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What Makes Public Speaking Skills Crucial for College Students

by Becca Jernigan

Midterms are on the horizon, and that means class presentations may be on your to-do list.

Are your palms sweaty yet?

Sarah Huff, senior lecturer of public speaking with UT’s College of Communication and Information, shared valuable knowledge on why public speaking should excite, not terrify, college students.

Ways to overcome speech anxiety

Dry mouth, sweaty palms, racing heart, and butterflies—Huff urges students to remove that negative mindset and stop focusing on the pressure felt from the audience, which people put on themselves.

“Get rid of your negative thinking and replace that mindset with positive visualization,” Huff said. “Tell yourself you are doing an outstanding job. Even if your first public speaking experience was not that good, let it go. This time, it’s going great.”

Huff encourages students to seek any opportunity to speak publicly. Involvement with student organizations is a good place to start. Each time you speak publicly, your confidence will increase.

She also recommends students create a set of generalized notecards for delivering the speech and make sure they thoroughly understand their topic.

“Highlight your main points on the notecards, but don’t put too much on them, or else you’ll catch yourself looking down at them too much,” Huff said.

“When you do not study for a test or you are running late, you are creating unnecessary anxiety for yourself that could have been eliminated with better preparedness. Most anxiety comes from a lack of confidence in what you are presenting. If you are not knowledgeable about what you’re speaking on, anxiety is sure to follow. Instead of memorizing your speech, know the information you’re talking about so if you mess up, there is a better recovery.”

How public speaking skills have long-term benefits

College students who are equipped with public speaking skills have an advantage in the job market, Huff said.

“If one can embrace speaking publicly over a sea of fearful people, he or she will have the leg up in interviews. Employers admire that type of candidate,” Huff said. “If you sit back and are always the listener, that could hurt your career and ability to receive promotions. Seizing public speaking opportunities in any workplace allows you to be a leader within your space and puts you on a path where you can continue to grow.”

Looking for more tips? Visit speechanxiety.utk.edu for activities and resources to help manage your nervous energy.


Becca Jernigan is a sophomore studying Public Relations. This semester, she is working as the media relations intern for UT’s Office of Communications and Marketing. She also volunteers as a deejay at WUTK 90.3 “The Rock”—our university’s radio station. Becca is involved in Chi Omega and she loves broadcasting, political science, traveling, music, running, and yoga.