How to Speak More Confidently in Class: Closing the Confidence Gap At College
Some of you may have witnessed what I have in the classroom: female students not participating as much as their male counterparts. The male students fill the silence while the female ones won’t out of fear of being wrong, girls raise their hands at around head level with the boys proudly raise their hands as far as their arms will extend, girls struggle to get a response out in class without stumbling over “ums” and “likes,” and girls, at times, will perfectly articulate a salient, well-thought out response, only to end it by saying “if that makes any sense.”
The reason for this isn't that boys have more to say; the reason for this is that girls are told from an early age to be quiet more often and to take up less space.
While public speaking is something that a lot of people struggle with, along with not saying “like” and “um” constantly, it is possible for young women to work past their anxiety in order to speak up more in class, make excellent points, and then stick the landing. Here are some ways to boost your confidence level and contribute to the class conversation like a natural:
Listening to a confidence-inspiring, girl power playlist:
There’s nothing like dropping the needle first thing in the morning to put you in the right mindset. I start off every morning to “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone, followed by “I Feel the Earth Move” by Carole King, and “You’re so Vain,” by Carly Simon, a regimen my father put me on when I was in high school. If you want music from this century, “Little Me,” by Little Mix perfectly encapsulates the attitude for telling your young, female self “to speak up” and “be a little bit louder, be a bit prouder.”
Watching that scene from Legally Blonde:
“I’ll show you how valuable Elle Woods can be,” Reese Witherspoon says as she storms off in her Playboy bunny costume. Then begins a montage of the iconic Elle Woods buying a laptop (still in costume), getting in shape, carrying books, and, most importantly, killing it in the classroom and impressing her professors. She does all of this without succumbing to the nastiness of her naysayers. You can show them how valuable you can be by watching this scene on repeat, as I did during my freshman year of college, and really internalizing the motivation that is coursing through Elle Woods in that moment.
Sitting and raising your hand with more confidence:
This advice might seem a bit strange: increase your confidence by acting like you're already confident, but social psychologist Amy Cuddy gave a Ted Talk in which she discussed the effect that our posture and body language has on our confidence level and broke down the disparities that you witness in posture, especially when it comes to gender. The way to combat this, according to Cuddy, is for women and girls to strike more confidence-inspiring poses, as faking confidence leads to the creation of actual confidence, according to her research. “Don’t fake it til you make it,” she says, “fake it til you become it.”
In conclusion: Raise your hand as high as you can, even if you aren’t that sure of your answer. Avoid your "likes" and your "ums", but don't beat yourself up when they happen. Never end a statement by saying “if that makes any sense.” Start everyday with powerful music that’ll make you feel like a powerful woman and, when necessary, channel Elle Woods in Legally Blonde.
Then, you will be right on your way towards being the best student in the class, or at least, the most confident one.