Students with social anxiety find haven in AcaDeca, public speaking


Academic Decathlon presents itself as a place for students to find comfort if they suffer from social anxiety. “A few weeks ago, we were given the opportunity to practice giving our speeches and I volunteered first and confidently delivered my speech, which is something I don’t think I could have done a year ago without experiencing anxiety,” AcaDeca member Georgia Evensen said.


Defne Önal staff writer
Academic Decathlon (AcaDeca) engages its students with public speaking as a part of its competition. The public speaking portion of the competition includes a prepared speech of up to four minutes and an impromptu speech that lasts for two minutes. Public speaking may seem nerve-wracking to students who live with social anxiety, but AcaDeca ensures that students have a positive experience and grow from their fears. 
“I would definitely say that AcaDeca massively helps with anxiety. You learn a lot of things that are actually beneficial to not only school, but it can also help with your personal life and speech is probably the biggest example of that. Growing up, you’re going to have to get over your anxiety eventually,” AcaDeca member junior Clement Murphy said.  
According to the National Institute of Health, nearly 1 in 3 teenagers ages 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder. 
“It’s a state of mind that you can’t really control that causes you to get nervous, and maybe misspeak what you’re trying to convey, especially if you’re in front of a large crowd that you’re not really familiar with. It can really affect the way you talk in front of people. It’s something that you can’t control personally but you can work on it to help get better,” Murphy said. 
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, public officials advise people to socially distance themselves from anyone outside of their households. Social distancing might be comforting for those with social anxiety, but a scarcity of social interaction can also maintain social anxiety, according to the National Library of Medicine. AcaDeca members state that their social anxiety has decreased with the pandemic. 
“I would say that the pandemic has actually decreased my social anxiety, because now I don’t have to interact with people in person. And mostly, it’s just, you know, body language is not as important right now. Part of it is because you’re sitting in the comfort of your own home,” AcaDeca co-president junior Aghigh Banitaba said.  
There is a definite growth pattern with students’ journeys with social anxiety as club members experience different aspects of AcaDeca’s curriculum
“I used to have a lot more anxiety around both public speaking and meeting new people and I definitely think AcaDeca helped me overcome this. When I first joined AcaDeca at the beginning of summer, I felt a bit intimidated by all the new faces, and I rarely turned my camera on and didn’t participate very often. As the summer went on, we got a lot closer as a team and I got a lot more comfortable with participating in our meetings,” Evensen says. 
AcaDeca’s presidents and faculty sponsor heavily regiment the speech curriculum. 
“Every Wednesday, we have Coach Johnson, who is our speech coach. We don’t actually even know if we’re going to do impromptu speeches, or speeches just in general. The competition is online, but we’re still working on it,” Murphy said.  
Foreign students with social anxiety can also thrive by joining AcaDeca. 
“Public speaking before AcaDeca seemed nerve-wracking for me, especially as a person who moved here three years ago and wasn’t fluent in English. A big part of public speaking was getting anxious over mispronouncing words or sounding foreign,” Banitaba says. 
AcaDeca’s members endorse the club as a haven for helping those with social anxiety, not only because of its speech portion, but also because of its inclusivity. 
“I would absolutely recommend AcaDeca as a place for students with social anxiety, because we’re an inclusive team. All of us are different in our own ways and we have a diverse group of students. And the most important thing in AcaDeca is accepting each other and helping each other out. Get out of our comfort zones and improve as a person,” Banitaba said.