Hello ambitious students!
Today we're going to talk about how to participate in class (even if you're painfully shy -- like me!).
When I say participate, I mean A+ participation. And when I say shy, I mean overcoming the red-faced, body-trembling panic that hits at even just the thought of speaking in front of a tiny group of people.
No stupid questions.
Just a simple, effective method that will transform you into a total badass in class.
This awesome little trick is going to be crazy useful. Not just in class where you'll impress your professors and stand out among the other students. But in LIFE.
That's right. Because being able to join in discussion is one major aspect of a successful career. And it helps you be awesome at parties. And it's a necessary skill for making a meaningful contribution to the future of the world.
This post is both about how to overcome shyness and how to perform well in college.
Double win, yay!
So here's my story. I'm painfully, cripplingly shy. I can't even attribute it to just mere shyness. It's a part of a larger fear of public speaking. Whenever I would think of talking in class, I would start to get sweaty palms and my heart would start pounding.
This is before I even said anything!
Needless to say, it was really difficult for me to even get to the point where I could push through the panic and actually say the words that were in my head.
And on those rare occasions where I did open my mouth to speak, I would kind of like...black out...and not really know what I was saying or what I had wanted to say. (No doubt I sounded like a dummy.)
After years of these excruciatingly painful exchanges in class, I discovered a secret.
One tiny change that wiped away a LOT of my fear
(sorry, this doesn't get rid of all of it completely...not right away at least)
AND let me say exactly what I wanted to without worrying about the black fog of panic.
It was so simple; how did it take me so long to figure out??!
Participating in discussion is so important. A lot of times it's factored into your grade. But more importantly than that, it allows you to STAND OUT. Let me say that again for maximum effect, because this is key.
Participating in discussion allows you to STAND OUT. Impress your professors, earn respect, and stand out from the rest of the students in your classes.
Engaging with the teacher = HUGE bonus points.
Rich, intelligent discussion is what professors crave. You've been in a class where no one participates. It sucks. It's booooring. It becomes painful when the teacher asks a question and everyone's too scared or stupid to respond. (Ok, it's too harsh of me to call everyone stupid. What I mean is that they're unprepared to speak -- I'll clarify that in a sec).
If you're a good participant it's going to boost you up in the professors eyes. And if you can get good at it, that's going to be something you can use in LIFE in so many situations. Like your career, where participating in discussions will get you noticed and (if you're participating at a high level) earn you recognition and raises.
It's crazy important to develop this skill, and now I'm going to show you the mind numbingly easy way to A+ participation.
One of the biggest mistakes I see students make in college and high school is to try and figure everything out themselves.
If you're guilty of this (who isn't?!) STOP right now!
The BEST way to get better at something is to not do it on your own. That's why chess masters have personal trainers (Magnus Carlson landed Gary Kasparov as his coach--which is why he's ranked #1 in chess), and sports players learn from their coaches.
The BEST way to get better at something is to not do it on your own.
A lot of times we think that to overcome something we just have to power through it with will power and determination.
BUT, there's a much easier way. And it improves your skills and performance way faster than puzzling over something you don't have the capacity to change anyway.
So let's get into that now.
If you want to participate in discussion, obviously you have to be prepared for class.
How do you prepare for class discussions?
- Doing the reading is KEY.
- Looking over last week's lecture notes is helpful.
But to get the edge over your understanding is to add supplemental reading.
READ ANOTHER ARTICLE OR ESSAY RELATED TO THE CLASS TOPIC FOR THAT DAY.
OR WATCH A VIDEO! There are plenty of awesome videos from different professors all over youtube in a variety of subjects.
BASICALLY, GET A SECOND OPINION.
Say you're reading Hemmingway's Farewell to Arms. You've done your reading, added notes to the text, jotted down a few ideas of your own in the margins.
But that's not enough to get you participation brownie points or cut out the fear of speaking in class.
By reading someonelse's article you're honing in on a specific and nuanced view of the text.
If you've found this article in a peer-reviewed journal by a well-respected scholar, chances are they're going be something of an expert on the topic.
They'll help illuminate the text through their particular lens and allow you to penetrate deeper into the text than you could have on your own. After all that's what's happening when your teacher lectures about a topic - they're taking you deeper into your own understanding.
With a second text knocking around your head it opens you up to either vibe with their idea and apply it to a thought or noticing you had, or disagree with it and engage further with your own ideas about the text/subject.
You're using what someone else has written to get a deeper and clearer perspective.
Supplementing your reading is going to allow you to feel more prepared and give you a stronger understanding of the class's topic.
Here's an action item for you.
DOWNLOAD THIS DISCUSSION QUESTION WORKSHEET
This is designed to help you find a second source and guide you through writing great discussion questions to use in class. This makes finding those questions reeealllyyy easy!
And now the big reveal on the secret squash your fear and mitigate the panic black out:
WRITE YOUR DISCUSSION QUESTIONS/STATEMENTS DOWN!
When you write down your questions/ideas you've got them on the page in front of you.
You basically get to just read them aloud. Which is a whole lot less scary than just winging it. This will help to build your confidence if you do this time and time again.
I still jot my questions down, honestly, even after 10 years of schooling, because I can't be accountable for what I'm going to be saying if I don't.
So I always write my questions down.
Once you've said what you had to say, the professor will respond or a student will, and you're off the hook. A lot of times it's a lot easier to respond after you've made the point...once you've broken through that ice.
People love to say, "oh there are no stupid questions." But you've been in college. You know there are plenty of stupid, stupid questions.
How do you not ask a stupid question?
Because you sought out a secondary source from a well-respected authority, your questions and insights are going to be backed up by someone a whole lot smarter than most of the people in the room.
This saves you from asking basic, simple questions.
So, the shortcut to participating in class discussions even if you're shy is:
Come to class prepared with the reading.
Come to class OVER-prepared with secondary reading/viewing.
Write your questions/thoughts down!
If you've got something good written down but you're still too shy to say it out loud (which has happened to me oh so many times) ask your teacher about your question after class.
Remember, you're not impressing your classmates. You're impressing your professor. They're the one grading you. They're the only that ultimately matters if you're smart but too shy to show it.
My shyness tends to dissipate dramatically if I become familiar with my professors.
You might have noticed that if you're in a class with a bunch of friends (like in high-school) you're much less shy than if you know nobody.
I find if I'm friends with the professor and they know me and respect my opinions, I'm a lot less fearful of speaking out. (Still get shaky and red-faced sometimes!!)
So, if your shyness is holding you back, go see your professor after class or in office hour to show them that you have engaged with the material and have interesting thoughts about the topic. If you do this regularly you'll be surprised at how quickly your confidence will boost up!
In the meantime, download your discussion building worksheet and power up your GPA!
Practicing participating in this way starts to edge out a lot of the fear you'll have speaking in public. You can learn to mentally prepare before speaking, and how to efficiently connect ideas, so when you're at a party you can speak up without fear and with intelligent conversation.