Expert: Fear of Public Speaking Can Be Beneficial

2017-05-12 14:45

“Long gone are days when teachers could ask students to put away their technological devices (mobile phones) and pay full attention to what he or she writes on a blackboard with a chalk”, says Ondřej Staněk, from University of Economics, Prague. Staněk, pitch consultant, public speaker and self-presentation coach was one of the experts, sharing their experiences during the international staff week at Kaunas University of Technology (KTU).

Workshop at KTU Staff Week

Empathy, ability to entertain the audience and to use technologies are the core skills of today’s teacher, Staněk believes.

“In my classes I encourage people to use phones, to check my facts, to add something new if they find it online. And if they check their Facebook page in the process? I don’t mind”, says an experienced public speaking consultant. By the way, he is convinced that fear of public speaking is a very good motivator, which helps to stay focused and to prepare for the presentation or speech.

Organised by KTU’s Department for Internationalisation, the week of seminars focused on teaching in English took place at KTU last month. 25 academic staff members from more than 20 universities and 13 countries shared their teaching practices and experiences. The seminars were open to all the KTU academic community.

Below, Ondřej Staněk, one of the guest speakers of the KTU International Staff Week shares his experience on teaching.

What are the key skills that a teacher must have in today’s classroom?

There are so many of them. But at the top of my mind are definitely these. First of all, teacher must at least try to look at the world through the eyes of his or her students. Empathy is really crucial. Teacher must also be an entertainer. I know, it is hard to accept it, but it is the truth. We, as educators, cannot expect young generation to take most of the class unless we can “sell” them our knowledge with easy-going attitude. That is something the generation that is currently educated at Universities or High Schools expects. Being entertained.

And, finally, I believe every teacher teaching today’s students must be at least little bit able to use technologies. Tech devices and various apps are a large part of our everyday life. Long gone are days when teachers could ask students to put away their technological devices (mobile phones) and pay full attention to what he or she writes on a blackboard with a chalk.

What is the best way to start a lecture? Is there one best way?

I don’t think there is the one best way to start a lecture. I can tell you what is not the best way – talk about yourself or something that is of no interest to the audience. At the beginning of a lecture you have just a few seconds to grab your audience’s attention. Either that, or you lose them.

What works is, for example, a story, a question (opened or closed) or a strong statement.

Is teaching something that can be learned, or one must have innate skills for this job?

I don’t know. I don’t think that there is some “teacher gene” or something that makes great teachers. I think that teaching requires skills that can be learned, such as public speaking, psychology, methodology, etc. What someone must have in order to become a great teacher or educator is – attitude. Without the right attitude you won’t be able to approach students in the right way or you won’t even take a step into the classroom for that matter. What is also important is experience. Teachers that have hands on experience with the subject that they are teaching are, at least in my experience, more likely to pass the knowledge onto the students.

What tips do you have for those fearing public speaking?

Firstly, I don’t think that it is good to stop fearing public speaking. For example – when was the last time you got really focused, practiced or studied in order to prepare for something that you were not afraid of? The fear of public speaking is usually moving us toward better preparation and therefore a better result. When you are not afraid of the outcome of something, you just won’t prepare for it.

However, if you want to lower your bodily response to stress or discomfort, I would advise to stretch a little before the beginning. Somewhere that your audience can’t see you. Jump for a few seconds, dance, run. Not so much that you get all sweaty of course, but a little. In a long term, what really helps, is practice and experience. Your body will get used to the feelings connected with discomfort. You will learn how your body responds and you will be able to control it better.

There is a demand for modern teacher to be an educator and a performer. How do you balance those two aspects?

That is right, I talked about it in one of your previous questions. Teacher nowadays needs and has to keep the audience entertained. Now I am not saying that teacher should stop teaching and only focus on playing, that would be totally wrong. Learning process is a serious business. But just focus on how easy is to find entertainment in today’s world. It is pretty easy. And we are used to constant injections of fun activities, entertainment and enjoyment. Now imagine that it is a drug. If you are constantly supplied with it, you get used to it. Now take the drug away. What you will experience are addiction symptoms. Discomfort.

If you ask students to turn off their phones, to close their laptops and to stop talking to each other and quietly sit for god knows how many hours and listen to some lecture, they will most definitely experience this discomfort. Because they are not used to it.

In my classes or during my workshops, I encourage people to use phones, to check my facts, to add something new if they find it online. And if they check their Facebook page in the process? I don’t mind. As long as they pay attention to what I say and are able to demonstrate that they listened to me when I ask a question, I am fine with that. But you know what? They usually don’t check their Instagram or Snapchat or Facebook. Because I strive to make my classes enjoyable anyway.

In a classroom there are usually students of different levels – both in English and in subject knowledge. What should a good teacher do – to go with the strongest ones, or with the weakest?

I love to include students with more experience in a subject into my lectures. They provide valuable insight, they have a different point of view and their peers are usually quite keen learning from them as well. I think that teacher should be able to give the strongest students some advanced work to keep them occupied and make sure that the weakest get to the required level.

What are the greatest challenges of teaching in a foreign language: for a teacher and for a student?

My experience teaching a multi-national audience might not perhaps be so extensive, but whenever I do get the possibility to lecture in English, my greatest worries are always about the correct pronunciation. But I would say that is the worry of every speaker whenever he or she has to use a foreign language in a class. Anyway, what I have experienced from the audience is total understanding of the situation that I, speaker, was in. I found out that if the teacher slows down enough, the audience will understand him or her. From the side of a student, I would say it is the same. That is at least something I have experienced during my studies in the United States. I was always afraid of not understanding to what my teacher is saying. But again, this was solved by total understanding from the part of the teacher. He slowed down, answered my questions, repeated himself, and I was fine.

What could be the assets of a teacher who teaches the subject in other language than his/her native language?

I would say that an asset would definitely be if he or she spent some time living or studying in the country that speaks the language he or she teaches. Apart from learning the language teacher could also experience the culture of that country and could later facilitate this experience to students.

You were leading seminars in a Lithuanian university. How do you usually prepare for talking to audiences of different nationalities?

The Staff Week’s audience was an international one, so I had to incorporate more international and general approaches, and national specifics were not very important. However, as usual, before visiting I read up on culture, the country and the history of Lithuania.

Overall, Lithuanians and Czech are both part of European Union, so there are plenty things that we have in common.

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