Helping Students Overcome the Fear of Speaking in Front of the Class

Almost every child knows this fear. The teacher has given you an assignment to ‘Write something about… ‘.That part is okay. But then you have to read what you wrote in front of the class. That is the scary part!

As a student, I experienced this fear. As a teacher, I encountered it in many classes. I have taught every grade from K-12, university and even business management classes. It is even harder for students when they have to read something they have written in a second language.

However, I learned how to calm that fear and here is how you can do it. Thanks to Dale Carnegie Courses for showing this to me.

Here is the scenario. You give your class an assignment as above: ‘Write something about… ‘

But then the time comes when everyone who was brave enough to show up for the ‘reading’ to go to the front of the class and read their story. Here is a technique you can use to make the speaking part far less painful on your students.

The secret to success? Don’t bring them up to the front of the class alone. It will scare the bejeepers out of most of them. This can result in some skipping class, or being tongue-tied and unable to speak. This produces even more fear. Here is how to allay that fear.

Instead of bringing one student up all alone, bring up six students at a time. If you have 24 students, that is four groups. Believe me, your students will feel more at ease when they have support beside them up front.

They still have to read their assignment alone, but all six have to remain up front until each one has read their story.

Before the first group goes up front, tell the class to applaud as each group goes up to the front, then again when each one in the group has spoken, and once more when the group leaves the ‘stage’. You may have to lead the applause until the class gets the hang of doing it automatically.

You will find that this helps to get students used to the applause and it is a reward for them being brave enough to participate. Most will leave the stage smiling. That means they enjoyed the experience and possible even look forward to the next time rather than dreading it.

The next time you ask your class to do this, you can start with a smaller group, perhaps three or four. The third time, cut it to two. By then, they will be so accustomed to getting up to speak that they will be ready to do it on their own after that. Then, the applause they get will be all theirs.

I have found that this technique works well with most levels. Some students will enjoy the overall experience and those are likely the ones who will go on to other speaking challenges, such as inter-school competitions. This is excellent practice for that.

Later, you can also teach your students speaking techniques such as how to ensure the audience is listening by looking back and forth at each one of them as you are speaking; by using simple gestures, by adding some humor (just a little) and by showing everyone that you are enjoying the opportunity to speak to them. If they see that you are having fun, it is more likely that they will as well.