#LTHEChat 178 Overcoming students’ fear of public speaking with guest host Dr Rob Grieve @robgrieve17

A fear of public speaking is common in the general population with a high percentage of people anxious and fearful to stand up and speak in public. Oral presentations and public speaking are an important aspect of the student experience in UK higher education. Many modules use presentations as a form of assessment, without fully acknowledging the fear that many students have in public speaking. There is evidence that some students have a fear of public speaking, but this is limited and not fully acknowledged in relation to the student experience. A survey on the impact of social anxiety on student learning and well-being of students from two UK universities, found that students reported that public speaking/presentations were associated with frequent social anxiety (Russell and Topham, 2012). A study of undergraduate students in the US found that 64% reported a fear of public speaking (Ferreira Marinho et al, 2017).  

We recently conducted a qualitative survey of public speaking fears of students attending our Stand up and be Heard (SUBH) library workshops (Grieve, et al, 2019). One of the key themes was that public speaking had a negative effect on university experience and that students main fear was of being judged. The survey clearly identified the specific fears students have when public speaking and provides clear evidence of the negative effect on some students and their higher education experience. 

Apart from student fears, it was found that 89% of them would appreciate public-speaking training and support as an addition to their curriculum (Ferreria Marnho et al, 2017). Further research indicates that first-year students who completed pre- and post-public speaking exercises, identified greater feelings of satisfaction and less fear, indecision and confusion in relation to public speaking and public speaking assessment (Nash et al, 2016).

My approach to public speaking, used in my SUBH workshops and recently published book Stand Up and Be Heard (Grieve, 2020) has primarily focussed on being an authentic public speaker and moved away from the common approach that focusses on style and perfection. The authentic public speaker approach seemed to resonate with students and staff and was reinforced by my less than perfect but authentic facilitation of the workshops. https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/news-and-views/stand-up-and-be-heard

In becoming an authentic public speaker, we focus on the following components namely: 

  • Being present in the moment
  • Be yourself
  • Vulnerability
  • Let go of perfectionism
  • A key point is that becoming an authentic public speaker does not happen overnight, it takes time and practice to implement. What does change very quickly, as we have found with many students is the realisation that striving for perfection and style over substance increases the public speaking fear level.

    The important take home message is that we as learning and teaching staff, need to recognise that public speaking and module assessed presentations can be a real challenge and impact negatively on some of our student’s university experience and mental health. In my experience and as identified by some of the evidence, we as universities need to support our students more comprehensively in public speaking, which is an integral component of the university student experience. 


    Grieve, R., Woodley, J., Hunt, S., McKay, A. and Lloyd, J. (2019) Student fear of public speaking in higher education: A qualitative survey. In: Advance HE Surveys Conference, Bristol, UK, 8th  May 2019.

    Grieve, R. (2020) Stand Up and Be Heard: Taking the Fear Out of Public Speaking at University (Student Success). London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

    Ferreira Marinho AC, Mesquita de Medeiros A, Côrtes Gama AC, Caldas Teixeira L. (2017) Fear of Public Speaking: Perception of College Students and Correlates. Journal of Voice, 31 (1), 127.e7-127.e11.

    Gregory Nash, Gail Crimmins & Florin Oprescu (2016) If first-year

    students are afraid of public speaking assessments what can teachers do to alleviate

    such anxiety?, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 41 (4), pp 586-600.

    Russell, G, and Topham, P. (2012). The impact of social anxiety on student learning and well-being in higher education. Journal of Mental Health, 21 (4), pp 375-385.

    Rob Grieve Biography 

    Photograph of Rob Grieve

    Dr Rob Grieve is a senior lecturer in Physiotherapy at the University of the West of England and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA). As a person with a mild stammer, he has faced many issues in public speaking which has led to an increased awareness of student fears of public speaking and resulted in the facilitation of university wide student support workshops. The authenticity approach advocated in his public speaking workshops, is central to his learning and teaching practice. He has conducted research and regularly presented at national learning and teaching conferences on student fear of public speaking.

    He recently published a book (SAGE Publishing), which had positive reviews from UK academics (see link)

    Stand Up and Be Heard Taking the Fear Out of Public Speaking at University


    The Wakelet for this week’s chat is now available

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