This post was written by an external contributor. Seren gives us her tips on how to get confident in a seminar situation.
If you’re shy like me, seminars can be a nightmare. Seminars reward the extroverted, while the less outspoken spend an hour worrying about being called on. However, after two and a half years of seminars, I would like to think that my confidence has improved. As a result, seminars are a lot less scary than they used to be. So, here are my tips and tricks for learning to overcome seminar shyness.
Break the ice
Ever had something to contribute towards the end of the class, but feel like it is too late to start speaking now? Me too. My tip: speak up as early as possible. Whether you’re asking a question or asking the seminar leader to simply clarify something, by contributing early on you will break the ice and release any tension building up in yourself.
Do your reading, make notes, and know what you are talking about. Coming to class prepared with a stack of comments and questions will make you feel more confident in what you have to contribute. There’s nothing worse than being called on and not having anything to say, so do your homework!
Know what you don’t know
Seminars are a chance to talk through the reading, to build on points you understood and to understand things that are more difficult. Remember that it’s okay not to get everything, and it is more than okay to ask questions. Don’t feel embarrassed about not knowing something. In fact, there is probably somebody else in the seminar itching to ask the same question!
Have a chat
Whether you’re in a seminar group with your best friends or total strangers, talk to those around you. In the few minutes before the class starts, or during the break (if you are lucky enough to have one), have a chat. Feeling comfortable with the group will make contributing so much more relaxing and put you at ease.
Get to know the seminar leader
Attend their office hours, email with any questions you may have, ask about upcoming assignments or feedback. Breaking the ice with your seminar leader is just as important as feeling comfortable with your peers. Also, it gives them a chance to get to know you and your engagement with the course – and it will show them you are taking the class seriously.
Don’t be discouraged
Every seminar has that one person who seems to think it’s all about them. Yes, some people are naturally more confident than others, but don’t let that hold you back! If someone seems to be overpowering the seminar, don’t let that be an opportunity to hide away. Instead, challenge their ideas, or agree with them and build on their points. Whatever you do, don’t let louder students be an excuse to shy away.
Utilise the silences
Awkward silences in seminars can be painful. Everyone looks at each other, looks at their notes, avoids eye contact with the seminar leader, gazes out the window… It feels like an eternity before somebody has the courage (or loses their patience) and says something. Break these silences and say something, even if it is asking to clarify the question. Don’t be shy about being the one to get the conversation flowing again.
This is easier said than done, I know. But once you realise that everybody is in the same boat, everything becomes a little easier. Consider the last seminar you had: Did you think much about it after? Did you ponder over an answer somebody gave? I’m going to guess the answer is no. The moment you get out of your own head and realise how unintimidating seminars can be, you might even start looking forward to them.