During all 3 years of my bachelor, I have opened my mouth voluntarily perhaps 10 times in total. 20 times at most. Universities in the Netherlands pay special attention to having lively debates – tutorials – in which 15 students or less try to solve a challenge by discussing what they’ve read. With around 2 tutorials each week, I had approximately 216 tutorials to get over my fear of public speaking. Only this year – after receiving my degree – I’m finally learning how to take control. The covid-circumstances have helped, but there are some other things I learned that I want to share with you.
How I found my voice
I have never been the type who likes to raise their hand in class so they can ask a question. Or to raise their hand because they know the answer. Or to raise their hand because they need to go to the bathroom. Thank god I’ve never had a nosebleed or something; I think I would’ve stayed invisible until the teacher noticed! Okay no sorry, I’m being dramatic.
I decided to study somewhere where the focus is mostly on speaking in public, hoping to get over my fear. Turns out it didn’t really work for me. In the beginning, I was just scared of saying something stupid. After a while, I got so used to being ‘the quiet girl’, that I didn’t want to surprise other students for finally opening my mouth. Even if I was sure of what I knew, that attention kept holding me back.
This academic year the circumstances changed: I had tutorials with first-year BA students. I’m not proud of it, but it did make me feel confident; I was more experienced than them. There was more time for me to study compared to the others, so I came better prepared. The zoom calls are exhausting true, but not being able to feel all eyes on me, works as well I think.
How you can find your voice
The worst thing a teacher or fellow student can do is ask you a question directly. It’s too much pressure a shy student can handle. What is possible though, is to pressure yourself. Realize that it’s going to be harder the longer you wait. Don’t let it get to the point that you feel you’ve become ‘the quiet person’ of your class; it’s another obstacle you have to face. Perhaps you can reward yourself whenever you’ve spoken. It can also help to compare your notes with a close friend; you’ll know if you’re well-prepared.
Another thing I’ve learned is opening the discussion or being the first to present. With no one else having shared their ideas, you can prepare for what you’re going to say completely. Once you’ve started talking, it’s going to be so much easier to continue. You can relax and think clearly about what others have said. And yes sometimes you might stumble over your words. It’s okay. Most people won’t even be aware of that because they’re more focused on themselves.
I do want to note that it’s all right to be a little quiet and introverted. Western society rewards extraversion, while the qualities of an introvert are ignored. It’s unfortunate, but in the right environment, your skills will be appreciated. Most teachers notice who is prepared and who isn’t. An extrovert can talk all they want, but if it’s just bullshit coming out of them, the teacher will take note of that. They will see that those who are in the background have been studying. Usually, I was nodding a lot, writing answers down and thinking like a cartoon character 🤔.
You can’t really change who you are, so have a little compassion for yourself. If you don’t talk, it’s totally fine. You have so many other great qualities, and being a little quiet does not define you. There are so many other factors at play! Once you start feeling more comfortable with you are, going to class will be a piece of cake (except for the studying itself of course 😉).
I hope sharing my experiences and advice has helped you at least a little bit. If you have any questions or other suggestions that can work, let me know in the comments!
Lots of warm hugs,