Taking the Dread Out of Oral Presentations

For a significant portion of students, the very idea of speaking in front of a group is nerve racking. Yet oral communication is an integral learning objective in the business communication classroom. Instructors can help students manage their fear and/or dislike of public speaking using a few easy-to-integrate strategies.

Do not assume students know how to present

One of the reasons some students are terrified of oral presentations is that they may not have received adequate instruction in the basics. Therefore, it makes sense to go over aspects that help improve performance, such as making eye contact, not reading from a script, enunciating clearly, using hand gestures, speaking at the right pace, and the like. Of course, the importance of practicing in front of a mirror (or videotaping) should be emphasized.

Prepare students adequately 

Use a variety of methods to prepare students for their presentations:

  • Assign readings that discuss the topic.
  • Sell the importance of oral presenting skills by discussing the part they will play in professional life, explaining the different types of presentations employees may be asked to perform (i.e., speaking at staff meetings or organizations, giving sales pitches, and presenting an oral version of a written report.)
  • Show videos of former students’ presentations (with permission) and ask students what was done well or what needed improving.
  • Make sure the assignment is written clearly and go over it in class, allowing time for questions.
  • Post the assignment in writing on your LMS.
  • Discuss best practices for creating visuals.
  • Emphasize the importance of rehearsal.
  • Grade using a rubric that spells out the assignments’ objectives.

Include low-stakes assignments

One way to help eliminate stress over oral presenting is to begin with ungraded assignments. For example, early in the semester, ask students to prepare a 90-second speech introducing themselves. Have them focus on just a few of the basic oral presenting skills such as not reading, eye contact with the audience, and good posture. At this point, refrain from making suggestions.

As the term progresses, assign another low-stakes oral presentation and ask students to work on other skills, such as varying their tone, using pauses effectively, and enunciating clearly. Do offer feedback at this point, focusing on one or two suggestions (remember to make eye contact, try to avoid ums and ahs) and give points for completing the task.

Time permitting, continue assigning short mini-talks and offering tips for improvement. As students grow more confident in their abilities, ask them to give one another feedback about performances. Give grades, but make the assignments worth only a small percentage of the overall course grade. (If the entire class grade is based on 1,000 points, make these talks worth 25 points, for example.) It may be useful to link each of these low-stakes talks to a long-term project you’ve assigned, such as a report.

Some students may never enjoy giving oral presentations, but they will certainly improve if instructors provide the chance for them to practice in a supportive environment.


Dunham, E. (2022, August 17.) Communication: The Importance of Low-stakes Presentations. Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com

Sheets, B. and Tillson, L. (2007, January. ) Strategies to improve students’ presentation skills. B>Quest. http://www.westga.e

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