Speak your mind! How I became more assertive at U of T

In my first few years at U of T, I found myself frequently really nervous about any kind of public speaking – raising my hand in class, doing presentations, or even participating actively in group work. I would listen carefully in lecture and have thoughts to contribute, and I would tell myself to raise my hand and go for it – but then the class would end before I had stopped coming up with excuses for myself to speak up (the professor is speaking, someone else has their hand up, the TA seems to want to move on from this topic, I wouldn’t want to hold people back right at the end of class – and the list goes on!). I always sat at the back of the class and kept quiet.

A microphone.

It can be hard to speak up – but your thoughts are valuable! Photo by Evan Forester on Flickr.

After class, however, I would talk to my professors and TAs and express all the ideas I had been holding in – until one such TA suggested that I try to share in class, because she really valued what I had to say and she thought my classmates might as well. That week, I decided to sit at the front of the class and take notes on a separate sheet of paper about comments I had during the lecture. When it was time for discussion, I felt more confident raising my hand knowing my TA thought I had something to add, and knowing my notes were there if my train of thought trailed due to nervousness.

A few years later, when I started working at The Varsity, I found myself nervous about speaking up once again, particularly when it came to voicing my opinions to my editors, and later, to participating in meetings.

A friend of mine had a different experience and offered me some advice. At the time, she was on a board of directors of a different club at the university. The board was made up almost entirely of men, and she felt like she couldn’t get a word in edge-wise. There was only one other woman in the room, and after meetings, they expressed their frustration to one another that they were ignored at meetings and that the whole organization was a “boy’s club.” They felt that the male chair of the meeting actively ignored their hands when they went up.

They decided to show up a bit early to meetings and sit right at the front of the table. They made their voices heard by continuing to put their hands up and participate despite the hostility they sensed, and eventually, it went away. Those with reservations about their participation at the table realized the value of their opinions and turned to them for contributions during discussions.

My friend told me to show up, sit at the front, and speak my mind – just like I did in my class. I took notes during meetings so I would be prepared to make comments, and soon enough I felt comfortable and welcome, and looked forward to opportunities for discussion with my colleagues.

An illustration of me wearing a Superman outfit with a flowing red cape.

A picture my former Varsity colleague made of me as a superhero! Pro assertiveness tip: channel your inner superhero. Illustration by Nancy Ji

Speaking your mind isn’t easy, especially when you’re dealing with a sense of insecurity, or, in my friend’s case, when the cards seem to be stacked against your participation. But remember that your voice is valuable and important, and whether it’s in class, a group project, or a club, you deserve to be a part of the discussion.

Want to learn strategies for assertive and expressing yourself with impact? Sign up for the Speak Your Mind: Assertiveness for Women workshop on Thursday, January 28. Learn more and register on the Student Life website.


Danielle is the summer 2015 Communications Intern at the Office of Student Life. She wrapped up her undergrad this year and will be entering a master's program at U of T in the fall, studying in the Faculty of Information. She previously studied English and Jewish Studies with a minor in History. Danielle studied abroad twice, in Jerusalem and Berlin, did a service learning course, and did a few work-study positions. Her favourite part of her undergrad was working at The Varsity, the campus newspaper. She was the editor-in-chief in her final year. She's passionate about good writing, student journalism, reading, knitting, long walks (on the beach or otherwise), and table tennis, which she insists she is very good at, though her friends may not agree. You can reach her on twitter @lifeatuoft over the summer if you want to chat!

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