For decades, universities have forced presentations and class participation to be integral to students’ grades. Sure, employers are interested not only in graduates’ subject knowledge but also in their ability to communicate, work in teams, problem-solve, build consensus, and so on.
However, public speaking anxiety is too common in college students, particularly those suffering from chronic social anxiety. Some even dread the sheer prospect of raising their hands in class for fear of being judged.
Sadly, our academic institutions aren’t doing enough to support such students. College is, after all, a place to practice in a supportive environment—it’s better for students to confront their fears in a relatively low-stakes classroom setting than in the real world. One lecturer I know of accommodated a nervous student by dismissing everyone else and making her present only to the professor.
Colleges must emphasize that anxiety and fear of public speaking are entirely normal—Mark Twain famously noted, “There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars.” Colleges should assess individual students’ natural ability and teach public speaking as part of university learning, starting with systematic desensitization and conditioning confidence until the students feel they can tackle entire presentations.