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Abstract

During the 2013 Speech Communication Association of South Dakota annual conference, there was a lively discussion surrounding students’ Public Speaking Anxiety (PSA). During the dialogue, numerous strategies on how to help reduce students’ speaking anxiety were discussed. However, I was surprised at the number of suggestions that refuted tested and proven strategies for PSA reduction. Moreover, I was startled and dismayed to hear comments such as “I have just given up and allowed my students to read from a manuscript” or “the only way I can get [my students] to stay calm is when I allow them to write as many keywords on multiple notecards as they need.” These instructors felt strongly that these were the most effective procedures to help their students cope with their speaking anxiety. I share a different perspective; based on the abundance of literature on PSA reduction and successful strategies used within the curriculum at my institution, I posit that the tactics referenced above are not necessarily the best practices for helping students cope with their PSA. The aforementioned instructors, while certainly well-meaning, were not necessarily helping their students cope with their anxiety. Rather, they suggested strategies that overlooked PSA reduction and/or prohibited an opportunity for students to reduce their anxiety and increase their public speaking competency. I sympathize with these instructors as their methods were similar to those that I used early in my teaching career. Yet, through the years, I have utilized numerous strategies which have proven successful in reducing my students’ anxiety about speaking in public. Grounded in instructional implications and empirical research, this essay offers practical strategies for new and seasoned public speaking instructors to help their students face their speaking fears head-on and reduce their PSA.