Campus Communication Centers Can Ease Students’ Public Speaking Anxiety
Introductory Communication courses, particularly public speaking courses, are required on many university campuses. Communication centers, also known as speaking centers or labs, offer feedback to undergraduate students on public speaking and other oral communication skills. They supplement training that students receive in the classroom through opportunities to practice speeches or work on course materials. Yet, these important campus resources can be underused because students don’t know about them or don’t visit them. In a new article published in Communication Education, Briana Stewart, Melissa Broeckelman-Post, and Chelsea Rossheim examine the reasons that students visit communication centers and the benefits that they offer undergraduate students, particularly those seeking help with overcoming public speaking anxiety (PSA).
Public Speaking Anxiety
PSA is one of the most common types of communication apprehension (CA), which describes the anxiety that some people feel in response to anticipated communication with others. While CA could apply to many communication activities, PSA specifically refers to oral presentations. Students who experience PSA feel fear or anxiety in anticipation of public speaking and may experience an increased heart rate, sweating, trembling, negative thoughts about themselves, or other behaviors and feelings. While there are many strategies for reducing PSA, communication centers offer one possible solution.
Stewart, Broeckelman-Post, and Rossheim surveyed about 1,000 undergraduate students enrolled in a Communication 101 course at the start of the course and after the conclusion of the course. All students enrolled in the course could earn 15 points toward their final grade for visiting the communication center as part of an assignment. They could also earn additional course credit if they visited the center again for another assignment (this assignment could also be fulfilled through other activities). Thus, a majority of the students (68.2%) had visited the communication center during the semester. The survey assessed whether students had visited the center, their PSA, their motivations for taking the course (such as whether they thought it would be a good course or whether it was required), and their goals for the course (such as improving public speaking skills or earning an A).
The results showed that the communication center helped reduce PSA for those students who visited it. The communication center was particularly effective for students with high and medium PSA who were both more likely to visit and more likely to benefit from visiting. In particular, Stewart, Broeckelman-Post, and Rossheim found that students who had the highest self-reported PSA at the start of the semester saw the greatest decrease in self-reported PSA by the end of the semester. However, for students with low levels of PSA, there was little change during the semester.
Regarding motivation, students who visited the communication center were more likely to be motivated by a desire to avoid negative consequences in the course, meaning that they may have visited to earn points or avoid a bad grade. In addition, students who were motivated by the desire to improve their public speaking skills during the course were also more likely to visit the communication center. These students still wanted to receive a good grade in the course, but were motivated to do so by improving their skills.
Finally, the students who visited the communication center had many goals for the course. Some were motivated by a desire to master public speaking skills, while others were motivated by a desire to avoid misunderstanding course requirements. In addition, some students who visited the communication center wanted to appear competent in front of their peers or do better than their peers in the course, while others wanted to avoid appearing incompetent or performing poorly in front of their peers in the course.
Because students with medium and high PSA were more likely to visit the communication center and saw the greatest reduction in PSA over the course of the semester, Stewart, Broeckelman-Post, and Rossheim conclude that both the communication center and course likely contributed to the students’ reduction in PSA. While it’s difficult to distinguish the effects of the classroom from those of the center, it’s clear that students who were most in need of the communication center’s resources sought help. They argue that the results demonstrate the importance of communication centers as a tool to reduce PSA.
Although some students were motivated to visit the communication center for course credit, Stewart, Broeckelman-Post, and Rossheim argue that visiting the communication center was still helpful and that the initial visit may have inspired future visits to the center. Finally, they argue that the range of goals that students had for the course offers a unique insight into the students’ reasons for visiting the center. By tailoring marketing materials to students’ goals, centers may be able to encourage more students to use their services.
Interested in learning more about Communication Apprehension? Visit NCA’s “Communication Apprehension” page for resources for addressing CA as a student or teacher.