10-second review: A three-part article taken from my book, Teaching English, How To…., (Xlibris, 2004) consisting of my approach to teaching formal speech, engaging in small-group activities and conducting and responding to interview questions, especially job interviews.
Title: “How Can Teachers Help Students Overcome Their Fear of Speaking in Public?” Teaching English, How To…. Raymond Stopper. Xlibris, 2004. pp. 297-305.
I truly feel for Lynn, who, in my previous reviewed article was stone-cold terrorized by the prospect of giving her speech in English class. In college, I was deathly afraid of public speaking,, so much so, that when the instructor in one speech class failed to call me up to give my speech, I said nothing. Being given an F was better than standing up and giving a speech. I remember my embarrassment when he addressed me in front of the entire class, telling me that I had failed to let him know I had been overlooked. But one of my most embarrassing moments became one of my memorable achievements because I was prepared for the speech. My topic was the ironies of college football. I remember standing in front of that class and holding my fellow students spellbound. I noted, also, as I talked, that a group of football players came in from the next room and stood listening intently to what I was saying. Public speaking may terrify me, but when I do it well, the reward is a feeling of ecstasy.
Over the years I have learned some techniques that help me speak effectively before an audience. I have also developed some procedures to help students learn how to work cooperatively in small groups and methods to prepare students for employment interviews.
Public speaking has always been a stressful experience for me. I used to worry about my speech for hours before giving it, often not even eating because of my anxiety, and would replay the speech in my mind for hours afterward, assessing the strengths and problems in my performance.
In teaching public speaking, I identified with the students’ anxiety. I was honest with them in revealing my own fear of public speaking. I did my best to share with them the techniques I had learned to overcome the fear of speaking before an audience.
Of course, I practice the “Tell them” method of formal speaking and writing:
I use an interesting opening to introduce my topic.
I tell the audience what I am going to tell them.
I use clear topic sentences in “telling them” the details.
I summarize, or tell them what I have told them.
I usually write out my opening and closing paragraphs on note cards so that in case I become confused, I can at least begin and end clearly and confidently. Otherwise, I reduce my main points to key words recorded on cards. I also often display these key words on transparencies on an overhead projector, helping the audience to follow my thought and helping me to stay organized in my presentation. Microsoft’s PowerPoint, of course, gives speakers even more colorful methods for highlighting the details.
I let the students know that preparation is the key to confidence in public speaking—preparation and the desire to communicate an idea. Preparation means organizing the speech according to the “Tell them” formula for communication. The desire to communicate an idea comes from brainstorming. Often, when students brainstorm a topic, they discover the interesting part of the topic, the part that they truly want to communicate to the audience.
Public speaking to many people is as uncomfortable as going to the dentist. However, (1) discovering the ideas within the topic that they really want to communicate, (2) using the “Tell them” approach to organization, (3) the key-word approach to remembering the details and (4) writing out the opening and closing paragraphs help to keep the speaker and the audience focused and give the speaker confidence.
Microsoft’s PowerPoint can be a useful aid to making a presentation. PowerPoint can provide guidance in assembling and using visual aids. However, PowerPoint is like word processing in which technology makes writing and revising easy, but is no substitute for an interesting idea, organization, choosing precise words and polishing expression through revising and editing. So, with PowerPoint. Speaking is aided by technology, but technology is no substitute for clear organization, an interesting idea, an interesting opening, a clear statement of what the speaker is going to tell the audience, articulated details and a summary of what has been said. Slides and animation will enhance, but will not substitute for clearly organized and expressed ideas.