Public Speaking Anxiety
While some people are at ease speaking in front of large groups, others are nervous and try to avoid public speaking at all costs. This can be devastating on the student, causing them to suffer academically, socially and in all facets of life. Unlike other areas of education, public speaking is directly tied to one’s mental health, rooted in the fear of embarrassment and rejection. This fear is a product of our own imagination, since we are (indeed) our own worst critic. It is important to lead with an optimistic attitude, showing that people are kind and patient. In other words, the mistakes that we “think” we make are often larger than the errors perceived by the audience.
Sure, there are many jobs that can be done in isolation, like scientists, researchers and so forth. However, they will eventually have to communicate their findings to an audience of some sort, ranging from an intimate meeting right through to a large conference. This reminds me of the story of Temple Grandin, the leading authority on humane slaughter and other animal welfare issues. Though born with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), she developed coping mechanisms to deal with her social deficiencies. If you look at her website you will see that she is quite active, giving speeches and lectures all over the world.
Public Speaking Anxiety
What would the world be like if people like Dr. Grandin could not communicate their ideas? On a practical level, animals would be suffering more than they would have to. Instead of giving up, she forced herself to speak in front of progressively larger groups, focusing on her advantages instead of her barriers. While difficult at first, it becomes easier with time and practice. This is the basis for all skills, whether it be soft or hard in nature.
Shy students need more accommodation, led by empathy and not authoritarianism. This is why it is more helpful to start out in a learning center, especially somewhere that offers smaller class sizes. For the most timid of students, it is advantageous to start off with individualised lessons, adding more of an “audience” further on in the program. This is like the boiling frog fable describing the frog’s ignorance of being “cooked”. Without being too crass, students develop their public speaking skills without knowing! In other words, the best way to learn is to not “know” that you are learning, simply participating in activities that are more interesting and applicable.
Building Self-Esteem Through Public Speaking
Sometimes the loudest person in the room gets the attention, not necessarily the person with the greatest to contribute. Some students know the answer but are too scared to raise their hand, fearful that others will make fun of them or think they are stupid. As I always tell my students, one of the greatest signs of intelligence is the ability to ask a well thought out question. Curiosity is the greatest driver of all human achievements, causing us to want to climb Mount Everest, study for Bnai Mitzvah, become a Wushu Master, or (even) give a quality oral presentation. While those are all huge goals, each starts with a small step, being led with compassion and care. Whether you live in Toronto, Vancouver, Windsor–or everywhere else in the world–please reach out to us to discuss the best path forward.
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