How to Do Better in Christian Public Speaking


Christian Self Help:
How to do Better in Christian Public Speaking.

::::: God’s Cure for Stage Fright: How to Sing, Teach,
::::: Preach, or Give a Speech without Nervousness

When I am plagued by stage fright, several nasty symptoms arise:

  1. Sometimes my mind goes blank. An audience stares at me expectantly,waiting to hear something profound, but I can hardly remember my name.
  2.  I talk too fast. Pausing allows people time to let things soak in,
    but I’m afraid to pause — lest people use that moment to conclude that the speaker is an idiot.
  3.  I am too flustered to think clearly. Regardless of how organized my notes might be, my presentation is disorganized. I often cover points in the wrong order or leave them out altogether.
  4. My jokes aren’t funny. Because my timing is shot to pieces, all
    attempts at humor fall flat. If people laugh at all, it’s only because
    they feel sorry for me.
  5. I fail to establish a rapport with my audience.

Nervousness can diminish or even destroy our effectiveness. These nervous symptoms can short-circuit the communication process so that very little penetrates the minds and hearts of the listeners. Fortunately, if we are willing to face up to the true cause of our nervousness, God has a cure.


Who Are We Trying to Impress?

The nervousness we call “stage fright” is caused by having the wrong goal. Either my goal is to impress others or to avoid embarrassment — two sides of the same selfish coin. In both cases it’s all about me. I am not focusing on the interests of my audience; I am focusing on my own interests. I’m not trying to advance God’s Kingdom; I’m trying to advance my kingdom.

When I’m nervous, what is it that I fear? I’m afraid I’ll say or do
something stupid. I seek to avoid being humiliated — especially in front of large numbers of people. Tape recorders and video cameras make me even more nervous because then I can make a fool of myself and have the moment immortalized on tape. The cure? There’s only one — I must change my goal. No longer can I seek to impress people or to avoid humiliation. I must
seek to benefit those in the audience.

It’s amazing! When I correct my goal, the nervousness always disappears. There have been no exceptions. Why? Because unlike taking three deep breaths, listening to tapes of ocean noises, or other methods to reduce nervousness, this method puts the ax to the root of the problem. Because nervousness is caused by having the wrong goal, we must change our goal in order to cure it. Nervousness disappears when we say in our hearts: “Lord, I’m not here to impress them; I’m here to bless them.”

God is calling us to purity of heart, purity of motive. After hearing this message on overcoming stage fright, one of my university students approached me after class. “This really explains something to me,” he said. “I’m a youth minister, and I never get nervous when I speak to my youth group, but I always get nervous once a month when I speak to their parents. Now I understand why. I’m trying to impress the parents; I’m trying to help the kids.”

The Apostle Paul turned his public speaking opportunities into acts of love by humbling himself. He describes his goal and the wonderful impact it had on his public speaking in Acts 20:18, 20: “You yourselves know how I lived among you…serving the Lord with all humility. I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable.” Shrinking back is a form of self-protection — like a turtle pulling back into it’s shell. Paul did not shrink back, because he wasn’t thinking about himself. He was thinking about how to profit his listeners. His humility gave birth to boldness.

Paul not only faced the more common fears of public speakers — people falling asleep, rolling their eyes, or walking out — he also withstood beatings, stonings, and imprisonment. However, because he adopted the right goal, Paul didn’t shrink back. He lived not for himself, but to advance God’s Kingdom by benefiting others.

John Powell, a Jesuit priest, shares about being gripped by nervousness in the following testimony:

Along with two others from my order, I was chosen to give a presentation at several universities in the Midwest. Our little traveling trio made big waves wherever we went. Finally we came back to speak at Loyola University, where I teach. There in the audience were 115 Jesuits: the men I live with, eat with, teach with. They were my brothers and I wanted to WOW them.

You’ve never heard me speak, I thought, and I’m really good, and you don’t know it…tonight you’re going to know it. But I was very nervous. And so I said to God, “God, would you relax me? Just put your hands over my heart or something.” And nothing happened.

I said, “Oh come on, God, I want to give a good talk tonight, and if I’m nervous, I won’t.” Then I heard the words that, among other peak experiences with God, have transformed me:

You are getting ready to give a performance, and I don’t want a performance. I want an act of love. You are going to perform for your brothers so they will know how good you are. They don’t need to know how good you are. I don’t want a performance; I want an act of love.

I looked out again. When you’re self-conscious, you’re using everybody for a mirror. How am I going over, huh? What do you think? What do you think of me?

Then there’s that wonderful moment of love when you begin to look out again at those same people and say, What do you want? What do you need? Where do you hurt? Can I help you?

I looked out at my brothers a second time after I heard what I feel sure was the voice of God. I looked at four of our priests who were having a terrible struggle with alcoholism. One of them, poor man, was very sick. All four were going through a terrible trial.

Then there were those who had been forced to retire from teaching due to their age. They felt like they were on the shelf, like nobody cared about them. They didn’t say smart things anymore or make bright moves–nobody needed them. I looked out at their faces for a long time.

Then I looked out at those who were physically sick, for whom every step was painful, whose heads ached, whose eyes burned. I looked out at those who were unsuccessful in everything they do. Their students don’t like them; their classes are always unsuccessful. I looked at them for a long time and I kept thinking: And I wanted to WOW you. I wanted to impress you with how good I am. I wanted you to admire me. Oh, you don’t need me for that. You need me to love you.

As I looked out at my brothers, all the nervousness disappeared, and I loved them.

I realized in that moment how cluttered with performances my life has been. I have been a performer. I have been listening for applause after every performance. And in that moment I heard God say to me, Not another performance, but an act of love. [Testimony by John Powell – used with permission.]

God had an act of love in mind when He spoke to Moses about leading two million Hebrews out of Egyptian slavery, but Moses responded, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent,…send, I pray, some other person” (Exodus 4:10,13 RSV). Obviously, something was wrong with Moses’ response, because the next verse says, “Then God’s anger was kindled against Moses.”

God wanted to use Moses to set two million people free, but Moses wasn’t thinking about two million people. Moses was thinking about one person. His focus was riveted on himself. Pride is preoccupation with self — regardless of what form it takes. God wanted Moses to humble himself by focusing on those he was sent to help.

God began teaching me this principle about twenty years ago. Here is the gist of what He taught me:

Make loving others your goal. Concentrate on the individuals with needs. Concentrate on how you can help them, on how you can love them best. In this way you will be pleasing in My sight.

The Place of Preparation

Many people have noticed that their level of nervousness depends in part on their level of preparation. One Christian magazine editor observed that some people no longer experience stage fright — even though their goal is not to benefit their audience — because, through preparation, they have become quite confident of their speaking or singing abilities.

But I ask you, what good is that? If my public speaking is not an act of love, if it doesn’t please the heart of God, then what good is it? Even if we manage to sing or speak without nervousness, even if we manage to impress our audience, what value does it have to God if our motives are contaminated by selfishness?

God is interested in excellence so He certainly wants us to prepare well, but He’s also interested in what motivates us to prepare well. Do we prepare well in order to impress others? Do we prepare well to avoid being embarrassed? Or do we prepare well to increase the benefit we can bring to those who hear? If our secret motive is to exalt ourselves or avoid humiliation, then God won’t be a part of what we’re doing.

At the judgment seat of Christ, our works and motives will be exposed (see I Corinthians 3:9-15). God will test our works by fire to show what was of value and what was worthless. The “wood, hay, and stubble” will be consumed; the “gold, silver, and precious stones” will last for all eternity. Let’s turn our public speaking opportunities into gold, silver, and precious stones by making them acts of love toward our audience.

As wonderful as it would be to avoid the uncomfortable feelings and
symptoms associated with stage fright, there is a much more important issue here. Will we be people God can use? Will we be people His Kingdom can flow through to change people’s lives? If we humble ourselves and focus on serving others, we will be.

In teaching about servanthood, Jesus never said if you know these things you’ll be blessed. He said, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:17)

“Father God, thank you for the talents and abilities you have given me. In every opportunity I have to speak to others, in public or private, empower me to be a blessing. Please train me to humble myself and to speak boldly for the sake of others and for the sake of Your Kingdom.”

By Jamie Lash
[Copyright 2004. This article may be reprinted in its entirety.]

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