Don’t Make Me Speak In Front Of The Class!

Giving class presentations can cause high anxiety for those who suffer with glossophobia.

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Jane Gatzemeyer, Writer-East

It’s every high schooler’s worst nightmare: getting up to speak in front of the class.

Everyone gets a little nervous when it comes to class presentations. The presenter has to silently walk up in front of his or her peers and then stand there in fear. What if my topic is incorrect? What if I stutter? What if I shake uncontrollably? Most have all been there before. 

Many are even nervous the night before, as well as the class periods before–just worrying about the upcoming speech. It can make it nearly impossible to focus on the current class they are in. No one likes being laughed at or publicly embarrassed. And, most teachers don’t make any exceptions for kids who have really bad anxiety. Should teachers have the right to force kids to present? The verdict is still out on that.

However, the internet has some “tips and tricks” in helping with presenting. It tells its readers to make sure they know the content before they present, do the presentation on something they find interesting (which isn’t always an option), to practice a lot beforehand, etc. But, regardless of all those tips, people are still going to have to stand up and talk with all eyes on them. There’s not much anyone can change about that factor. Sure, there’s always the “pretend everyone’s in their underwear” tip, but that can only get people so far. And, who really wants to try envisioning that, anyway?

Conversely, public speeches in school do help some students break out of their shells. It forces them out of their comfort zone. But, should all students be “forced out” of their comfort zone?  The reality is that some kids never break out of their shells, not even when they grow into adulthood. So, the ones who actually gain from it might look back at their teachers and be grateful for what they did. But, what about the others who don’t?

Some might argue that if a person practices speeches at school, then eventually their anxiety will fade away. But, that might be wishful thinking. For some, it could make it worse if they get embarrassed or have a bad experience. If that happens, then they will fear doing speeches even more than ever before. Every single person is different. Society can’t put everyone in the same boat and assume that the same skill sets will  just automatically benefit them all equally. 

As for the teachers, it’s probably difficult forcing the super shy kids out of their comfort zones. But, knowing how it could benefit them, they’re told to do it. It’s a lot like parents who force their child to eat spinach. They know that it is healthy for the child to consume it; however, forcing it down his or her throat does not generate a love for spinach. So, maybe there needs to be a way to “sample” speech giving without gagging on it.

This “gagging” on class presentations is more clinically called glossophobia. Symptoms range from nervousness and physiological changes to mental disruptions and physical reactions. Would anyone be surprised to learn that it affects up to 75% of the population? Probably not. The body sees “presenting” as a threat, causing rapid heartbeats and even a fight-or-flight responses. There are even speech disorders that only manifest themselves during presentations. Thus, maybe those suffering with true glassophobia might benefit from an alternative mode of presentation instead.

Surprisingly, though, not everyone with glossophobia is born with it. Some start having it because they have a traumatic experience. Imagine the grade schooler who wet his pants in front of the class while presenting. It’s happened. Now, imagine what runs through that person’s mind each and every time he has to present publically. Some people can’t just brush it off; it becomes a part of their identity. A positive presentation experience may help alleviate the severity of this, but glossophobia is likely something that a person will have to cope with the rest of his or her life. It’s easy sometimes to tell when presenters are experiencing it, though. They are uncomfortable. They might shake, stutter, mess up their words, play with their fingers, etc.

Even high-profile people like Alex Ramsey, the president/executive coach for Dallas-based Lodestar Universal, have dealt with it. Ramsey had been giving a speech when her pants fell down. However, she was able to play it off cool and continue speaking. That’s a great example of a speech going horribly wrong. Not many wouldn’t have been able to stay calm and even continue the way she did. If only the rest of the world were like her–but they’re not.  

Now, this is not to say that class presentations, speech class, or even the Speech and Debate team should go away. It’s just a call to say that not everyone benefits in the same way as others when it comes to presenting in class–and that needs to be taken into consideration on an individual level by each teacher.

Elkhart-East junior Carlie Webber understands the teacher’s point of view. “I think public speaking is a very important part of our education,” she asserts. “It’s a crucial skill, but anxiety can kill a child’s confidence.” Webber’s final word on the matter is this: ”I don’t think it should be forced upon people, but it should be encouraged.”