I was always the student who dreaded speaking in class. When the teacher called my name, it felt as though I was under a spotlight as all eyes zeroed in on me. I remember well the heart palpitations, sweaty palms, the racing thoughts, and blood rushing to my head. What if I got the answer wrong? What if everyone thought I was stupid? I wanted to melt into my seat and disappear.
Fear of participating in class is nothing uncommon. For me, it was a mix of social anxiety and low self-esteem that caused my distress. I’m sure those are the culprits for many people, while others may merely be introverted or shy (which is different from anxiety, by the way!).
Whatever the cause of the distress, staying silent in class can be detrimental to learning. Yes, it’s true, and I’ll explain why.
Participation in class is important for the following reasons:
I used to be terrified of public speaking, and I was terrible at it in the beginning. I was required to take a public speaking class for my Marketing Degree, so I had no choice but to speak to a classroom full of students. However, once I pushed myself outside my comfort zone, my skills and confidence improved. My boosted self-esteem helped with my class participation for the remainder of my college experience.
When you are required to discuss a topic in class, it forces you to fully explore a subject to form an opinion you can intelligently defend. One psychology teacher did a study and found that students who participated during his class scored 10% higher than those who didn’t!
When you are actively thinking and engaging in the subject, you’re more likely to develop a deeper understanding of it. Also, each student may think of things others have not, furthering everyone’s perspective.
More than likely, your fellow students may come to different conclusions than you on a subject. Class discussion can help you better understand their viewpoints and practice kindly articulating your own.
Throughout my professional career, I have had to speak in groups on a regular basis, typically at client and company meetings. The practice I had in college helped me overcome trepidation in these situations.
Are you still unsure about speaking up in class? That’s okay; this is a skill that can be practiced and improved over time. Think of it like a muscle that must be exercised. If you haven’t worked the muscle before, you need to start off with lighter weights, then gradually increase to heavier weights. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Many times, the fear of sounding stupid holds us back from asking questions or contributing an opinion. So, ask yourself this: Do I remember a time when another student messed up? Most likely you don’t, or you’ve extended them some grace because you understand what it’s like in the hot seat. Most likely, other students won’t remember you messing up either.
So, to push past your fear, keep that thought in mind and remind yourself of the benefits of participating in class.
One of the College Plus students we supported confided to me that she didn’t ask questions in class because she didn’t want to ‘annoy’ the rest of her classmates. She was suffering as a result because she didn’t fully grasp what she needed to complete an assignment.
What helped me overcome this fear was knowing I was responsible for learning the material because I needed it to either to pass a test or to complete a function of my job. So, I ask as many questions as I need until I understand, and I encouraged this student to do the same.
It may be helpful to come up with specific questions, which will show you have put some thought into it. It will also let the teacher know what you don’t understand. Who knows? Other students may be just as afraid to ask the question, and you just helped illuminate them!
When you’re required to have discussions in class, you may be nervous about confronting a differing opinion. A tried and true method for me is approaching it with questions. I’ll say something like, “Can you help me understand why you feel this way about XYZ?” Or, “Can you help me understand why XYZ is important to you?”
This helps alleviate any tension between opposing sides because you are giving the other person an opportunity to explain themselves. They’ll respect you for it and be more willing to listen to your conclusion.
If participating in discussions in class seems too much to start out, try taking it outside the classroom. See if any other students in the class may want to form a study group with you. Then you can have conversations in a smaller group about the subject you’re learning.
Speaking up in class used to be a big pain point with me, but it no longer is. At times I do experience some mild anxiety, but I’m able to overcome it by taking a deep breath and focusing on positive outcomes. If I can overcome this fear, so can you!
If you have any tips that have worked for you, we’d love to hear them. Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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