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Easing the stress of speaking


To be a good instructor, you must be able to speak before a class of students. In some schools, this may be a big crowd. Even if you have experience in public speaking, the first time you teach a class, you will be nervous. Given time, you will get over the nervousness, but for the first few classes, it will affect the way you speak and thus the way you teach.

While instructing a class, you are not just speaking, you are assigning drills, watching for mistakes, giving feedback, and analyzing the skills levels of the students and the overall atmosphere of the class so you may choose what the next drill or activity should be. In addition to all this, many times your instructor is watching and evaluating your performance. All this adds to the stress of having to speak before the class. This article will discuss ways to ease this stress.

Key principles

Some key principles to remember when speaking before a class are:
  • Stress is natural. All the instructors that came before you had to face their first class; they were nervous and yet they succeeded. You may think you are more nervous than anyone should be, but that is not true. If you are able to speak, you will get through the class. Then each subsequent class will be less stressful.
  • You don't have to be perfect to succeed. Some instructors seem smart, calming, entertaining, and polished, but you do not have to be brilliant, witty, or perfect to be a successful instructor. It all depends on how you, and the class, define "success." The class does not expect perfection. Perfection itself can be boring. The class knows you are inexperienced so they will be tolerant of mistakes, so be tolerant of your own mistakes, and go with the flow. If the students learn something, improve their martial arts skills, get a workout, and enjoy themselves, you will have been a success.
  • Pick one or two main points to cover. You do not have to cover every martial art technique in one class. Pick one technique, such as a round kick, and then cover it and different variations of it. Many studies have shown that people remember very little of the information speakers convey. All your students want from you is to walk away with one or two key points that will make a difference to them.
  • Remember the purpose of your class. The purpose of the class is not to show how much you know or to win approval of all the students. The purpose of your class is to teach students something new or to help them improve on something they already know. You cannot please everyone, so don’t even try. Don’t try to get approval; try to give information. The operative word here is GIVE, not GET!
  • Be yourself. Many of us have a distorted, exaggerated view of what successful instructors should be and then we strive to meet those expectations. In other words, we try to become someone other than ourselves! For most of us, we try to emulate our own instructors. The secret is to be yourself and let your personality come through. You may be different than your instructor, but that is fine. Not all successful instructors are alike.
  • Nothing "bad" will happen to you. Nothing awful, terrible, or humiliating will happen. At the worst, you may stumble on some words or lose your train of thought for a second. Just say something humorous about it, forget it, and move on.
  • Humility and humor go a long way. While each person will eventually find his or her own style of teaching, certain things may be useful to almost everyone. Two of these, humility and humor, are highly useful.

    If being humorous feels comfortable to you, then go for it, just do not overdo it; you are not a standup comic. If you are not a humorous person, do not try to be, you will just look silly.

    Humility means sharing some of your own human frailties, weaknesses, and mistakes. We all have weaknesses. When you show that you are not afraid to admit yours, you create a safe, intimate climate where others may acknowledge their own shortcomings as well. Again, don’t overdo it. Being humble in front of others makes you more credible, more believable, and more respected. People may connect with you more easily because you are "one of them" instead of an expert who is better than they are. It also sets a tone of honesty and self-acceptance; which people recognize in themselves as well. If you are not humble, do not try to be. True humility is easily distinguished from the pretense of acting humble. If you pretend, the class will perceive it and lose respect for you.
  • Maintain control of the class. No matter what happens—you must control the class. Even if you are stumbling in your presentation, do not let some mouthy students take control of the class. They may be troublemakers or just be trying to be funny or maybe even trying to be helpful, but you must keep them in check.
  • In general, the more you prepare, the worse you will do. Preparation is useful but how you prepare and how much time you need to spend on preparation is a different matter. Do not over prepare. Have a general direction for conducting the class and some alternative directions that depend on the rank composition of the class. Then rely on your experience and training. You would not have been selected as an instructor if your instructor did not think you could handle it. You will not be great the first time out, but you will improve each time you teach.
  • The class truly wants you to succeed. Most students know the feeling of having to speak before a group. The students know you and they are probably your friends; so, they feel for you. They will admire your courage and will be on your side, no matter what happens.
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