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Supporting students with public speaking anxiety in a seminar room

1 May 2024

3 minutes to read

Supporting students with public speaking anxiety in a seminar room

What is public speaking anxiety, and how does it affect university students?

According to some studies, approximately 10 % of the students at UK universities acknowledge that they struggle with severe social anxiety, and the number of students with a milder form of a fear of oral assessment and public speaking before the audience is even bigger (Russell and Shaw 2009, Nash, Crimmins, and Oprescu 2016). Public speaking anxiety (PSA), also known as ‘speaker anxiety’ or ‘speaker reticence’, can often lead to a vicious cycle of missed classes, low productivity, and disengagement. In effect, it can also have a negative impact on students’ academic success and future career prospects.

How has it been addressed now, and why is it not enough?

In my teaching practice, some of the students experiencing public speaking anxiety have individual learning plans (ILP), which contain instructions not to ask them any direct questions during seminar discussions; others, without the ILP, discuss their problems with well-being services, which later send letters asking to avoid addressing students with PSA at the seminars. These measures are, indeed, important to ensure that students feel comfortable in a seminar room, but they don’t solve the problem of students’ disengagement. Meanwhile, participating in seminar discussions of specific topics based on preparatory readings is an essential part of the students’ learning. It develops their ability to create and deliver an engaging, informed, and persuasive argument, which are important personal skills that may enhance students’ career prospects in the future.

Can the virtual discussion board help?

Having discovered that I have several students with PSA in my seminar groups, I realised that simply following the instructions from ILPs and emails from the well-being services, while important, provides only a partial solution. It leaves such students outside the seminar discussions, often reducing their role in the classroom to passive listeners. To facilitate students’ involvement, I decided to integrate the virtual board into seminars’ learning activities to provide a space where students can contribute meaningfully to the discussion without having to speak publicly.

What can be achieved with a virtual board?

I found that running Padlet as a discussion board or in the background of a group conversation helps to avoid some of the triggers typical of traditional methods of instruction that students with PSA struggle to respond to. It creates a space where students can post their answers and contribute their ideas to the discussion, which are immediately visible to other group members and become integrated into the conversation. This, in effect, helps to sustain students’ participation. The end of the module’s feedback confirmed that such a technology-based seminar instructional design created a more welcoming space open to different modes of participation. Moreover, getting used to the regular use of Padlet during seminars allows students with PSA to experience classroom seminars as a space tailored to their needs. It equips them with the tools and creates an environment where they enjoy learning.

What I learned from this experience

Mixing traditional teaching methods with new digital instruments promotes active participation in seminar discussions, enhances collaboration between students and helps to improve the learning experience for students with PSA. Importantly, participation in the seminar discussion via Padlet or other similar platforms changes how students see their involvement in seminar activities. In this way, it helps to boost students’ confidence and self-esteem, creating a foundation for better performance and improved attendance.


Russell, G., and S. Shaw. 2009. “A Study to Investigate the Prevalence of Social Anxiety in A Sample of Higher Education Students in the United Kingdom.” Journal of Mental Health 18 (3): 198–206. doi:

Nash, G., G. Crimmins, and F. Oprescu. 2016. “If First-year Students are Afraid of Public Speaking Assessments What Can Teachers Do to Alleviate Such Anxiety?” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 41 (4): 586–600. doi:


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Dr. Nelly Bekus
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