January 18, 2018

Do you have to sound brilliant in order to speak out in class?

Do you have to sound brilliant - photo copyright 2011 Rick Sherrell

Do you sit in class and worry about whether you should or shouldn’t speak up? Do you try to get your words just right in your mind before you’ll raise your hand? Then, by the time you’re ready to speak, the class has moved on to something else and you’ve lost your confidence?

It’s not a surprise that as a student, you are expected to add to classroom discussions, to assert your ideas/opinions/thoughts in a respectful way… to contribute to a shared, rich learning community. You are expected to talk in class! (Just to clarify: You are supposed to contribute to class discussion, not talk to those around you).

My opinion? — It is not possible to find your voice without speaking up in class–even if what you say isn’t perfect! And finding your voice in class takes practice and time. Some people need to “talk out” their ideas to process them. Some people need to fumble before their message is clear. Some people need to test the waters to gauge reaction before continuing. This is all part of learning about ourselves as communicators.

So what’s the communication lesson here? Remember that college is the place to craft and hone your communication skills. When you are in class and your prof calls for open discussion, join in. If your prof doesn’t include open discussion, feel free to raise your hand and ask a question anyway. You will likely give other students the courage to raise their hands, too. Then, check you out as the discussion starter!

Your professor will greatly appreciate you keeping the conversation going, too. (We love, love, love when students do that… silences are terribly uncomfortable. Any prof will tell you!).


About the Author: Ellen Bremen (17 Posts)

Ellen Bremen is tenured faculty at Highline Community College and the author of Say This, NOT That to Your Professor: 36 Talking Tips for College Success (NorLights Press, April 2012). Ellen stops at nothing to help students strengthen their communication skills: Peanut butter and jelly to illustrate problematic messages, pipe cleaners to teach communication models, and Post-it notes to reduce speaking anxiety. Ellen holds degrees in Post-Secondary Education and Communication. As an interpersonal communication expert, Ellen has watched students struggle to navigate their classes, especially their communication with professors. Ellen's goal? To help students correctly--not cluelessly--speak/deal with those who teach them. The outcome? Better student-prof relationships, improved grades, and confident and competent communication skills for college and beyond. Ellen's philosophy: College is THE safe training ground for students to practice and hone assertive and professional communication skills. Then, students can transition this sought-after skill to their professional and personal lives. Ellen looks forward to answering students' simple and complex questions about communication in college, and particularly professor-related challenges.


  1. j vincent nix says:

    If a person knows it all s/he wouldn’t need the class. ASK!!

    • So true, J. Vincent Nix! I say that quite often… when students are afraid to ask for help or think they need to have all the answers :-). I appreciate you commenting!!!

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