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  1. #1
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    A question for teachers about student presentations

    My daughter is in grade 11. She is smart and hard-working and gets good marks. She is an introvert by nature. Although she has lots of friends and is happy socially, she becomes very anxious when she has to present in front of the class. Unfortunately the courses she has chosen based on her interests, like psychology, media and law, require many presentations. She has had to present at least once a week since September. This is causing her real anxiety - shaking, crying etc. in the morning before she leaves for school. I explained the idea of "exposure therapy" to her and suggested that it should get easier as she gets more practice, but in fact she seems more overwhelmed the more she has to do this. I suspect that each bad experience she has at the front of the class makes it harder to get up there the next time. I urge her not to take it so seriously and not worry if she messes up, but that advice doesn't help either.

    Can any teachers (or other smart folks) please provide some guidance about how I should deal with this? Many thanks.

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    Has she seen a therapist to work on this?
    I took beta blockers in high school for similar issues.

  3. #3

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    It sounds like a rather serious issue if it is getting worse and worse. If it was just a little anxiety then, as you said, the exposure should have worked to make each time a little easier. Maybe she needs to see a doctor. Does she have anxiety in other parts of her life? Have you talked to her teacher? I would call the teacher and ask if she/he has noticed the anxiety in your daughter. If she plans on going to college then this is something she will need to learn to deal with and if medicine is the only way then so be it. Not sure how you and she feels about taking medication but it is something to consider.
    -Brian
    "Michelle would never be caught with sausage grease staining her Vera Wang." - rfisher

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    Also, for longer term, it may help to take a class for public speaking, so that she can learn strategies to combat the nerves that accompany this situation. I believe that most fear of public speaking (and it is a very common fear), is based on the possibility of making a mistake in front of so many people. Having strategies can help to cope with that -- things like, practicing the presentation in front of family beforehand; having a list nearby to reference the order of the presentation; writing speeches/notes on cue cards (a personal one, since literally the audience could see and hear a full sheet of paper shaking as I stood in front of them, if there wasn't a handy podium/table). I'm sure there are many more strategies, from someone who does this sort of training professionally. (I also took drama/theatre, which was both anxiety causing and fun, but had the effect of pushing me to learn to 'perform' -- which is basically how I looked at public speaking, as a moment in which I learned my lines, and acted my way through the presentation, by pretending to be an extrovert -- in specific, work-related situations (school and professionally).

  5. #5
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    Fort has good suggestions but I'd also encourage her to seek professional help. That much anxiety is not healthy and needs to be dealt with. Explaining the situation to her teachers might be beneficial too. I feel the same way about public speaking and in high school would take zeros rather than get up in front of the class so I can sympathize somewhat. I hope things get better for her soon.
    "Beautiful things don't ask for attention." -The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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    Aside from what the others are suggesting, what I usually advise those I work with who are really nervous about public speaking, and have to do it a lot for their jobs, is to script their entire speech, and memorize it. This is counter to the normal advice I give to people making speeches - this is for people who are really terrified.

    Then bring the script, with the key points bolded and huge, and to read from it, even though they've memorized it. They know it, the text is just a crutch to make them feel more confident, and the big, bolded main points are for if they get lost. I prefer papers to note cards (although it's true, the note cards don't rustle if you shake), because you can get so nervous the cards get in the wrong order and that's the end of you. If you have it all on one piece of paper, that's not a risk.

    I suggest they keep the speech as simple as possible - no gimmicks, no jokes. As brief as allowed, and completely to the point.

    When they rehearse, I suggest they do it in front of a mirror, or in front of a good friend - so there is a friendly body in front of them. And if they have a good friend in the class, they look at that person (if they look at anyone) while they speak.

    There are specific relaxation techniques that help some, which you can look up online. And there is professional help, if you're interested.

    But you're right - telling her not to take this so seriously won't work, because this is an extremely big deal to her.
    Use Yah Blinkah!

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    I have a stutter that can get very severe if I'm nervous. Writing my speech and then memorizing it while practicing out loud makes it fairly manageable. I also recently joined Toastmasters as well, and it's a very supportive, low-pressure environment to practice public speaking skills.

    But if you say she's getting worse instead of better with each experience, I agree that she should probably see a therapist. She might be the kind of person who fixates on every flaw and gets overwhelmed each time, instead of seeing it as an opportunity to improve.

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    Do the presentations require the use of some sort of presentation program like Powerpoint? If so, is it possible that she could record her narrative to go along with her slides so that all she has to do is press the 'go' button? What she might be able to do alternatively may depend on the actual outcomes being assessed in the presentation. While seeking professional help is a good idea, she also needs some strategies to deal with the issue immediately in her courses. I would suggest calling her teachers, explaining what's happening at home in preparation for these presentations and asking if there is some way she can still present her ideas without having to 'be on stage.' If it's the content that's the most critical, then the teachers should have no problem allowing alternative forms of presentation.
    Haunting the Princess of Pink since 20/07/11...

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    [QUOTE=Anita18;4066207 I also recently joined Toastmasters as well, and it's a very supportive, low-pressure environment to practice public speaking skills.
    [/QUOTE]

    There seems to be more going on in this case than just garden-variety fear of public speaking, and I agree with many of the suggestions here. But I always like to say a word for Toastmasters. It's fun, extremely beneficial and not very expensive. I was a member for over three years, and rose to Advanced Toastmaster Gold. I no longer fear public speaking (actually look forward to it a little) and I gained a ton of confidence and self-knowledge. You learn leadership and administration, and how to give someone correction in a helpful and positive way. It's an excuse to research things you are curious about. You have occasion to see people muster their courage and actually overcome their fears. I was moved to tears several times. There's no downside, and much to be gained from the Toastmasters experience.

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    Avid Lurker, before considering to take your daughter to see a doctor, I'd try a couple of other things. They might seem obvious and already taken care of, but sometimes parents and kids don't feel on the same page.

    My advice would be telling your daughter that you love her, no matter how she does, and making sure you really mean it, and that your everyday actions reflect that. - I'm not saying you don't already, just to make extra sure she knows and sees and hears it all the time. Then give her a month.

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    I may be off base here, but this sounds less about presentations than it is about immediate feedback/rejection. I agree that talking to a counselor might help. Basically, you have to train yourself not to care about the reaction while caring a lot about the content and delivery. It's a tough one.
    AceOn6, the golf loving skating fan

  12. #12
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    I can't speak for Avid Lurker's daughter but my anxiety around public speaking is more about being in front of people and discomfort around being the centre of attention and having everyone listening to me. I'm a lot better if it isn't my own words and I'm just reading so now I basically do what Garr suggested.
    "Beautiful things don't ask for attention." -The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

  13. #13
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    Thank you all for your thoughtful input, especially those who shared their own experiences. You have given me some new ways to think about this problem. Kiddo has a presentation today that she seemed to feel pretty good about this morning so hopefully it will be a good experience to build on.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Avid Lurker View Post
    Thank you all for your thoughtful input, especially those who shared their own experiences. You have given me some new ways to think about this problem. Kiddo has a presentation today that she seemed to feel pretty good about this morning so hopefully it will be a good experience to build on.
    I taught public speaking and coached competitive speech.

    This sounds worse than typical anxiety about speaking, but not insurmountable. I would, actually, disagree with the write every word and memorize it idea for this reason: I have too often seen kids try to do that and then melt down when they forget one word while actually speaking. Often, perfectionism is at the root of the fear--that a mistake will make you look foolish. So the memorization technique can often backfire.

    Practicing in front of people is good. And practicing in front of a mirror is great. It helps people in two ways--they can see their gestures and see if they have good eye contact (I always told my kids--if you practice in front of the mirror and never see yourself, you have a problem) and they can see that they don't look stupid (for students "looking stupid" is the greatest fear--after all that is a daily fear for teens even if they aren't standing in front of anyone!).

    Another thing that helped a lot of my kids was having a routine to help themselves feel calm before they begin. Take a deep breath and find whatever way you need to feel relaxed and slow down that adrenaline. Go through your note cards. Make eye contact with someone in the room you trust and feel comfortable with. Say a prayer if that's what works for you.

    Other tricks--look at the audience's eye brows--looks like eye contact if the teacher is judging it but takes away the nerves of looking directly at anyone. Pick out three people in the room you are comfortable with, preferably one on each side and one in the middle and switch off looking at them while you speak.

    And remember that the audience doesn't know the presentation you planned, only the one you give. That takes away the fear of mistakes. When I directed drama, kids always worried about forgetting a line. Right before every opening, I always told them that no one was reading along in the script to count their mistakes except my mother and she wasn't coming until the last night. (My mother never really did that, but the absurdity of the idea of her sitting in the front row with a script to track their mistakes always made the cast laugh).

  15. #15
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    I agree with PDilemma's suggestions. I am an English teacher (I teach at community college right now, but used to teach high school and middle school). I require presentations in my class but certainly have had students who were legitimately anxious about giving them. I tried to meet with these students individually to discuss their concerns and, with the exception of one student who had a very severe case of anxiety, they were eventually able to give their presentations just fine using basically the same suggestions that PDilemma gave. For the student who had extreme anxiety, I allowed her to give the presentation to myself alone. However, practicing until the presentation feels comfortable beforehand is very helpful since it usually alleviates the main concern over presentations which is not knowing the material well enough.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by PDilemma View Post
    I taught public speaking and coached competitive speech.

    This sounds worse than typical anxiety about speaking, but not insurmountable. I would, actually, disagree with the write every word and memorize it idea for this reason: I have too often seen kids try to do that and then melt down when they forget one word while actually speaking. Often, perfectionism is at the root of the fear--that a mistake will make you look foolish. So the memorization technique can often backfire.
    I agree that it depends on the person. For me it helps my stutter because I need to practice forming the sequence of words with my mouth - chronic adult stutterers often have issues transferring words from their head out of their mouths.

    Being comfortable with silence if you forget your words is a huuuuge obstacle. That's where practice getting in front of people in a supportive environment is important.

  17. #17
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    Another person who has issues with public speaking here. A few tips that worked for me - practice a run through first in a friendly setting. Be sure to give her positive feedback on the things she does well. It can also help by pointing out each time she does something difficult like this that she's helping to build the base for the classes and jobs that interest her.

    I'm always more comfortable talking about things I know well. Anxiety about speaking is multiplied if I don't feel comfortable with the subject matter.

    I'd also suggest talking to her teachers about her anxiety. They may be able to help her in class or have other suggestions.
    "The Devil is joining in, and that's never a good sign." Phil Liggett

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    Quote Originally Posted by Anita18 View Post
    I agree that it depends on the person. For me it helps my stutter because I need to practice forming the sequence of words with my mouth - chronic adult stutterers often have issues transferring words from their head out of their mouths.

    Being comfortable with silence if you forget your words is a huuuuge obstacle. That's where practice getting in front of people in a supportive environment is important.
    A stutter is an entirely different issue than stage fright. So I would approach that completely differently as a teacher or coach. The OP's question was about stage fright/anxiety.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by PDilemma View Post
    A stutter is an entirely different issue than stage fright. So I would approach that completely differently as a teacher or coach. The OP's question was about stage fright/anxiety.
    Stuttering can certainly lead to stage fright, though. There are many different reasons why one could feel so anxious before speaking in public, and to determine the correct solution, she needs to know where it's stemming from, whether it's perfectionism or hating to be the center of attention or something else entirely.

    I actually had a coworker who hated being the center of attention, but she learned to give great presentations because she wanted to teach. The presentations were no longer about her, but about the material the audience needed to learn.

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    This situation sounds a lot like mine. I reacted the same as your daughter to presentations. I still hate public speaking (and I am a teacher now!) but have learned to deal with it. When I was younger, someone suggested to me that I volunteer to present first each time. It sounds daft, but it really works. The worst part about giving the presentations, for me, was the wait. I got more anxious the more I sat waiting for my time to go. Volunteering to go first cut down a ton of the anxiety, and the teachers usually grade the first ones easier.

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