Speaking in class is an integral part of law school, whether through the Socratic method (aka “cold calling”), or voluntary class participation. But for many students, speaking in class can seem like an overwhelming obstacle. As an introvert who gets nervous doing public speaking and hates being the center of attention, the idea of speaking in my huge 1L classes, with everyone turning their heads to look at me and the professor standing there waiting for my answer, was terrifying. But class participation is a vital part of learning in law school and something you will need to do. Read on for some tips on how to overcome your fear of speaking in class.
1. Know that you’re not alone
When many of your classmates seem to have no trouble talking in class (even to an excessive degree), it can seem like you’re the only one who has any trepidation speaking up. But while the people who talk a lot are the most visible, keep in mind that many of your peers are experiencing similar fears. Feeling intimidated about speaking in class, especially in a demanding environment like law school, with lots of unfamiliar concepts, is completely normal. And who knows, your speaking up may inspire someone else to overcome their own fear!
2. Be well-prepared for class
One of the best ways to feel more comfortable and confident speaking in class is to ensure you are thoroughly prepared. While you don’t have to brief every case, you should do the readings and think critically about them. Mark key passages and note down thoughts and questions you have while reading so you can potentially bring them up during class. Another tool I found helpful when preparing for class, especially with professors who cold call, is book briefing. You can read more here, but the basic idea is that you color-code different parts of the case (Facts, Issue, Holding, etc.). Doing so makes it easy to find the relevant part of a case even if you’re flustered in the heat of the moment.
3. Start small
While you might not have this option if you happen to be the first one to be cold called in a class (been there, done that), ideally it’s good to ease yourself in a little with small voluntary contributions. Start out by asking a question, clarifying a point, or responding to a straightforward question you know the answer to. Or, if you have any smaller classes, like a legal writing class, try participating there first before jumping to talking in a large lecture. Starting small will build your confidence and make participation feel less daunting.
4. Don’t wait too long to participate
A mistake I have often made that is difficult to come back from is waiting too long to participate in class. It’s easy to tell yourself you’re just waiting until you get more comfortable. But this is a trap! The longer you wait, the harder it becomes. Waiting allows you to build up speaking in your mind into something huge and terrifying. Also, waiting too long might cause you to think that when you finally do speak, you’d better have something really good to say, making participation even harder. My advice is to try to say something within the first couple classes, even if it’s not the most genius thing you’ve ever come up with or just something small like a single question. Doing it once will lower the stakes for future participation and (hopefully) make you realize that it’s not as bad as you thought.
5. Take opportunities to practice outside of class
Participation isn’t just something you can only practice in class. Take advantage of other chances to speak in group settings that are a little more low-key than a classroom setting. For example, you could ask a question at a panel, give your input at a club meeting, or take a stab at answering a hypo during a review session. The more you participate in other areas of your life, the more natural it will seem to do so in class.
6. Cultivate a growth mindset
Adopting a growth mindset (as opposed to a fixed mindset) means believing that a person’s abilities can be developed and improved with effort over time. Try to view speaking in class not as risking failure or judgment, but as an opportunity to learn and improve. Have you ever witnessed someone confidently say the wrong answer in class, but seem to immediately be able to shrug it off? That person doesn’t see their wrong answer as a failure or an indication of their intelligence because they know that they are still learning, and part of learning is going out on a limb and sometimes making mistakes.
Conquering your fear doesn’t mean eliminating your nerves altogether, but instead finding a way to work through them. Nor is it a one-and-done thing, but something you will have to practice consistently. But if you can push past your fear, you’ll not only enrich your law school experience but also develop valuable skills that will serve you in your legal career.
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