it only makes the fear worse, and that you can’t overcome it alone. As clients get past their fear of public speaking, they also say that they are functioning better in other areas of their lives and are experiencing a new level of self acceptance and confidence.”

Thank you Nancy for doing the interview on 10 tips for college students on the fear of public speaking. For more information on Dr. Nancy R. Cetlin or her work you can check out her website at www.nancycetlin.com .

Recommended Readings:

How to Overcome Stage Fright

Public Speaking with Confidence

How to Cope with Anxiety in Public