Silas Scott/The Mainstream
UCC instructor Alyssa Harter preparing to start her speech 218 class.

Editor’s note: Mainstream Reporter Silas Scott is a student in Alyssa Harter’s Speech 111 class at Umpqua Community College.

New communications instructor Alyssa Harter understands students who put off taking their required speech classes due to fear of public speaking. As a person who overcame her own public speech anxiety, or glossophobia as it is professionally termed, she can relate.

However, Harter believes that studying speech early in your education will benefit you later on. “Students communicate with speech every day. They also will be benefited by it as they will use it in their other classes through college,” Harter said.

“I’ve been teaching speech for five years. I have competed in public speaking competitions, but I still when asked to give a speech somewhere become nervous when going up on stage. My hands will sometimes shake,” Harter said.

Harter had a fear of public speaking growing up, but through practice she became talented. Harter was asked in high school to compete in speech and it was the excitement of competing both in speech and against her fears that drove her to pursue teaching speech as a career.

Harter herself had postponed speeches by calling in “sick” when she was in high school. Harter’s fear of giving a speech in high school was great enough and her avoidance of a speech strong enough that her mom eventually took her to see a therapist. Now Harter has a bachelor‘s and a master’s degree in communication but despite that and her years of teaching and competing she can’t erase completely her fear or anxiety of speaking in front of people.

Harter believes that the fear of public speaking can arise from the idea that you maybe don’t look nice. Or maybe you didn’t choose or make your topic interesting enough. Or maybe you will derail and unhinge causing you to panic and lose control of your nerve, whether that is completely forgetting what you were saying or your hands starting to uncontrollably shake.

Silas Scott/The Mainstream
Alyssa Harter posing in front of her podium.

Harter has an anxiety when going up to deliver a speech and many UCC students share the same experience as Harter.

“I think people fear public speaking because they fear being judged,” Isaac Cherry, a UCC student, said. Cherry plans on taking Speech 111 next fall term.

Another UCC student, “People may fear stuttering or being embarrassed,” Thomas Brown said.

According to Harter the importance of communication skills and the ability to give speeches is, “worth the jump” however.

Harter said she does whatever it takes to conquer her own fear of speaking.

Harter will also do what it takes to help students improve and reduce their fear of public speaking. One of her ideas is to tell students, “Try squeezing your fist to get control of your breathing pattern.” One of the tips she gives in her class is to try working out or go for a run the morning before a speech.

Harter would like to see UCC implement the use of virtual reality simulated speech experiences into college speech curriculums. Virtual speech is a free IOS or android app that can be used with VR headsets. It simulates speech environments and allows the user to practice their speech and if a student is planning on using PowerPoint in an actual speech, that very PowerPoint can be simulated in the virtual experience.

Virtual speech apps allow the user to practice in select speech situations such as with heavy breathing, intense heart beating (where the user must talk over it), or such as an audience member yelling or making comments. These are just some of the options.

Harter wants her students to understand the significance of public speaking. Communication courses teach techniques to reduce speech stress and prepare a student for the workforce:

“Public speaking and communication skills are sought after by employers,” Harter said. “You become an advocate for what you believe in.”