Talking about the Socratic method is not new material here. We have:
These posts provide fantastic tips about Dean Langdell’s punishing method. I want to approach this topic in a way that will help you with cold calling in your classes and in your professional life after law school. Most articles about this signature style of questions and answers in law school classes focus on reading your cases, taking good notes, and knowing the facts of every case to arm the weary law student for the attack. These are fantastic tips, but I want to get to the root of much of the anxiety: Speaking up in front of people.
Public speaking is terrifying to many people. Glossophobia is common and can be debilitating. It can stifle creativity, prevent you from taking risks and sharing your ideas, and make it more difficult to get what you want, or to advocate for others as a lawyer. Through practice anyone can overcome the anxiety, negative beliefs about ability, and fear of speaking out in class that many law students experience.
Battle the Beast and Win
Whether we deal with the psychological, cognitive, or behavioral aspects of fear of public speaking, it is possible to overcome the anxiety and be a beacon of confidence and communication in your classes, at work, or in court.
It is critical to relax and be calm before you are called upon to speak in front of others. If you focus on, or think about, speaking in front of people while you are preparing to do so, it can take the edge off of your fear and anxiety. Just like the last time you had your blood pressure checked, the key to relaxation is slowing your breathing and relaxing your body. Practicing these techniques while you are preparing for class, once you arrive in class, and in the moments before you begin to contribute in class, will go a long way toward enhancing your performance and helping you to exude confidence in class.
If you approach class and cold calling with the view that you are going to look dumb or fail to get the answers right, you’re doomed to fail. Change your views and beliefs about your ability to effectively communicate what you know (and what you don’t know). You are your own worst enemy. No one will remember next class what you said or how you said it, and everyone else in class is experiencing the same fears and anxieties as you. You can engage in cognitive reframing to target your negative self-image and in so doing, reduce your fear. Be supportive of yourself and tell yourself that you can do it. You have to teach yourself that speaking up in class is a non-threatening activity, and you can do it with confidence. Get out of your own way and know that you can do it at least as well as anyone else in your class.
Don’t Succumb to Performance Anxiety
In the high-stakes, competitive law-school environment, it is easy to think of the Socratic method as a painful way for your professor and your classmates to judge and test you. Thinking of every opportunity to speak up in class as a painful gauntlet is a recipe to perpetuate those fears and anxieties. Approach speaking up in class as an opportunity for you to share valuable information, perspective, and opinions with your classmates. When you think of speaking up as a way of giving something of value to your classmates, you can begin to let go of your negative preconceptions about how you look or sound. Approaching class participation in this way will free you to give the class your best.
Practice Makes Perfect
What? You want me to volunteer to speak? Yes! One of the best ways to overcome your fear of speaking in class, at work, or in court is to do more of it. Steal opportunities to contribute whenever you are feeling confident about your knowledge or think that your perspective is unique. The more that you speak up, the easier it will get. If you have time, groups like Toastmasters can be a great way to learn your limits, practice speaking in front of people, and to receive constructive criticism that will improve performance and enhance confidence. If all else fails, get input about your participation from friends, colleagues, your professors, or watch the class recording, if they are available. Practice speaking up and the anxiety monsters will disappear.
We avoid that which scares us. As Mr. Henley reminds us, you are the master of your fate, you are the captain of your soul. Unfortunately, as a law student or attorney, you will not be able to hide from public speaking for long. Practice will make you better. Changing your thinking about yourself and the act of speaking up will help you overcome your fears and anxiety. You will survive this, and soon forget about any negative experiences you may have. Speaking up will help you get ahead in law school and beyond. You got this!
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