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Fear of Speaking Out: Class Discussion Participation

Recently, a close friend of mine confided in me about her goals for this new semester, one of them being to raise her hand as much as possible within her discussions sections and smaller lectures in order to confidently contribute to conversations more frequently. Her thought process to match this goal is, “if I say something stupid every once in a while, at least it won’t be the only thing I said”. During this conversation, I began to reflect on my participation (or lack thereof) this past fall semester. 

classrooom and students with a projector
NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I’m sure you’ve all heard of FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out), but I’d like to propose a new acronym: FOSO, the Fear of Speaking Out. This fear is quite common, but it is typically brushed aside and overlooked. People are so afraid of what others think of them that they silence themselves in order to look more intelligent, when in reality, speaking up and potentially educating someone/raising awareness to a new perspective can make a person look even more intelligent than they originally did. As someone who is typically not very outgoing and is often afraid of public speaking, I experience these fears frequently, so I can imagine how others feel in class situations. 

A photo of scrabble words assembled to spell \"anxiety\"
uploaded to Pixabay by Wokandapix

For example, I am the only freshman in a class of 35, mostly occupied by older undergrad students and grad students. In this class, I feel outnumbered and therefore have a lack of confidence with my thoughts and opinions. I don’t feel like I am on an even intellectual playing field, so, in turn, I don’t feel like my class contributions hold any value. If I hadn’t had the goal-oriented conversation with my friend I mentioned earlier, I would never ever speak up in class out of fear of making a fool out of myself in front of so many educated, well-rounded individuals. In reality, this fear, for me personally, is a bit irrational. Everyone in the class is extremely understanding and accepting, and they don’t mind if I ramble on every once in a while with no real train of thought rolling. Most of the time, the things I want to say turn out to be pretty decent and I was just overthinking potential terrible outcomes in my head instead of speaking out loud instead, which tends to be a common thing for most people in this generation. I honestly feel much better about myself and more satisfied with what I take away from the class the more I speak up. 

people sitting in chairs in a classroom viewed from behind
Sam Balye on Unsplash

Although the concept of talking often in class is a lovely one, it’s important to acknowledge that some people would prefer to not speak up. In the end, it’s all up to what you want to/can do, when/if you want to/can speak, and how you want to/can express yourself. Going off of this, in my opinion, there is a difference between being quiet or shy and this particular fear of speaking out. The point of this article isn’t to chastise those who would prefer to not speak up, but rather to express my own personal experiences and thoughts to hopefully encourage and inspire those who would like to speak up, but don’t feel like they have a real reason to. If you are one of those people, consider this article your new reasons to participate.

girl stressed at computer

Everyone has different experiences throughout college life; some people prefer to lay low and listen to what others have to say, some offer their input often and others are a good mix of the two. Regardless of how you feel on this speaking spectrum, everyone’s opinions and thought processes are valid and valuable in some way, shape or form. Even if you say something a little off topic, it could still serve as a valuable example or provide a connection within the conversation. It’s better to keep a conversation going than to hold back the thoughts you have. The ability to speak up is one that is often taken for granted by those capable to do so in the world of education, but without those thoughts, there would be nothing to discuss.   

Hello! I'm Katarina Wickman, undergraduate student in the class of 2023 at UW-Madison. 2019 will mark my first year as a member of HER Campus! I plan on majoring in Journalism with a potential certificate in Gender & Women Studies. If you would like to get in touch with me for any reason, feel free to contact me via social media!
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