Speech Anxiety - What to do?
January 14, 2008 8:54 PM   Subscribe

How do I survive a presentation-laden semester w/ social-anxiety?

I had my first day of classes today, and for the first time in my college career I've got a load of oral presentations I'm required to give near the end of the semester. The problem is i'll stress about these things for the next 4 months until I finally have to present and possibly freakout. Unfortunately I can't change any of my schedule around as I'm nearing graduation and all the courses are required.

I've been diagnosed with social-anxiety disorder and have sought treatment through the University in the past. Is it unreasonable to request alternative assignments from the professors instead of the assigned speeches? If so, do I need to approach them with a letter from ex-therapists/psychiatrists regarding my condition? Obviously I'm a bit embarassed about the whole condition and would rather not have to reveal all these personal details to my profs.

Are there any other options besides just taking some tranquilizers and suffering through the presentations?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Two things to consider:

1.) You're not the first person to approach your professors with this condition.

2.) You're not the first person with this condition to suffer through the presentations.

It's worth talking to your professors about it regardless of which choice your pursue.

Letters from your doctor(s) will help tremendously if you pursue the first option. I would say make up your mind quickly as your professors will probably appreciate being told up front about your condition - that way they have plenty of time to work out alternate assignments.

Good luck.
posted by wfrgms at 9:07 PM on January 14, 2008

Talk to your profs and see if they would consider being flexible. Tell them you can bring a doctor's note or note from your campus's disability service office.

On the other hand, it might be good to give the presentations.
-Giving presentations is a valuable skill to learn and this is a great setting to learn it in. (Lots of support from the prof/other university services/friends who can listen to a practice run.)
-Class presentations are almost universally just okay. Very rarely are they fantastic -- so if your presentations are just okay, you will be doing what the prof wants/expects.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:14 PM on January 14, 2008

(that last point is supposed to mean: class presentations are, for the most part, a low-stakes setting. Good for learning, screwing up a little bit without having lasting job consequences, etc.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:15 PM on January 14, 2008

There is something kind of good about being forced to do oral presentations when you have social anxiety disorder. It's kind of the 'facing your fear' kind of thing. Each time you have to do a presentation, it gets a little bit easier. But yeah, doing presentations sucks for people with this type of anxiety. I had to cover come this fear in grad school.

Chances are you will get to use Powerpoint, which works to your advantage. People will be looking up at the screen and not focusing on you. Learn to put together really kick ass powerpoint presentations with interesting pictures and bulleted points. Dim the room lights a little bit.

Another key thing, that worked for me, was to have my presentation totally scripted. I wrote down most of what I was going to say on notecards. Then, I practiced my presentation several times, at least once in front of another person. As I got more confident, I ended up being able to scrap the notecards and just talk.

If you are seeing a psychiatrist, you can probably get a special prescription for the days you have to do presentations. I know a few people who have Ativan for events like this.
posted by pluckysparrow at 9:16 PM on January 14, 2008

I also suffer from social anxiety, even though in the past couple of years it has improved immensely. Before it improved, even though I was terrified of presentations and public speaking, I suffered through them anyway. I tried to do as much preparation as I could, and made sure the content was high level. I figured that even if my manner was terrible, and I if obviously stumbled though it, the content would hopefully still shine through.

As I did more and more presentations etc, I became less and less nervous. I figured in a class setting almost everyone is nervous, and there is no reason why I should get special treatment.

Also, I don't really want to suggest SSRIs, but a short course worked well for me.
posted by Sar at 9:25 PM on January 14, 2008

I've been there, homes, and it sucks. I found that the only thing I could do was overprepare and hope nobody asked any insane questions. I presented a theorem for math class and wrote out proofs for every half-relevant lemma and corollary I could think of...and I actually needed a couple of them.
posted by crinklebat at 9:50 PM on January 14, 2008

i got around this on more than one occasion in college by producing a video presentation to show instead. basically an animated power point presentation with voice overs that i wrote and asked a good friend to read/record. a lot of time and effort went into making it, and professors graded as if it was me "going the extra mile", and didn't seem to realize i just was afraid to talk and was willing to do whatever necessary to avoid it.
posted by white light at 9:55 PM on January 14, 2008

If one has an issue with ANY assignment in ANY class--talk to the adjunct/lecturer/professor. If one cannot get in touch with the person in charge of class that one pays for, talk to the chair of the department. If one cannot talk to the department chair, talk to head of the respective college, and so on (or however your school hierarchy operates). Present your paperwork (and yourself) at every stage. Please remember that your presence pays for the class, no matter how you are funded.

Anonymous, you can do it. You cannot (nor can anyone else) assert that it's impossible until you have tried. In fact, doing these presentations can teach you how to deal with later social situations. I, nor anyone else, cannot tell you that it will be easier. There is a chance that you will still not be comfortable. Please understand that there are others in your class who feel intimidated.

Also, please understand that I do not dismiss your social anxiety diagnosis. Good on you for attending classes. Talk to your instructor, prepare your material the best that you can, and show up for classes.
posted by bonobo at 10:01 PM on January 14, 2008

more directly relevant : i think you should get a diagnosis note from a professional, and approach your professors a.s.a.p. with it. i think if you present it like, "hi, i just wanted to let you know about this, i always have to show my professors and get alternate assignments instead of giving oral presentations. so if you want to extend the minimum length of my written assignment, or give me another written assignment, or whatever, since i cant do the presentation, that would be great." act like you always show professors this, and they always give you a different assignment.
posted by white light at 10:03 PM on January 14, 2008

[sorry 'bout the lack of articles and issues with verb agreement in the last post.]
posted by bonobo at 10:05 PM on January 14, 2008

yeah, like bonobo says, it is possible for you to give the presentation. you might not think so, but once you get past it and look back you will realize you always had the ability.
posted by white light at 10:06 PM on January 14, 2008

I'm not sure what sort of presentations you're talking about, but you'll find that giving a slide presentation (particularly in a dimmed room) is immensely easier than doing a speech or a presentation where you stand in front of a roomful of people and just talk or write on the board.

The first time I gave a slide presentation (after having done regular speeches and presentations with moderate anxiety) I looked out into the audience and realized that nobody was looking at me at all; they were all fixated on the screen. Once I realized that, I breezed through the presentation with probably half the heartrate I would normally have had during a speech. I wished I'd discovered slide presentations earlier (I know all the kids do them now, but back when I did this PowerPoint was still new and my slide presentation consisted of actual slides).

So if you're not able to find an alternate way of fulfilling this assignment, try to make sure you can at least do a PowerPoint presentation in a darkened room. It's not a perfect solution, but hopefully it'll take quite a bit of the edge off.
posted by stefanie at 11:13 PM on January 14, 2008

Are you in the US? The Americans With Disabilities Act may come into play here. I am required to provide alternate assignments and other accommodations for certain students who have a documented disability. They have to go through a specific process with the school, and bring me official documentation. If you want to try to get out of the presentations entirely, this might be an avenue to pursue. I would go into it with a plan for doing the work in a different way - something like what white light suggested would appeal to me as an instructor.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:08 AM on January 15, 2008

I have panic disorder that's sometimes bad enough where I can't even sit through a lecture or a meeting, even when I don't have to say anything. I graduated last May from a Master's program which required tons of presentations. I survived mainly by these three things:

1) medication for anxiety; specifically klonopin
2) meditation - even just deep breathing helps tremendously. This needs to be practiced consistently in times of low stress so that it's automatic in times of high stress.
3) giving myself permission to fail, make a fool of myself, etc. Taking the pressure off myself has the effect of doing much better than I'd expected.

I would strongly, STRONGLY, recommend against trying to get out of the requirement. The only real cure for anxiety is facing one's fears, and avoiding the presentations only prolongs your bondage. I would honestly say that my panic disorder has been reduced by about 75% specifically because I forced myself through grad school (and because I used the coping strategies above).

P.S. I confided in two of my professors (because I'd frequently have to step out into the hall to avoid a freakout). They were extremely sympathetic. Don't be embarrassed.
posted by desjardins at 8:13 AM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am also shy and hate public speaking, but when I was in this kind of class, I kept in mind that no one there wants me to fail. Everyone else had to do it too and they were probably as nervous as I was. I would try to concentrate on one person and think about speaking to him, though the professor would scold me for not making eye contact with others. It was a small price to pay!!
posted by amfea at 10:19 PM on January 15, 2008

« Older Applying custom CSS styles inside a DIV without...   |   Help! Seasick transmitters! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.