Speak Out

Photo by Christina Yang

Approximately 75 percent of all people experience some amount of fear or anxiety when speaking in public, according to a 2008 study from Belmont University. However, public speaking and presenting skills are often used in school, where presentations and speeches can be vital to grades. None more so than in the class of Enid Baines, speech and English teacher. Baines said she sometimes has students who are afraid of public speaking to a certain degree.

“I talk to (students who are afraid) one on one and I assure them that a lot of people in the room are feeling the same way, but if you don’t show it and don’t tell people, then nobody will know,” Baines said. “And it’s a skill that gets easier the more you practice. So no matter what you’re feeling inside, no one will know if you don’t tell them.”

Sophomore Sophia Hughes said she has experienced anxiety from public speaking in the past, but has since gotten over that fear.

“It made me nervous to do auditions or class presentations,” Hughes said. “Like, I would not want to go up there and talk in front of people, and when I did, I would just completely mess it up and fail and it would not be good.”


However, Hughes said she managed to get over this fear through sheer repetition, speaking in front of people in both theatrical and classroom settings.

For junior Lily Plumlee, repetition did not help her get over her fear; in fact, she said it has worsened to the point where she now does her classroom presentations only in front of teachers, without the entire class watching.

“It’s just terrifying,” Plumlee said. “I don’t know exactly why. I just really don’t like it and I don’t feel comfortable doing it.”

Plumlee is not alone in this fear of public speaking, also known as glossophobia. Surveys from Psychology Today in 2012 have shown that most people fear public speaking more than they fear death. Baines said she had heard this statistic before and thinks the main reason people face anxiety with public speaking is because they aren’t confident in what they’re saying.

“It gives them anxiety if they’re not completely sure about the topic. A lot of times I think they’re given an assignment and they just don’t have enough information so it’s difficult for them to think on their feet, and if they don’t have a script in front of them or if they haven’t prepared enough, then it can be difficult to keep their train of thought because it’s easy to lose focus when you’re nervous,” Baines said.

Baines said that repetition of speaking in public usually works with her students; every time thinking about eye contact, audience engagement, and the pace you go at. She suggests to practice in front of a large group to raise blood pressure and help change the way you approach the content being presented. While Plumlee said that methods like repetition and practice to help glossophobia haven’t helped her, Hughes said she believes there are ways to use anxiety in speaking to actually improve a presentation or performance.

“Well, when you get nervous, it’s kind of like a jolt of energy,” Hughes said, “Use that energy to be more passionate about what you’re saying. It will work out for you and make you look less nervous. And if you’re nervous beforehand, just make sure you practice, but don’t over practice, because that usually makes you forget what you’re trying to say.”

Despite this, Hughes admitted that she, too, still sometimes experiences minor anxiety before performances and presentations. However, she said remembering certain facts about the presentation helps her to dispel her fears.

“Well, it depends on the setting definitely, but if you’re in a class presentation, I think it’s just knowing that everyone in the room is doing the same thing as you and they’re not looking for you to fail,” Hughes said. “You just kind of have to tell yourself, ‘you’re gonna be fine. It’ll be fine.’ Like, it’s not gonna affect you, and nobody’s looking for you to do badly. It’ll be okay.”

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Emily Worrell