2 minutes reading time (384 words)

Overcoming the Fear of Making an Oral Presentation

Speaking in front of people is frightening for some people. I have faculty members who will gladly teach in front of their students but if I ask them to present something to their peers, they do not want to do it! 

This is the time of year when my students complete a project that culminates in a public presentation of their work. Their audience first is their peers. Next, they present in front of judges and then finally in front of a large group of parents and teachers.

One of my students was particularly worried about the presentations. Together, we came up with a strategy that worked for him. We talked about the importance of public speaking, both in college and later in the workplace. We agreed that he wanted to be able to present his project, that it was important for him now and in the future, and that he was willing to work together toward reaching that goal.

We also discussed that many of the strategies people suggest to overcome fear don’t really work. For example, I have heard my whole life that you should picture people sitting in their underwear. I never understood where that came from, and I question whether it works for anyone. 

To start, we sat down together in a very informal place. (In fact, we sat on the steps out in the hallway.) I asked him questions about his project and allowed him to answer each question. After we did that, I asked him to tell me about it without me asking any questions. Then, he stood up and faced me as he told me about the project again. Finally, he practiced doing the presentation (just to me) using his PowerPoint slideshow. After this practice, he successfully presented in front of the whole class and the large group! He said he was scared half to death, but he did it very well.

The key to this success was taking little steps and building up to being able to speak in front of the group. It will be very interesting to see if he is able to transfer this approach to other presentations later. For now, we are celebrating the success of completing a task he did not think was possible.

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