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Public speaking sparks worries, occasional challenges

Speaking in front of people is not a skill junior Tyler Ostrander feels confident in. He said he avoids sharing his opinions, as he worries what others might feel, and sometimes develops a stutter or mumble that makes him feel self-conscious.

His self-doubt; however, is not without reason. Ostrander has anxiety.

Those who have an anxiety disorder experience different symptoms and challenges, as there are many types of anxiety, diverse social environments people live in and specific triggers each person can have, according to Mayo Clinic. As a generalized experience, Mayo Clinic reports anxiety disorders cause intense experiences of excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations.

In his life, Ostrander feels immense pressure and worry when presenting in front of the class. Before a presentation, these fears cross his mind: he’ll stutter too much, have the wrong information and receive a terrible grade. He said he’s lucky if he can manage to push his presentation back a few days and will fake sickness if he’s feeling too overwhelmed.

“[Presenting in front of the class makes me feel] in a word sick, like physically sick. Sometimes it gets to the point of getting dizzy. I end up blanking on things I know. I always wear a jacket in presentation days because I often sweat through my shirt. After and sometimes during [the presentation] I end up getting shaky,” Ostrander said. “I’ve been diagnosed with anxiety, so that doesn’t help, but I’m also not the most social person in the world. I only have a small group of friends and [am] mostly insecure [about my thoughts]. So telling me to go up and talk to a group of people is like telling a 10-year-old to use the high dive.”

The nervous and apprehensive feelings Ostrander describes is something Dr. Patricia Schoenrade, a professor of psychological science at William Jewell College, sees in her students and experiences herself as she also has an anxiety condition she takes medications and does exercise for. Because she has a form of anxiety, she can perceive her students with anxiety from two angles: as a researched psychology professor and a fellow subject.

“Anxiety can interfere with memory, so the presenter forgets some of the points he or she intended to present. If anxiety symptoms are visible, the presenter may worry that others will notice, which becomes an additional source of anxiety,” Dr. Schoenrade said. “For some, even receiving the assignment may get anxiety started, which can interfere with focus in preparation.”

Earlier this school year, presentations in schools have gotten backlash on social media for being too cruel to students with anxiety disorders. In September, students with anxiety from around the United States voiced their issues on Twitter with having teachers impose students with anxiety  to do presentations and grade students based off their presentation skills. The tweeting individuals believed it was unfair to grade students with anxiety on their presentation skills, as they cannot perform as well as their peers, and said students should have the option of completing an alternative assignment in place of presentations, according to “The Atlantic.”

Though Ostrander despises speaking in front of his class, he does not see allowing students to skip out on presenting as the most helpful option, as social skills are a necessity for teenagers in the future.

“It’s good on paper, but in practice it could turn into no one presenting, and public speaking though I try to avoid it I recognize as an important skill,” Ostrander said. “Take working at say McDonalds for example, you need to talk to complete strangers all shift, or you have a high-end job, at meetings you might be expected to talk to all your coworkers at once.”

Research backs Ostrander’s thinking. Executives and hiring managers rank oral communication skills as the top most crucial ability a college graduate should have at 80 to 90 percent importance, according to the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

U.S. History teacher Bryn Orton recognizes the significance of communication, but also wants students to feel comfortable. He allows his students who have diagnosed anxiety issues and a deep lack of confidence or experience in the English language to break off from the rest of the class and perform their presentations in front of each other.

“I believe it is important to make accommodations for people, but it is also important to show people that they have it in themselves to overcome their fears,” Orton said. “Based on my experience that process has almost always been successful. The anxiety doesn’t magically melt away after giving one presentation in front of a small group, but I’ve seen enough of these students glowing with pride after giving a presentation that it is something I want to push students to do once or twice a year.”

Though Ostrander does not enjoy presentations, he sees them as small steps toward improving his public speaking skills. Students, he said, should not be asking for mercy or alternate assignments, instead for understanding.

“Students should talk [to teachers] when they feel the need to. And as for teacher response, I would want honesty and sincerity. I don’t think leniency would work, people would take advantage of that,” Ostrander said. “However, talking to students to breakdown what the rubric is saying and how to improve it would be better than any leniency.”

What do you think of public speaking? Let us know in the comments below.

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