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A Teacher's Guide to the Fear of Public Speaking

To learn how to lead, students need to also learn how to face and embrace their personal fears and doubts, especially around public speaking. The fear of public speaking begins at an early age and can become a sorting mechanism of who feels like they are capable enough to lead and who feels like they would rather hide and stay silent. Helping students face the fear of public speaking is an act of social justice: it means taking an active role in creating inclusive environments that welcome all perspectives and teaching specific techniques to help every student participate and have a voice.

As a whole, helping students face the fear of public speaking involves understanding where fears and anxieties originate and equipping them with strategies that they can use on their own to empower themselves. While not every student fears public speaking, many of the same strategies that help alleviate the fear of public speaking are just good practice to improve communication skills in general or develop empathy for others who struggle.

The strategies in this toolkit assume a few essential conditions:

  • The teacher believes that every student has the potential to be a leader.
  • The teacher views his or her role as someone who helps students discover what is unique and valuable about themselves and their peers.
  • The default assumption is that the fear of public speaking can be managed, alleviated, and reduced and isn't a fixed trait that some people just have.
  • There is an active effort to create an inclusive classroom environment where student voices are valued and encouraged.
  • There are multiple opportunities for students to have a voice and participate.
  • If a student is afraid to speak, the message is that there are techniques and strategies they can learn to improve and grow as a speaker.

This toolkit includes a few types of resources, including:

  • Blogs and infographics that unpack the fear of public speaking, such as a student quiz to assess their fears, descriptions of what fear looks and sounds like, and connections to equity work;
  • Two videos and a podcast about people's experiences with the fear of public speaking;
  • Blog connecting the fear of public speaking to the Common Core Standards;
  • Checklists, strategies, and techniques to help students face the fear of public speaking; and
  • Example assignments and activities to encourage student voice in the classroom.

These resources are only a starting point among many other important classroom conditions and are designed to be used as flexible tools amidst other curriculum approaches and unit plans. Adjustments should be made depending on student needs, ages, and interests as well as content discipline. The ultimate goal is to increase the voice and participation of every student so that classrooms become places where students look forward to the opportunity to lead.

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