18 January 2017

What Uni's Taught Me About Public Speaking

On Monday, I go into the second semester of my second year at university. I feel like I bang on about it all the time but for anyone who doesn't know, I'm doing a BA in media and communication at a uni in Glasgow. The uni in question absolutely loves two things: group work and public speaking. When I was in school any mention of group work or presentations or group presentations (my idea of hell) made my legs go numb and my heart race from the moment it was brought up to the moment it was finished. When I was looking for a uni to go to and a course to do, one of the things I looked at first was the weight of presentations. I really couldn't see myself lasting very long on a course that was all about presentations. Public speaking terrified me. Somehow, I missed the bit on the description of the course I'm doing that said "heyyy we are allll aboutttt public speakin pal", so I applied and got in with an unconditional offer. To be fair, I should've known I'd have to communicate on a media and communication course but let's ignore that.

No word of a lie, in my first week of university I was given a group presentation assignment. An assessed one. My seminar group had known each other for a few days and there we were being split into groups and told to prepare a poster and presentation for a couple weeks after. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end. I died a wee bit. Luckily I'd already got to know two of the girls in my group (and they're now two of my closest friends) so working in a group wasn't too difficult. The main thing I realised pretty quickly was that we were all feeling exactly the same. No one particularly wanted to be doing a presentation that early in the course and none of us were super familiar with each other. I also realised that it was all a really clever plan from my module leader that kinda made total sense - if we get stuck in straight away with a group presentation, we would maybe find future ones that little bit easier. I actually think it worked. It was bloody terrifying at the time but we all got good grades and I honestly feel like it helped me with my fear of public speaking. 

Since that first presentation, I've lost count of the number of presentations I've had to do at uni. I still get shaky legs and pins and needles in my fingers when I'm standing up there ready to speak, and I still feel like I'm going to make a complete idiot of myself in front of everyone but after a year and a half of presentations, I'm yet to totally fail. Each presentation gets a teeny bit easier. There was a turning point for me at the start of second year when I had an unexpected stand-up comedy crash course in a PR seminar (random, I know). Jojo Sutherland came in and terrified the shit out of all of us by giving us no choice but to chat to her (and hold eye contact which I've always struggled with). She talked to us about what we think about when we stand up to present or pitch, then somehow debunked every worry everyone had by reminding us that literally everyone in that room was worrying about public speaking. When we were up there panicking about what everyone would be thinking about us, everyone in the room was too busy worrying about their own presentations to judge. There's a level of mutual understanding that I'd never considered before. After that, she told us to get up and stand at the front of the room one by one, and do one minute of stand-up. I'm not kidding. She told us to talk about something we love or hate, for a minute straight with no silences and no "I don't know what to say"s. Don't worry about being funny or not, just talk for a minute. As soon as she said that I lost all feeling in my hands - legit almost got up and left the room - but I knew that if I did this, I'd be hella proud of myself. So I stood at the front of the room and told 30-ish people that I get emotional when I think about cats because I know that I won't be able to hug every cat in the world. That happened. Sat back down and Jojo told me I was "insane but in an endearing way". People laughed and I was on a wee high for the rest of the day. 

Public speaking is scary, of course it is. What gives me a little bit of comfort is the fact that the vast majority of people find public speaking scary too. When you're standing up there with your hands shaking so much you're struggling to read your notes, the person who presented before you is watching thinking about how they shook too. When you stumble over your words a bit, the person who's gonna present later is rooting for you to keep going, knowing that they'll be in your position soon. There's less judgement in that room than you think. To be honest, if I can get used to presenting, there's a very good chance you can too. 



  1. I am also petrified of public speaking and it's something that I'm very anxious about when going to uni next year but this has made me feel better about it, to be reminded I'm not the only one so thank you - I love this post :) (also welcome back to blogging!!)
    Helena xoxo

    1. Thank you lovely! ♥ Glad I could help a wee bit xxx

  2. Cant believe you're in your second year of Uni! I am terrified of public speaking and giving presentations, I defo think uni will help push me out of my comfort zone! x

    1. It's done wonders for my confidence! Never thought I'd be able to present. You can do it!!x


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