Student Confidence About Public Speaking

Student Confidence About Public Speaking

When it comes to speaking in front of the class, some students shine and others find the experience dreadful. For authors Craig O. Stewart et al., the level of comfort that students have with public speaking is not simply a matter of preparation and student demeanor. Rather it is largely a matter of whether students perceive public speaking as a skill that can be developed or a “gift” that students either have or don’t have.

In their paper, “An Initial Exploration of Students’ Mindsets, Attitudes, and Beliefs About Public Speaking,” Stewart et al. explain that students with fixed mindsets “perceive personal attributes as largely unchangeable,” while students with growth mindsets “describe personal attributes as ‘things you can cultivate through your efforts’” (180). For their study, the authors surveyed 317 undergraduate students, who responded to 61 statements using a 5-point scale (1=strongly disagree, 5=strongly agree). The statements covered topics including public speaking apprehension, perceived competence, students’ mindsets (fixed or growth), the purpose of public speaking, the function of revision and rehearsal, and audience adaptations (181-182).

Examples of survey statements included the following:

    • “No matter how many speeches I give, their quality will always be the same.”
    • “I can’t change how good a public speaker I am.”
    • “I have no fear of giving a speech.”
    • “The most important reason to give a speech is to report what authorities think about a subject.”
    • “A good speech requires intensive rehearsal to improve what has been prepared.”
    • *Good speakers keep their audience in mind.”
    • “Good speakers anticipate and answer their audience’s questions.”
  • “I use language that is extremely clear” (183).

The Findings:

    • Students with growth mindsets (who saw public speaking as a skill to be learned and developed) felt more comfortable with public speaking.
  • Students with growth mindsets:
      • were less apprehensive about public speaking
      • reported higher personal competence levels for public speaking
      • believed that good speeches require extensive review, revisions, and rehearsal
    • believed that good speakers tailor their speeches to meet the needs of audiences (183-184)

Students with growth mindsets were less likely to believe that the most important reason to give a speech is to report what experts think (183-184).

  • Students with growth mindsets were more likely to believe that giving speeches helps them develop their own understanding of ideas and express their own views on subjects (183-184).

Stewart et al. suggest that instructors may find it useful to identify students who have fixed mindsets about their public speaking abilities in order to help shift their thinking toward a growth mindset. This way students can become not just more willing speakers, but more willing learners as well.

Paper Title:  An Initial Exploration of Students’ Mindsets, Attitudes, and Beliefs About Public Speaking

Authors: Craig O. Stewart (University of Memphis), John R. McConnell III (Austin Peay State University), Lori A Stallings (University of Memphis), and Rod D. Roscoe (Arizona State University)

Full Paper:

Published: Communication Research Reports, Volume 34, No. 2, 2017, Pages 180-185

Professional Development:


Photograph:  Thanks to David Laws on Unsplash

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