Should Students With Anxiety Be Forced to Present?
If you have an anxiety issue about public speaking or presenting how could you feel about being asked by a teacher or lecturer to get up in front of a group of others to do a public presentation? Well clearly you are going to feel uncomfortable so should students with anxiety be forced to present?
There is a big debate at the moment discussing whether many anxious students should be doing these in-class presentations or whether teachers should treat them differently and make exceptions when they feel uncomfortable. We thought it was worth giving our views as therapists on public speaking anxiety and ways it should be handled by teachers who have students with this fear.
This post may contain affiliate links which means that we get a commission if you choose to make a purchase through the link. This is at no cost to you. Please read our disclosure page for more information.
Speaking In Front of the Class Anxiety
The reality is that figures show that around 75% of the population have some kind of worry or issue with oral presentations. That is a big number showing how prevalent anxiety disorders are when it comes to in-class presentations or presenting.
Yet despite the problem being so common teachers and lecturers often have a real problem with knowing how to handle high school students or university students with the problem. They may also be unaware that they may also have been the cause of the problem in the first place.
The reality is that most pupils start to experience anxiety problems when they are relatively young usually in Kindergarten or elementary school. Something happens to the child which upsets them, scares them or embarrasses them and from that point on a part of them is hard-wired to avoid any similar situations that might make them feel uncomfortable.
A typical example that we might see is that the child being asked to participate in a school play when they were young and when they are on stage something goes wrong and everyone laughs. The child feels embarrassed or upset about the incident and resolves never to put themselves out there in front of others again.
University Presentation Anxiety
Now whilst the simple incident we have spoken about seems minor it can put into play a lifetime of social anxiety or presentation nerves for that child.
Social anxiety is a worry or a fear of embarrassing yourself or being judged by others. Clearly, after an initial embarrassment such as in the case of the play, a child will try and avoid going through the same thing again. They will certainly try and avoid participating in any further plays and are also likely to worry about the same thing occurring in other situations where they have to stand up in front of others to perform or speak.
This problem therefore will follow them through into middle school, cause issues when they are high school students and then finally make them anxious when they reach university.
University presentation anxiety isn’t therefore something that appears when you are older but something that has been following students around since they were very young.
So should students with anxiety be forced to present?
Public Speaking Anxiety and Its Effect on Students
Well as a teacher the first thing you have to understand is the debilitating impact that anxiety disorders have on people who have a fear of public speaking or social anxiety disorder.
A person with real public speaking anxiety is likely to feel extreme panic at the thought of doing a public presentation or speech. They may avoid eye contact with others, feel high levels of fear and stress, sweat, blush and in certain cases may even have panic attacks. Having mental health issues involving anxiety is not something that should be brushed to one side by teachers but a problem that needs to be taken seriously. Mental health issues however need to be differentiated from general nerves or a dislike of presenting.
The reality is that many of those 75% of people who have some fear of public speaking are likely to be experiencing problems relating to nerves and not a full-blown social phobia or serious anxiety. The key to deciding whether students should present in front of the entire class must start with the teacher being able to categorise who fits in what category.
Nerves are to be expected when you are doing something that you don’t do very often as you are stepping out of your comfort zone. You may not like presenting the first few times you speak in front of the class but the nerves and stress tend to dissipate with practice. Social anxiety and public speaking anxiety however need a gentler approach in case panic attacks are triggered.
How to Tell Your Teacher You Can’t Do a Presentation
Whether you have nerves or worry about public speaking and in-class presentations or if you are suffering from social anxiety issues it makes sense to talk to your teacher or your lecturer first about how you feel. Teachers are not mind readers and they are not always going to be able to visually see the distress you are feeling.
A good teacher should not make you feel uncomfortable talking in front of the class and instead, find ways to help their anxious students overcome problems with oral communication.
Should students with anxiety be forced to present? Well, there is brute force where a teacher insists on presentations no matter what which makes no sense at all. Then there are teachers who acknowledge the distress and panic and think about ways of preparing students for public speaking by coming up with programs to help.
If you are worried about not being taken seriously by your teacher especially when you are suffering from social phobia or glossophobia getting a doctors note can help. When a student presents a formal letter or note from their doctor it will be taken much more seriously and show that the reason for being unwilling to present in front of others isn’t because of a trivial reason but because of mental health issues.
You can also use our confidence worksheets to help you tackle your anxiety with self-help methods.
Why Your Teachers Want You To Do In-Class Presentations
Whilst it may seem that your teachers are finding ways to torture you with their requests for in-class presentations the reality is very different. The simple fact is that American Colleges and your future employers prize good communication skills.
Academic performance and grades are often determined by how well you can speak in front of others. As an example language orals require you to stand in front of a panel of teachers and either discuss a topic in a foreign language. If you are unable to do this you are going to get a much lower grade and potentially even fail the class.
Presenting is a necessary skill in many situations and when you leave your school or university your employer will expect you to be able to meet certain basic standards when it comes to talking in front of your peers or clients. If you are unable to do this it will severely limit your job opportunities and earning potential.
So when teachers ask the question, should students with anxiety be forced to present? they are more likely to agree it is necessary for their students because in the big wide world employers won’t hire you if you can’t. In fact, you are unlikely to even pass the interview stage because that is going to make you feel uncomfortable.
We are of the belief however that the important skill of presenting should be discussed and tackled from a very young age so that the fear is less likely to become entrenched. For those who already have a problem then a systematic and intelligent approach to resolving the problem needs to be created by the teacher, school or university so the issue with class presentations is helped.
Refusing to Do Presentations
Without a proper and sympathetic program for students to learn the important skills of presentation or anxiety reduction, it is inevitable that some pupils will refuse to do presentations completely. We have certainly known students and adults to call in sick on days when they are required to present so they can avoid a class or meeting.
When students are so fearful that they believe the only way they can avoid severe anxiety is to drop out then the teacher is fighting a losing battle. Forcing students to present without proper support in this case is counterproductive and only makes the situation get worse especially with anyone who has real social anxiety issues.
Excuses to Get Out Of a Presentation
We have heard our clients give us a whole host of reasons for trying to get out of class presentations or meetings over the years because of their anxiety.
The classic excuse is feigning illness to get out of the presentations. That might be pretending to be ill an hour or so before the presentation or simply not turning up to school or university that day because of severe anxiety. This is a classic safety behaviour that helps you to avoid the problem temporarily but doesn’t help generalized anxiety or social anxiety in the longer term.
We have also had people pretend that they thought the presentation was on another day and tell the teacher that they aren’t prepared. Plus since Covid and online teaching, it becomes easier to say that your technology is playing up thereby keeping your comfort zones firmly in place.
Speaking fear and presentation worries however are only heightened by continued avoidance. The more anxious students allow their anxiety to take over the worse it becomes. Forcing students to participate in public speaking events doesn’t resolve the problem but nor does running away so finding a middle ground to stop the panic and stress is always the best solution for both parties.
How to Help Students With a Fear of Class Presentations
Forcing students to do presentations when they have anxiety disorders or mental health issues isn’t a sensible approach to helping the problem. There are plenty of better ways to teach students how to manage presentations and overcome their anxiety. Here are a few of our favourite methods that can help make a difference.
Exposure Therapy For Public Speaking
Should students with anxiety be forced to present? Well no when there are plenty of better tools that can help to lower anxiety.
Exposure therapy is one of the easiest ways to help students with social anxiety or a fear of in-class presentations. Whilst exposure therapy does not stop anxiety it will help students to manage it better so that it feels more tolerable.
Typically the person with anxious feelings is asked to come up with a hierarchy of fears. Put simply this means to grade different parts of their anxiety from 1-10 with 1 being the lowest fear and 10 being the worst. A simple hierarchy might be a level 1 fear is speaking out loud in front of a friend. A level 5 fear might be having to speak in front of a teacher and a level 10 talking in front of a class of people.
A teacher should help you to work on the lowest fear first and get you to practice it regularly so it becomes more commonplace and the fear eventually fades. Then they help you work on the next rung of the ladder until over time you are able to do the thing you fear the most.
This approach is far easier than making students with public speaking fears panic by pushing them in at the deep end.
Visualization to Help You Feel In Your Comfort Zone
Visualization is another great tool that helps with class presentations. This is a technique that is used in coaching as well as by elite sports men and women.
The idea is to take some slow deep breaths and close your eyes and spend time mentally rehearsing doing the thing that you fear. In the visualization exercise, however, you are going to imagine your personal experience being different this time. For example, see yourself standing up with your head held high and looking confident as you are about to speak. See yourself making eye contact with the entire class and speaking loudly and with a strong voice. Imagine that you feel at home in this place and are happy to present in front of anyone.
With regular practice, you should start to see a difference in your anxiety levels as the mental rehearsal makes things easier for you. In your mind, the presentation starts to become second nature rather than something you only do every now and then.
Students Who Do Practice Presentations Lower Their Anxiety
As the saying goes “practice makes perfect” and that is certainly the case when it comes to presenting. If you only do a presentation a few times a year then it is going to feel scary as you simply won’t be used to talking in front of your fellow students. If you are doing regular presentations however everything gets substantially easier.
Also when you practice regularly whether it be in front of a few friends or even your family your delivery becomes sharper and you feel more comfortable.
Nobody is going to be great at doing presentations if they only do them on occasion but make it regular occurence and you will start to become an expert.
Self-Hypnosis for Public Speaking
We regularly help our clients to be able to present in front or a class or a meeting by using hypnosis. Hypnosis is a nice relaxed focused state where you feel calmer and more in control making it easier for you to overcome the thing that you fear.
To help our clients we give them our public speaking download program to listen which also has positive suggestions of encouragement and relaxation. Repeated positive suggestions can make a difference as they help students to overcome their fear and lower their anxiety. You can purchase this in our online store to help.
Self-Help Books for Presentations and Confidence
Just as self-hypnosis can help so can self-help books. There are hundreds on the market that can help you with everything from presentations to self-esteem.
Speak with No Fear is a great book by Mike Acker that can help give you tips and strategies to overcome any anxious thoughts enabling you to talk with confidence.
Other Helpful Tips To Beat Anxiety About Speaking In Front Of Others
Should students with anxiety be forced to present? Well no not unless their teacher or lecturer has done other things to help. There are some other great tips that teachers can use to help their students speak in front of the class without fear.
Keep it Short – In other words, if you are helping a student to overcome their fear give them something small to say initially before building up to bigger presentations in front of their peers. This approach helps to build confidence and prevent prolonged anxiety.
Use Breathing Techniques – Using the right breathing techniques can make a difference to students. Slower and steadier breathing helps to calm nerves and lower anxiety.
Imagine You Are Someone Else – Think of someone who is confident when they speak and imagine that you are them when you are about to present in front of the class. That person could be a friend or even a famous person who you admire.
Write it Down – Remember you don’t have to remember everything you are going to say. Write it down or use cue cards to help. For larger presentations have PowerPoint slides to help.
Should students with anxiety be forced to present? Clearly learning to speak in front of others is a necessary life skill that shouldn’t be avoided but forcing students without support is clearly going to be detrimental to their anxiety and mental health. Whether you are a student or a teacher remember there is a better approach that involves support and training. Use our techniques to make a difference and to help keep anxiety levels low which helping to increase academic performance.
More Articles to Help With Presentations
*This site is owned and operated by rewirethemind.com. Rewirethemind.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.