Ron Compton Helps Students Conquer Fear of Public Speaking

Ron Compton

Some surveys show that people fear public speaking more than anything—even death. To ease any fears his students have of speaking in front of an audience, MCC speech instructor Ron Compton creates a positive, nurturing classroom atmosphere where students can overcome—or at least manage—their fear of public speaking.

Each semester on the first day of class, Compton shares his own experience with public speaking when he was a student in a community college in Florida.

"I was extra petrified as I learned that several students in class were already experienced speakers from high school," he said. "As I gave my first speech, I was the deer in the headlights. The headlights in the front could barely hear me; the headlights in the back were clueless as to my speech. But instead of running me over with laughter, my teacher and classmates stopped to give me just what I needed: understanding encouragement through their patient listening and spirit to help."

After college, Compton worked for 23 years in sales and marketing for Xerox. When the company had a massive downsizing, he landed a part-time teaching job at MCC.

"Then seven years ago, MCC gave me my dream job—the opportunity as a full-time speech instructor to pay back what had been given to me in community college," he said. He also teaches Intercultural Communication.

"I tell my students that surprising progress can be made in the battle against stage fright," he said. “Students are surprised to learn they can actually manage their fear and end up making progress and end up enjoying the class.”

This fall, Compton added four mini speeches that each student will give in the classes before their four major speeches as a way to reduce students’ stress.

"I give them the opportunity to warm up and get used to managing their nerves. It gives them an edge. I tell them not to worry about mistakes. We’re building each other up. I don’t expect perfection and total poise, but a bit of nervous energy can help us, only if we’re prepared."

To help inspire students for their introductory speech, Compton showed a movie clip of "Alladin" to his 10:00 a.m. Monday/Wednesday class to give the class "a magic carpet ride to a whole new world about themselves."

For first-year student John Stroud of Lakewood, who is taking his first-ever public speaking class, said the class activities help him transition from high school to college.

"We watch movies like "The King’s Speech" and hear about historical events that relate back into class."

Michael Harris of Woodstock, agreed. "He makes it very comfortable. He brings the whole class together."

"I like the class. He (Compton) is very personable and relatable," she said. "He knows the class as his main audience and tries to relate to the students. That helps my anxiety because I have bad stage fright. For my first speech, I’m getting more prepared. He gives us a lot of techniques, like telling us to be prepared, use flash cards and rehearse in front of others."

Compton reminds students that speech class prepares them to tackle other challenges in life, including job interviews, communicating in groups and making presentations.

To drive home his point, Compton often shows them a card he received from a friend that pictures a giant dragon of fear breathing out fire against a knight on a horse; but inside are the words of Robert Frost: "They conquer who believe they can."

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