By Sydney Jones
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 74 percent of Americans suffer from public speaking anxiety, and the only fear that is statistically greater is the fear of death.
However, college students who are on Liberty University’s forensics team willingly compete in public speaking events around the country on multiple weekends during the semester.
Denise Thomas, the head coach of the forensics team, enjoys watching the students on the team grow and become proficient speakers.
“Seeing the students grow and develop is my favorite part of being a coach,” Thomas said. “I love seeing a student who has just a seed of an idea, develop that idea and become more passionate and excited about the piece they are presenting.”
When students compete in forensics speech they are required to take a piece of literature or an issue and analyze it through dramatic interpretation and original speeches. Through preparing speeches, members of the team learn valuable lessons.
“Forensics forces you to be more self-aware,” said Lindsey Ball. “You can never go up in front of your judges with a passive attitude. You need support and confidence in what you believe. That is one thing that forensics has taught me.”
Ball is a sophomore at Liberty and has been competing in forensics for six years. She says that public speaking has helped her to become a more open-minded person, but it has also taught her how to defend her beliefs.
“Listening to other competitors and their views allows me to understand what I believe, be able to defend what I believe and realize what I don’t believe,” Ball said.
Forensics is a great extracurricular for any skill level, and can help break down the fear most people associate with public speaking.
“Students who lack confidence or skill through forensics can grow into a terrific speaker,” Thomas said.
Michael MacDowall, a sophomore at Liberty, is brand new to forensics. Although MacDowall has a background in debate and does not struggle with public speaking anxiety, he believes that forensics can help break the fear of public speaking.
“I think a lot of the fear of public speaking comes from a lack of doing, and people feel a lot of pressure when they’re speaking because they do not speak in front of people often. Frequency lessens that pressure,” MacDowall said.
Fear of public speaking is something that students on the forensics team actively fight against. Ball says before she started competing on the forensics team in high school, she had severe public speaking anxiety, but now enjoys competing.
“Conquering a fear is one of the most positive things you can do for yourself in order to grow your identity and character,” Ball said.
Because it is a team sport, forensics can foster strong bonds between students on the team and the coaches. The coaches are responsible for giving constructive criticism and helping the students become more well-rounded speakers.
“The coaches have created an environment that encourages everyone to keep getting better, and they foster growth within my own skill set,” MacDowall said.
Thomas also believes that as the forensics team coach, she is preparing the team for success in their professional careers.
“Employers are always looking for confident, competent speakers who can understand information and give a logical answer,” Thomas said. “Forensics allows you to do that and teaches you confidence in yourself and your opinions.”
Forensics is not just about public speaking. Ball believes the friendships that are formed between teammates and competitors from other teams are valuable in learning how to work together and communicate well in a group setting.
“My teammates are there to encourage me, build me up and critique me when I need it,” Ball said. “We are working together as this mechanical unit where everyone has different areas that we’re passionate about but we all work together as one.”
Public speaking is a legitimate fear that many people struggle with, but forensics allows students from all over the country to articulate ideas and learn skills that will carry over into their careers.
“Forensics is unique because you get to take a few moments of someone’s life and be able to touch them and influence them; once you focus on the message you want to tell other people, you won’t be as nervous,” Macdowell said.