Public speaking is at the top of the list of things that people fear. In fact a third of the population is estimated to experience excessive fears when speaking in front of a large audience.
Why? Those who identify a fear of public speaking admit to harbouring visions of doing something embarrassing, forgetting what they are talking about, being unable to continue talking, not making sense, or showing physical signs of anxiety to others.
While fear and anxiety are normal and help keep us on our toes (based on how anxiety helped us in our cave man survival days), they become a problem when they interfere with everyday functioning. 10% of those who had fears of speaking in public expressed a level of anxiety that went beyond normal and healthy and interfered with their work, social life or education.
Providing opportunities for students to “lean into” their anxieties and face their fears of public speaking can seem counter intuitive, but it is the gradual, safe exposure to things that we are fearful of that helps us gain confidence and build resilience.
This lesson plans provides an opportunity to apply stress reducing skills to this commonly anxiety-ridden task of public speaking.
To provide students with strategies/ knowledge to help them regulate their breathing and calm their nerves when they speak publicly in front of an audience.
Get students to connect with their bodies and understand the influence that their anxieties have on the performance of their bodily functions and vice versa.
A mindful recording, mindful breathing app, such as Stop, Breathe & Think or Breathr, or a script for a guided-breathing exercise.
A peer feedback form with three columns:
The first column lists the seven feedback elements of voice, gestures, content, vocabulary, opening, closing, structure
The second column is labelled "successes"
The third column is labelled "suggestions”
Note: It is recommended that this lesson take place near the end of a speech writing unit, after speeches have been written but before students have delivered their speeches in class.
Teaching and Learning Activities:
- ACTIVATE LEARNING: Ask students what the #1 fear …. is. (It’s public speaking! Other tops ones include heights and spiders.)
- Invite students to create a large circle of chairs in the middle of the room and take a seat. Introduce the lesson as a useful skill to help in the preparation of their speeches. This lesson will start with a learning a breathing exercise and then small groups will practice and provide peer-feedback on their speeches.
- Explain that on way to manage anxieties or fears, like public speaking, is to focus on something they can control - their breathing. The breathing exercise will help them become more aware of their bodies and focussing on their breathing will draw their attention to a rhythmic pattern that will put them at ease and make them feel more comfortable.
- Remind students that the classroom is a respectful, safe environment for trying new things. This exercise may be new or different to some and while it is OK to feel silly or weird doing it, don't let reactions or behaviours get in the way of others.
- Using the app or a script, follow a guided breathing exercise that lasts between 3 and 5 minutes. The teacher should participate (unless reading a script) and does not need to observe students.
- Debrief with students. Ask: How did that make you feel? Do you feel any different than you did before doing the exercise? Was it weird, natural, hard? What other circumstance could you find yourself in where an exercise like this may be helpful? If using, write the name of the app on the board, or provide other suggestions of places where students can find similar guided breathing exercises.
- While still in a circle, transition to practicing their speeches by provide each student with three copies of the peer-feedback handout. Give them instructions to complete the columns when they listen to another student's speech. "Successes" are meant to describe aspects of their speech/delivery that went well. "Suggestions" is meant to give advice, suggestions for improvement of either the delivery or writing of the speech. Explain that the task is not meant to put down the speaker but to support and encourage them to do the best that they can.
- Number the students off 1-4. These groups of 4 will be their groups for the remainder of the class. Make sure that everyone has at least 3 feedback forms. Groups should find a quiet space in the hallway or outside where they can practice. The teacher can circulate, visiting each group at least once during the session, making sure everyone is on track.
- With 10 minutes left in class, gather the students back in the classroom. All speakers should have the feedback forms that their classmates filled out. For homework they should make any changes to their speeches and continue to practice out loud/ in front of an audience.
Before in-class speech delivery, repeat the guided breathing exercise. You do not have to do the same prep or debrief, unless students have questions or wish to talk about it.
In a randomized telephone survey of 499 residents of Winnipeg, one third of respondents identified public-speaking fears. The onset of these fears occured in the teenage years. Some so severe with life long detrimental impacts.
For those who have extreme anxieties, exposure to their triggers requires great care and, more than likely, the guidance of a professional.