Monday, May 2, 2011

For Some Things, It's Best to Wait... But Not for THIS Class! (Fall 2011 College Students... Talking to YOU!)

Are you a Fall 2011 college student? Will it be your first term in college? 

BRAVO! This post is for you. 

Is it your second, third, or squillionth term in college? Awesome! You're returning!

This post is also for you.

If you are not in college right now, but know any person who is, this post is for you to SHARE! 

You get it. On to the advice now.

I was thinking today about things that we should wait for and things that we shouldn't:

-Playing your 23rd round of Call of Duty when you told your girlfriend you'd be over at 3 p.m. (and that was three hours ago).

Wait. (Your trigger finger/thumb/pinky will thank you.)

-Taking said girlfriend to rom-com with Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhall, Anne Hathaway, or Ashton Kutcher because she's been dying to see a rom-com (and you secretly like saying 'rom-com', but you won't admit that to your friends).

Don't wait.

-Eating a Giant Kit Kat when you're already having a food baby from the super-stuffed crust pizza you just inhaled. 


-Going for a run to burn off offending pizza and Kit Kat.

Don't wait. (Unless you've just eaten. Then wait 20 minutes. Hmm, that's swimming, isn't it?).

-Putting a $150 pair of jeggings on your credit card that your cousin's girlfriend's brother's hairdresser told you Kate Middleton wore on her honeymoon.


-Getting knock-off jeggings at H & M for $30.

Don't wait. (Unless your credit card is maxed or you aren't supposed to be using your credit card!)

Ready for the last one:

-Taking Bionaturonicology 102 when you haven't even taken Bionaturonicology 101 or even 091.


-Taking a required communication class your first quarter of college.

Don't wait!

As much fun as I had writing those previous don't wait's/wait's (honestly, I could have gone on for another hour... how lame is that?), this last one is serious:

Spring term after spring term, many students filter into either my Public Speaking (CMST 220) class or my Introduction to Communication (CMST 101) class with a slight eye-pop and a little bead of sweat that threatens to emerge from their forehead any second.

Why the stress?

Because graduation is looming and they've saved their communication requirement until The. Bitter. End.

On the first day of spring term, I always ask, "Okay, so how many of you saved this class until your last quarter?"

At least 1/3rd of the class typically raises their hand--sometimes more. I'll get to the reasons students wait in just a second...

What's interesting to me is that most incoming college students take English/Writing their very first term. Smart move, right? Strengthening college-level writing skills early before taking a boat-load of other courses that also require college-level writing? Brilliant!

Last time I checked, a boat-load of college courses also require one or all of the following:

1.  A presentation, either alone or in a group
2.  Talking or working with someone else in class (interpersonal communication!)
3.  A group project

Those assignments or projects can be worth a fair amount of the grade in those classes. 

You probably know where I'm going with this...

Doesn't it make sense to take Public Speaking/Introduction to Communication Studies/Basic Communication (or whatever this course is called at your college) EARLY?

Let me be specific here:  I'm talking about taking this class your FIRST quarter in college.

"But wait..." You may be thinking, "I am in my 5th semester at college. Done reading this post... going to check out my recent news on Facebook now."

Don't stop reading! (or believin'--according to Journey, or the Glee kids singing Journey).

Even if you are in Q5 of your college career, and you didn't take that comm class first, I still say take it NOW. Earlier, rather than at the end of your college career, can benefit you in so many ways.

All right:  Let's plow into reasons why students wait to take their communication class:

Reason #1:  They think they know about communication because they do it every day.

Just because we do something routinely doesn't mean we're doing that "thing" the best we can, does it?

If you had one argument this week or last where you or your communication partner walked away angry, frustrated, confused, etc., then maybe learning a little more about communication could help.

If you feel like you wouldn't know where to start if you were suddenly asked to deliver a speech, then you definitely could benefit from a communication course that involves some training in public speaking, or a dedicated public speaking course. 

Like I said before, so many of your other non-comm (rhymes with 'rom-com'!) classes are going to require communication assignments that you will likely be graded on, such as group work, speeches, or participation with others. So, even if you know how to talk, getting official training in how to improve your speaking either one-on-one, to groups, or in public can only stand to help you boost your skills for those other classes.

I won't even remind you that if you've read this post on employability, you know that learning how to better communicate can increase your "competition capital" when job hunting season begins. 

(Okay, I guess I did remind you).

Now let's look at the second reason students wait to take a communication course:

Reason #2:   They'd rather have surgery without anesthesia (or even a leather strap to bite) than deliver a speech.

Public speaking is the #1 fear of adult Americans since 1977 (according to The Book of Lists, which is a book... of lists...). Many colleges and degree programs require all students to have a dedicated Public Speaking course, which is different than a communication theory course that may not require any speeches, or possibly just one or two.

While I realize that public speaking anxiety is far more emotional than logical (and I will blog about some killer strategies to help you manage this fear in the future), let's take make a logical list of why fear of public speaking is not the best reason for saving the public speaking or comm course until the end of your college career: 

1.  Every single person in the class is going to have to give a speech. Does this mean that you'll feel no fear about giving that speech? Hell, no. You might shake in your Sketchers, but other nervous buddies will support you.

2.  Your prof in the public speaking course will likely have a whole lesson on helping you deal with your speech anxiety--it's a natural topic in any communication course. Conversely, your Bionaturonicology 101 professor may require you to deliver a presentation, but that prof will be focused helping you with your bionaturons. Or your icologies. That prof's first priority probably won't be to help you with your fear of public speaking. He/she expects that you worked on that in your comm class! 

3.  The last term before you graduate has enough stress surrounding it. Why save something you absolutely dread until the end? Why not get it over with? Doesn't waiting for anything that you fear just make the fear compound on top of itself? And do you really want to be uber-super-stressed by a dreaded class right before graduation? Let's say you do take your comm class early and it goes horribly (that's unlikely, but let's just say, "What if?")? At least you still have more time to retake the class. If you wait until the end of college, the hard fact is that this one dreaded course could also keep you from graduating. Ugh. Let's not even entertain that thought.

So, what's the communication lesson here?

Get your communication course done your first or next term in college. Here's what you do:

1.  Go look at the core requirements for your Associate's or Bachelor's degree. See what the communication requirement is. Public Speaking 101? Introduction to Communication 101?

If you are in a degree program that has a set schedule, ask your adviser if you can fulfill your Comm requirement early.

If you are in a degree program or college that doesn't have a communication req, don't think that this advice doesn't apply to you! A communication course can likely meet a Humanities or elective requirement and will still give you all the important benefits I've noted.

Once you've found your basic comm class, public speaking class, etc., sign up for that course in Fall 2011!

2.  Pack yourself with some information power! Learn about your upcoming comm course and even your new comm professor!

Visit your intended college's website, do a search for 'Communication' or 'Speech' faculty. You may have to look under the broader term of 'Humanities'. Find your prof, then e-mail or make an appointment to see that person.

Say, "I'm an incoming student who will be taking your Public Speaking 101 course. I'd like to learn about the course early. Can you send me a syllabus? One from the current term is fine." (Know that the prof might change some things around, but the basic course requirements will likely remain the same).

You can also ask/say:
-"What book will I need for this course?" Reading about communication ahead of time certainly can't hurt. The books on communication are--believe it or not--a bit interesting, even as a summer read, and you will be SO prepared!

You can even say:
-"I'm a little nervous about public speaking (or taking this course). I almost saved this course until the end, but it was recommended that I should take it early. Do you have any advice for me?"

Again, any communication prof is going to be keen on the subject of communication apprehension, fear of public speaking, or speech anxiety. (See? We even have three names for it!).

You won't be the first person to express this sentiment, and you will likely get a ton of practical and emotional assistance from both the prof and your classmates. After all, with so many adults fearing public speaking, you are going to have company.

3.  I will blog later on about first-day of college communication tips, but we have summer to enjoy first. So, I'll skip ahead to what you can do once you're in your comm course:  If you love, love, love, love it, sign up for yet another comm course! (Of course, I was going to say that!).

If you took Public Speaking first, try a Communication Theory, Interpersonal, Small Group, Mass Media, etc. course and use it as Humanities or elective credit. Again, look back on my communication and employability post. Too many stuffed pizzas and Kit Kats can hurt. Too much solid training in communication can't!

Be proactive:  Grab those communication skills that can benefit your classes, your entire college experience, your relationships, and your future career NOW.

Wait for other things.

Don't wait for this.


  1. Other courses you should take at the beginning: Math and English. Those courses, along with Communications, will make your other courses a whole lot easier. And it's not like your college is suddenly going to change its requirements -- "Oh! Never mind. Forget the math and English." =)

  2. Of course! That sounds like a great first term course "menu" to me! I haven't asked my students if they save their math courses to the end. I wonder about that...

  3. I've tried to take my required courses up front -- though I saved math for the summer term, when I could concentrate on it -- and took my communications course the first semester. I balanced required courses with major courses I was interested in, like Shakespeare and the Middle Ages. I was grateful for the communications course, though, because we did reacting games in the Middle Ages course, which required heavy doses of public speaking.

  4. It sounds like you had good insight, not only about the comm class, but also about balancing the required classes with a class you would enjoy. And your foresight was right-on since the course you liked also contained some public speaking. Good luck and, hey, there are always other comm classes to take, if you enjoyed yours!

  5. Ellen:

    Excellent advice generally.

    Under Reason #2, I don’t think that any college student will be impressed at all by your reciting numbers from the 1977 Book of Lists, since they probably were born after 1977.
    That data comes from a survey done back in 1973, so it’s about 38 years old:

    How about giving them a survey of college students from last year:

    The bottom line about communication is that employers say they are looking for it as a skill but not finding it:

    Richard Garber

  6. Richard,

    Thank you very much for your comments, and I appreciate reference to the links that you've sent.

    A couple of comments:
    -Information literacy is a huge aspect of what I teach, and currency of sources ranks right up there, of course. I cite the Book of Lists just to show how long public speaking fear has been documented. I actually don't think students will mind that the information predates them, particularly since public speaking fear has been a consistent finding. In a recent post on grabbing communication skills before one leaves college, I cited the 2011 NACE survey, which shows that verbal communication has actually moved up to the #1 spot as a sought-after employability skill (It had previously been in the top 5 in other sources). Your writeup about The Book of Lists and its validity as a source was very intriguing. Maybe it's time for a new widespread survey about people's fears?
    -The survey of college students was also quite interesting. I would have loved to know what a larger sample size would have done for the result?

    Thanks again for your insights. I see from your blog that you are in Toastmasters. I, too, was in for a long time and just loved it.