We all fear them — the group projects where students have to give a presentation to the rest of the class. The minute the professor highlights this section on the syllabus, heart rates increase and anxiety begins to spread across the body. Students collectively groan and circle the intimidating date on their calendars, counting the days until they present.
Public speaking can be intimidating, but it can also be a huge asset. Although students may have the pre-conceived notion that college is the end of the road for speaking in front of others, it is not. Once they graduate and enter the workforce, they still have to use their public speaking abilities. About 70% of Americans who give presentations agree that presentation skills are critical to their job, according to a Presi survey.
There are many benefits to being able to communicate effectively in front of a crowd. Communicating helps develop critical thinking, leadership qualities and persuasion ability, according to Indeed.com. These skills can significantly help those trying to find a job or be promoted in their career field.
Lisa Singer, director of California Baptist University’s Career Center, advocates for students to prioritize public speaking as employers constantly ask them to demonstrate their abilities in interviews, presentations or teams. Singer also said that many students have the potential to excel in their desired job, but employers are still asking one thing: How well can they communicate?
“What employers need more than ever right now is someone who can take information and be able to articulate it, whether it’s to a supervisor or to a customer,” Singer said.
Each year, the Career Center collects data from employers and asks what they would like to see in their candidates moving forward. While some skills and industries shift every few years, the demand for those who can communicate effectively is consistent.
“Strong communication skills is always one of the top two or three,” Singer said. “It never changes and it’s only increasing. And that’s even within some of those fields where you think really, communication in certain areas, isn’t that important.”
Michael Marse, associate professor of communication studies, explained how human resources managers understand the many abilities of college graduates, but they need to catch up in highly sought after areas.
“It’s not the technical stuff (that college students are lacking),” Marse said. “Everybody who graduates here can write an email essay, and select stuff and underline it in Microsoft Word, no big deal. But they can’t work in a group, and they can’t lead presentations because they’re definitely afraid of it.”
Marse cited the fear of speaking in front of others as the leading issue behind the disconnect in the workforce. He recalled how each year he assigns his students a two- to three-minute presentation, and every time, students ask him if they can submit an essay instead.
To achieve public speaking success, students must first hurdle their fears. About 75% of Americans have a fear of public speaking, according to an article by Cross River Therapy. Elizabeth Rhodes, sophomore creative writing major, said that most are petrified when they take the stage.
“Students are scared of public speaking because they aren’t used to it and assume they will mess up,” Rhodes said. “If they do mess up, then they’re going to remember that bad experience, which is worse than messing up at that moment.”
Even though the fear is still there, Rhodes said her college experience had improved her speaking ability. Being thrust in front of the class for projects and presentations has helped her come out of her shell. Knowing she will have to use her communication skills in her future career, she relies on self-motivation to improve.
To embrace the demands of the work industry, Singer and the Career Center offer mock interviews to help students. About 1,400 students a year utilize this opportunity that garners a 100% success rate due to their STAR method of interviewing. Singer encourages students to use this free service as one usually has to pay elsewhere.
Public speaking will be around as companies prioritize employee engagement and connection. To improve, Singer recommended that students jump out of their comfort zone and attend the job fairs CBU features on campus. Even if the companies there are not in your desired career field, students will still have the opportunity to network and speak in front employers. To mitigate anxiety, the Career Center director suggests students expand their idea of public speaking.
“It’s more than just how we sound,” Singer said. “It’s how you project. It’s our story and our message that’s under the umbrella of integrity and the umbrella of character.”