Written by Belinda Huang
Not everyone who goes into teaching is good at public speaking or commanding an audience. It is a skill that most people have to learn through practice. This is especially true for new teachers who are standing in front of a classroom and taking on the role of authority for the first time. It is natural to feel nervous, but having good public speaking skills is very important, as teachers must constantly communicate information and instructions to their students. Here are some aspects of public speaking that matter in teaching.
- Managing fear
The fear of public speaking is called glossophobia, and it’s more common than you think.In one famous 1973 study, more people ranked public speaking as their top fear than death! The fear of feeling exposed or embarrassed, similar to social anxiety, motivates much of people’s feelings about public speaking. If you’re someone who gets nervous when presenting new material for the first time, try breathing deeply, giving yourself a pep talk, or starting a comforting ritual (like lucky jewelry)
- Aiming for clarity
Clarity means communicating so that your listener understands easily. Sometimes, we have to sacrifice details or nuance for clarity. We might have to repeat ourselves in different ways to be clear. Think also of how your body language or positioning might reinforce or contradict your words. According to the research, students who think their teachers communicate clearly also believe their teachers are “immediate, assertive, and responsive.” These are great qualities for a teacher to have and convey.
- Trusting the structure
Memorizing a lesson plan word by word is both unlikely and unreasonable. We’ve all got better things to do with our time. However, preparing enough to know the structure of your class and all the materials you might need will go a long way towards overcoming nerves. Have routines and go-to phrases or questions that you can use when you’re not sure what the next step is. Remember, if you have to pay attention many things at once (like remembering what’s next), you are more likely to struggle with your public speaking, according to recent research.
- Watching the audience
Teachers have to be alert in the classroom for many reasons, such as student safety and behavior. But another good reason to keep your eyes on your students is to gauge their reaction as an audience. As researchers have confirmed, public speakers who interact with their audience were more engaged, spoke clearly, and made better eye contact — which leads to better communication all around.
- Answering questions
If your students have questions, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are against you or that you were unsuccessful in communicating something. In fact, questions might mean that they are engaged and want to know more. Remain open to questions — defensiveness is a sign of insecurity in the material or your standing in the classroom. This is another place where preparation is key. Even if you can’t answer the question, know that YOU are in control. A little bit of humor doesn’t hurt either!
- Feeling confident and comfortable
The more time you spend in the classroom, the more comfortable you will become. You can then think more about body language, where you are situated in the classroom when you talk, and fluency (presenting your material without needing “umms” and “ahhs” to fill in gaps). A 2015 paper shows that people judge public speaking not just with the words that are spoken, but by the physical expressions and verbal signals the speaker uses. This added level of sophistication will show your students that you are a confident public speaker.
Now that you’ve thought about these six areas of public speaking, which skill/s most affect your everyday teaching? Once we identify areas of strength and improvement, we can apply this to our teaching and keep our students engaged and listening all day.