Fearless Presentations

presentation2It has an official name.  The last time that I was buying aromatic products, right next to the lemon-verbena soap, I noticed a little bottle that promised a homeopathic remedy to help reduce or even eliminate Glossophobia, the fear of public speaking.  Is that all I can do to help my students overcome their fear of presenting their thoughts, opinions, ideas, or the diverse voices of others before an audience?  Is it a matter of just sending them to the homeopathic aisle at the grocery store?  For goodness sake, no!

I looked into some research on the topic and asked my colleagues for ideas on how they help their students prepare for the presentations that they give in all world language courses.  Our students not only have to present before an audience of listeners, but they also have to do this in a different language.  A couple of articles that shed light on the topic are:

Behavioral inhibition and the communication of public speaking state anxiety
Sawyer, Chris R; Behnke, Ralph R. Western Journal of Communication66.4 (Fall 2002): 412-423.

How to Deal: Handling the fears of public speaking
Nguyen, Jennifer. University Wire [Carlsbad] 07 Nov 2013.

I gathered some practical ideas derived from the readings and from the thoughts shared by my colleagues.  The most important step to help our students is a well-known universal design principle.  The rest are also well-known by world language teachers.

  • Clearly design expectations.  There is nothing more frightening for a student than to read/hear that some of the most important graded assignments will be presentations.  However, when the information and instructions have been detailed, in order to show the students how during the school year the instructor is committed to help all students prepare for the presentation, students feel more comfortable about it.  This is especially the case when they see the assignment broken up into parts.  I let my students know, for example, that even those preliminary “Pair-share” exercises, in which they casually share their ideas with a peer, will be very valuable in preparing for their presentation(s).
  • Practice formative assessment.  Students know that when their instructor gives them frequent, timely feedback, they can be more confident that they are moving “on the right track” and this reduces their anxiety. Also, when the students know that their instructor consistently aligns what she/he teaches to the way she assesses what they have learned, they can feel less stressed-out about the big picture ahead of them.
  • Use respectful social language.  Flexible-small-grouping allows students to review and critique one another in a non-threatening more friendly environment.  Flexible-small-grouping also provides students with opportunities to practice, under the guidance of the instructor, important social-language-use (pragmatic) such as listening respectfully and responding appropriately.  It is true that there will always be classes where the last is more challenging than in other classes, but when students know that their peers have been trained to listen with respect, they feel less fear of standing before them to speak.
  • Prepare for “show time.”  I have had the privilege to observe many instructors prepare students for the actual “show time” a few minutes before the presentations.  Many of them practice breathing exercises; others tell jokes to create a more relaxed environment, and others encourage them to use props or visual points to help them maintain concentration.  I often borrow the ideas of my colleagues and before the presentation of my students I remind them that they have done a good job at preparing.  I also suggest that when they get nervous, they look and/or point at the pictures/props/slides they prepared for the presentation.   Very often, it is the attitude of the instructor that makes the students know that: “All is well” and that we are proud of what they have done to prepare and of course, that we are very excited to hear their fearless presentations.


Claudia Dugan
Howard Community College
MFLA Board Member