Surviving Public Speaking in Class
You’re standing at the front of the class. Your PowerPoint presentation is up on the projector screen next to you. You’re trying to summarize the last point on the current slide, and it’s becoming harder and harder to speak with every word as your breath runs out much faster than usual. You finish your sentence and gasp for air as quietly as possible. It’s time to move to the next slide; your hand is shaking so badly that it rattles the spacebar when you reach to press it. You still have two slides to go and you somehow have to talk about them long enough to fill the remaining four minutes in your slot. Your classmates stare at you. Your professor makes a note on their rubric. You lose your train of thought. Someone please end your suffering.
If you’ve had this experience, you’re not alone. It’s very difficult to find a person who enjoys public speaking. Even the most seasoned company presidents get stage fright sometimes. It’s pretty much a fact of life.
“Great,” you’re thinking. “There’s no hope. This is just the way it’s going to be.” Or if you’re thinking that this article is going to tell you differently, you’d be wrong. There’s a reason it isn’t titled “How to Make Public Speaking 100% Enjoyable 100% of the Time.” Speaking from experience, there is no way to do that. There is, however, a way to make it suck just a little bit less. This is how I survived every required presentation in college.
Give yourself a pep talk.
I’m not talking about the kind of self-pep-talk that involves splashing water on your face, staring intently into the mirror, and reminding yourself about how great you are. Of course, if that works for you, great. It never worked for me, though, because no matter how much I believed I was great, there was always the underlying worry that no one in my audience would share that opinion. In fact, no one in the audience knew me or anything about me. They had no reason to think I was great in any way.
Here’s my suggestion: Instead of hyping yourself up, bring yourself back down to reality. Give yourself some tough love.
The single most important thing to keep in mind before and during a class presentation is this: Nobody cares.
Every one of your classmates is either going to have to give a presentation of their own or has already presented. If they are normal human beings, this means that they will not be paying attention to your speech, because they are too busy fretting over how their own speech is going to go or how it already went.
As for your professor, always assume that they have seen worse than you are doing. In fact, they have probably done worse themselves. They also will have to grade a lot of mediocre college presentations throughout their career. Your performance has little to no bearing on their opinion of you. They will give you your grade and in a few short years forget you exist entirely.
This all sounds harsh at first, but it can be quite comforting once you come to terms with it. This seven-minute presentation doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of your life. Don’t overthink it. As soon as it’s over with, you can go back to focusing on the things that don’t stress you out.
Edited by Emily Chance