Students say speeches cause nerves, anxiety


Daniel Salomon

Michelle Rasmussen, a third-year health, fitness and exercise student, gives a speech to her class.

Samantha Gibson and Car’lyle Lee

Even communications majors freak out when they have to make presentations, some of them told Campus Current in April.

Communications students said they feel a rush of fear when presenting a PowerPoint or even giving a short speech to an audience.

Their professors said they felt the same panic when they were undergraduates taking public speaking courses.

“I remember being super nervous about everything, even being judged by my audience members,” Dr. April Copes, a communications professor, recalls about her speech class at Syracuse University.

Speech professor Jessica Mattingly said she experienced stage fright during her community college public speaking class. After transferring to a four-year university, though, she found her passion in communications and took advanced public speaking. By Mattingly’s senior year, she said, she gained her confidence.

Copes said she handled her anxiety by treating it like “riding a rollercoaster. You can scream, either outside or on the inside, and experience the highs and lows of it. And in the end, you will survive.”

Mattingly said the reason students have anxiety about public speaking “comes down to the fear of having all eyes on them while they are at the center of attention.”

But students can overcome stage fright, the professors said.

Mattingly recommends that students choose speech topics they are passionate about.

“My biggest tip is to come into it with an open mind,” Mattingly said, noting that public speaking is “an important and valuable skill.”

She advises her students to practice speaking with a partner.

“I always tell my students I’ll make the space and time for them to practice their speech with me,” Mattingly said. “I teach 120 students and maybe four or five take advantage of it.”

For those enrolled in COM 111: Fundamentals of Oral Communication, getting to know the classmates who will watch the presentations can help the speaker feel more confident, she said.

AACC offered 45 sections of COM 111 this spring.Professors require them to make at least four speeches during the semester.

Students also said it’s possible to overcome a fear of public speaking.

“Don’t overthink it,” Rani Jenkins, a first-year creative writing student, said. “Don’t get yourself worked up about it. If you do something enough times, it will become natural.”

First-year English student Anna Maysonet said she takes comfort knowing that all of her classmates are as nervous about speaking as she is.

First-year psychology student Destiny Heintzelman said she does, too.

“I try to put my mindsets in that everyone else is as nervous as I am, everyone else is in the same boat,” Heintzelman said. “Since you get to see everyone else’s speeches, it makes me feel better. … The audience definitely has an influence on the outcome of my speech and how nervous I get.”

Second-year nursing student Deanna Dustin said she experiences jitters and anxiety before a speech.

“Walking around outside beforehand and deep breaths help. … I feel way more confident and organized when giving presentations,” she said.

Dustin said she scores an 85 or above on every speech assignment.

Kristin Kohout, a second-year business student, said the more speeches she gives, the less nervous she has become.

“If you put yourself out there, you’re not going to be scared to put yourself out there again,” Kohout said.