How to Get Students Comfortable Speaking in Your Virtual Classroom

There are so many challenges with teaching in a virtual classroom, especially with all the tech issues that can easily consume us. As an organization focused on building confidence and community through communication skill development, we have learned a lot in recent months about communicating online.

We know that social interaction is fundamental to learning. So we had to quickly figure out how to apply to the virtual space what we know about building an inclusive classroom culture where students feel capable enough to lead and speak. Here are our responses to some of the most common questions when trying to get students comfortable talking online.

1. What are the conditions needed to sustain a “culture of talk” in my classroom?

It can be challenging to develop a culture of talk when students are afraid of being judged, reluctant to have attention placed on them, or feel uncertain about interrupting other people. This is especially true in online learning, where there is less flexibility about physical arrangements (i.e. everyone is flat on a screen) and even more uncertainty about interruption. The following resources provide some principles and tools for building a culture of talk:

  • Establishing and Sustaining a Culture of Talk (Coaching Guide Resource 1): This essay describes how coaches can shape a culture that supports everyone and what indicators to look for over time.
  • Conditions for Equitable Voice: What to Say and Do (Coaching Guide Resource 2): Use these tips as suggestions for the kinds of words and actions that contribute to a more equitable learning environment.
  • Self-Assessment of Coaching Mindset and Skills (Coaching Guide Resource 3): Self-assess key mindsets and skills related to coaching public speaking, including approaches to facilitation, pedagogy, and relationship-building.
  • Confidence and the Impact of Fear on Equity (Confidence-Building Guide Resource 1): The author describes her personal perspectives on why the fear of judgment leads to the silencing of diverse perspectives.
  • Qualities of a Fearless Classroom (Confidence-Building Guide Resource 2): Post this list to remind students of what a fearless classroom looks like (or edit as norms for the home or workplace).

2. How do I help students feel more comfortable to speak?

Students often struggle to formulate their ideas and get stuck when they don’t know how to start. Speaking in a virtual classroom only exacerbates this when it feels like the spotlight is on you. Sentence starters can help by providing some structure and guidance, especially when beginning new routines and norms. As teachers, we don’t always know the exact struggle that’s preventing students from speaking. Let students share through quick check-in surveys. Using a checklist to reflect on the current classroom conditions can also help by identifying opportunities to build a culture of talk. The following resources unpack some of these struggles and provide a few jumping off points:

  • Making Storytelling Inclusive and Equitable (Storytelling Resource 2): This essay describes how stories promote inclusion and how leaders can facilitate equitable conditions for storytelling.
  • Helping People Contribute: Facilitation Moves to Improve Communication (Coaching Guide Resource 8): Use these tips to help students feel comfortable and facilitate equitable discussions where everyone can fully participate.
  • Getting Stories Started: For Educators and Facilitators (Storytelling Resource 4): This one-pager contains 6 personal checkpoints for facilitating opportunities for storytelling.
  • Unpacking the Fear of Public Speaking (Confidence-Building Guide Resource 3): This list includes sources of personal fear and what is needed to address those fears.
  • Anxieties in the Classroom: A Teacher Checklist (Confidence-Building Guide Resource 10): This checklist outlines questions to ask to reflect on the teacher’s role in helping students handle communication anxiety.

From his success on the sales floor of an automotive dealership  to becoming a veteran trainer and then the adoption of technology for Internet-based marketing, his career has evolved to deliver the skills and tools needed to help consumers. Richie Bello combined his automotive expertise with his robust desire to “take care of the customer first” to become an automotive influencer, published author, and renowned trainer.  Bello absorbed the wants and needs of consumers as he worked up the ladder of the automotive industry.

Over the thirty-five years of his career, he developed strong Internet marketing skills, leading him to developing software solutions that create ease for consumers, and helps dealers improve relationships with customers. Innovation drives success. And, for Bello, it’s in his DNA. took years to come to consumers and arrived in a timely manner, during the 2020 Pandemic. With over 6 million vehicles on the site, features that help consumers deliver, finance and warranty, Bello has met the retail digital age head on.

Bello also is founder of Richie Bello Institute of Leadership and Management, a 501C3 not for profit, dedicated to the recruitment, education and employment of veterans into the automotive industry. Visit


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