• Jac Luciano

Why don't you raise your hand?

Updated: Feb 20, 2020

In a post, I released last week, I discussed the importance of listening, dove into its benefits on your personal and professional development, and outlined how it’s integral to effective communication. What I didn’t touch upon is participating, which too is critical to developing good communication skills.

In all honesty, I never had an issue participating in class, work, or life, in general. I was the kid, who never feared raising her hand or sharing her opinions. I was the little girl, who wasn’t scared to ask questions even if I thought others would think they were stupid. I didn’t overthink what I’d say. I’d always just go for it and didn’t worry about the opinions of others. The act of asking questions stimulated my overactive sense of curiosity.

In class, I actually really enjoyed being part of conversations and felt it was critical to my learning to participate in discussions. I found it important to hear others’ perspectives in class to spark thought, and I found it equally important to share my own perspective.

However, I’m like everyone, and everyone isn’t like me. I get that. There are some students, who don’t see participation like I do.

Some students prefer not to participate in class discussions. In the researched I’ve conducted (through online resources and polls via Instagram), students might not participate in class for the following reasons:

  • Overthinking responses - Unlike me, there are many students, who think long and hard before they raise their hands in class. These students stew over whether or not their contributions are valuable to discussions, or they fear saying the wrong answers. In my case, I didn’t fear saying the wrong answers. I mean, I didn’t like to be wrong, but I wasn’t scared of saying the incorrect response. I quickly got over being wrong.

  • Afraid someone might have already said the same thing - Similar to overthinking responses, there are some people, who really worry someone might have already said what they wanted to contribute. Obviously, it’s not ideal to say the same thing that someone else said in a discussion, but some people can brush it off more easily than others.

  • Fear of public speaking - For some reason, I never feared speaking up in classes, small or large. I think dancing might have had something to do with it. I’ve been accustomed to being onstage since I was three years old. Nowadays, I get nervous to present to people, who have more experience than me (something I’m working on). Though, public speaking is a common fear for many people especially, in larger class sizes or large groups of people. There are some people, who get a wave of fear and anxiety over them when asked to speak in front of folks. According to this post in Psychology Today, “Fear and anxiety involve the arousal of the autonomic nervous system in response to a potentially threatening stimulus. When confronted with a threat, our bodies prepare for battle.” This fight or flight feeling leads to some people feeling fear which ultimately interferes with people’s abilities to perform comfortably in front of audiences.

  • Unprepared - Of course, there’s always a chance students don’t participate in class because they’re unprepared. *I’d like to point out there are students, who do participate in class, that are really unprepared. They just might find something to contribute in the duration of the class.

However, active participation has many benefits to it, and some might say it’s the way to make the most out of students’ education.

As I’ve mentioned, Unraveled is intended to be a help undergraduates and young professionals be better prepared for the real world after college. Keeping that in mind, it’s important for me to also address the importance of active participation in class discussions and what benefits it has on your personal and professional development just like listening.

So, what are the benefits of active participation?

Active participation engages students in the subject matter which helps improve their comprehension of the material.

Through active participation, students “express their ideas in ways others can understand” and form concepts based on evidence they’ve used to support their ideas. It also warrants students to ask questions to formulate ideas. Ultimately, active participation directly contributes to students’ abilities to think critically about information presented to them.

In some classes, students might have to come together for a common purpose. Therefore, they must collaborate with one another to reach a specific goal. To effectively collaborate, active participation is required. To achieve the class goal, students must share their thoughts and perspectives on the course material and create a space allowing others to ask questions or remarks on shared ideas. That way, all students provide input towards the common objective.

In the professional world, effective collaboration skills are essential to being successful. Young professionals will need to collaborate with their colleagues on projects or business challenges. They will need to share their thoughts with their peers, listen, and comment and question others' perspectives. This process requires participation. Having participated in their class discussions, students ready themselves for their future work.

In addition, the more students participate in the class, the more they will develop their communication skills. This development occurs because students essentially practice their speaking skills and improve their abilities to present publicly. As students become more comfortable presenting themselves in front of people, they gain more confidence, which carries into their professional lives.

In the working world, students will need to be able to present themselves publicly and professionally whether that be in corporate meetings, job interviews, workshops, etc. if they have experience participating in larger groups, students will be less intimidated when they enter the workplace.

But, I don’t participate in class, what can I do?

  • Face your fear - If you don’t typically participate in class out of fear, sometimes, the best thing you can do is face the fear head-on despite feeling uncomfortable. If you wait too long to, you might let days or weeks go by before you engage in your discussions. As time lapses, you’ll end up feeling more uncomfortable. You want to make a diligent effort to participate rather than waiting for the right opportunity to speak. If you wait, you’ll never know if the right opportunity will come. Rather, if you start early and keep at it, you’ll be more comfortable raising your hand, gain more confidence, and be more likely to engage in future discussions.

  • Take a breath or two - Breathing goes a long way when you’re anxious. If you find yourself very nervous to raise your hand, take a few deep breaths. This breathing technique relaxes your diaphragm muscles, which will make you feel calmer before you go and raise your hand. Once you feel a bit calmer, you want to rehearse what you’re going to say in your head. That way, you think (not overthink) about what you’re going to say before you say it.

  • Don’t focus on YOU - A good outlook on participating in class is remembering it’s not about you. Think about it. Your contributions to class discussions are meant to help others’ learn or provide alternative perspectives on the subject matter. Rather than focusing on you and performing perfectly, you should concentrate on students’ learning. When you shift your mindset from you to others, you worry less about your speaking abilities and worry more about your contributions to others.

  • Pay attention and take notes - If you’re hyper-focused on answering correctly or contributing the right response, you must really pay attention in class and take notes from readings and class discussions. When you participate, you can reference the readings or points made directly from your professor. That way, your answers are likely to be right given that you’re using class resources to formulate your responses.

By actively participating in class discussions, you enhance your abilities for the workforce and prepare yourself for real world experiences like administering presentations, interviewing, and running corporate meetings. All in all, participation has long-term benefits and makes you more likely to thrive in the workplace.

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