Fear in the classroom

Public speaking. Lecturing.

I’ve been trying to pretend it away, but it keeps getting closer, and closer…

Tomorrow I have to stand up in front of 40 people and lecture for 48 minutes, and do it three times a week for the next ten weeks.

I was happy, I taught the lab for a higher level class, but then my boss decided that “I think it would be a good idea to have a native speaker teaching it…and you know it so well…this isn’t a punishment, really.”


My hope is only that I can get through it without making an absolute idiot of myself. Anyone have pointers on survival techniques? The only piece of advice I got (from the boss) was “Be sure to dress nicely, don’t wear jeans, they’ll never respect you if you do that the first day.”


Hoo boy. I remember my first class.

Everyone develops their own style but here are a very few rough tips.

  1. Slooooooow down. A lot of people have a tendency to race through lectures, especially when they are nervous.

  2. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something if someone drops you an unexpected question. Just say you’ll get back to them—and do it.

  3. Use visual aids, handouts and summaries. People appreciate it and it helps keep you on track.

  4. You don’t say what kind of class this is, but, even with 40 people, there are sometimes “class participation” activities you can do. Not all the time, but they do help break up a long lecture.

Good luck. It’s great experience that will serve you well.


Practice, practice, practice until you wake up at night mumbling your lecture to your teddy bear.

Take a bathroom break just before your class. Try to skip the caffeine. Eat a lot of protein for breakfast.

Sit down and imagine all the ways it could feasibly go wrong and think of Plan B, C, D . . . and so on.

Pick three faces out of the crowd and talk directly to them. Change faces every now and then.

Remember to slow down and breathe.

Write the main points down on note cards and put those on the lecturn.

Move around some. Walk back and forth a little bit, use your arms to gesture. Make your body language a tool.

And, don’t be afraid to admit to your audience that you are nervous about public speaking. Honestly, nearly everyone will be on your side and willing to cut you some slack.


Make a detailed outline of your talk. Identify key topics and the elements needed to convey them. Have all of these written down in the best order of presentation. Refer to them routinely but be able to extemporize upon them.


If possible, make sure to include even the lamest joke that you can think of. Breaking the pace of an extended talk with humor is the best way to get the attention of your audience back on track.


If possible, include a period for exchange. This not only lessens your burden of presentation length, but allows the audience to rephrase and assimilate your material to their own satisfaction. You may even want to ask for questions periodically as you go to give yourself a breather.

Visual Aids!

If you have some sort of chart or map, it will also serve as a mental cue to help you maintain a smoother train of subject matter.


Keep upright, employ gesticulations in order to provide visual relief for your listeners. Maintain your posture for good wind. This will help you to speak louder and longer without fatigue. Don’t hug the podium, move around and break things up a little.

And Finally,

Most difficult of all is to relax, if you know your material, it will be appearant to your audience and they will listen to you. Measure your speech and employ vocal dynamics (change in pitch and volume) to spice up your verbiage. Vary your eye contact with your listeners, make sure to “work” the room, do not focus on just the ten people in front of you. This will engage your audience and keep up the attention level.

Considering joining Toastmasters Intl.

cher3 said: (and I thank you for it)

yeah, and I know I do that, too…I’m trying to think of ways to aviod it. swallows nervously

powerpoint… and their notes have pictures of all the slides, too- though I know that laptop/projector thing is going to wait and then it’ll turn around and bite me in the butt- but I’ve made transparancies of all my slides! Hah!

It’s a computer class that human ecology and natural resources students (and others, usually in non hard science majors)can take in place of a math requirement, since it teaches very very basic logic. I also teach what a mouse is (no, I’m not joking) and things like that as well.

phouka said:

Thank you for that one…I didn’t think of that. I keep trying to practice, too, but I keep picturing 40 people, and breaking into a cold sweat with elephant sized butterflys invading my stomach…maybe if I narrow it down to three people

I found it helpful to remember, back when I was speaking – and, worse, singing – regularly in public: The audience wants you to do well at least as much you want to please them. Unless you’re in some very odd situation, pretty much everyone will be on your side, and no one will be keeping track of every little inconsistency or sign of nervousness.

Forget about your presentations going off perfectly; that will never happen. But “good enough” is an extremely broad category; most audiences are very forgiving and willing to be pleased. And if your listeners consistently get the general drift of what you’re getting at, you’re doing great.

Good luck!

I second everything everyone above has said. I have only one thing to add … Dress the part. Wear something that makes you look and feel professional. It’ll make you feel more “in charge” and confident, and the image does work with the students.

I used to do a lot of speaking in grade schools. I was petrified when it came time to speak to my first high school class (you know, they’re all taller than me, I’m only a few years older than they are, etc.) This is the trick that helped me the most.

Good luck!

Once you’ve memorized your lecture (or at least know what you’re going to say, if it’s not set in concrete), you should practice BREATHING! Sometimes you get going on the speech and kind of forget to work good breathing into your lecture, ending up out of breath. This will also help you with the slowing down part. I notice that if I’m nervous, sometimes concentrating on the breathing will help me slow down. Also, if you go too fast, or start to sound breathless, the audience will notice and interpret that as nerves or lack of confidence. No big deal, but if you can, I’m sure you’ll want to avoid it.

Slow down and – if eye contact makes you nervous – looks at their foreheads; they’ll never know you aren’t looking them in the eye.

OK, so now YOU tell ME how to get back into the second grade groove! School starts tomorrow, and this teacher just isn’t up for it!