Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking

The title of this post is attention-getting for an obvious reason – most people fear the thought of standing before a group of people and speaking… out loud. I was too, and still am to some degree. When I was a kid, I was painfully and awkwardly shy. In the fifth grade, I had to give an oral report on the life of Will Rogers. I handled it by self-interviewing. I sat in the teacher’s chair and rolled left and right, pretending to be Will Rogers on one side, and something of a Johnny Carson on the other. Did it work? Well I turned red, teared up a bit, and sweated profusely, but I got an “A.” I didn’t have to speak before another audience for about seven years.

Now, I’m a Pastor. I preach three times per week, teach classes, lead Bible studies and small groups, and occasionally speak in a revival or conference. Because of my role, I’ll speak before an audience between 150 and 180 times this year. My church is not large by modern standards, but our Sunday morning crowd often runs about 230 to 250, so there are plenty of potentially intimidating faces to be concerned with.

Because of my experience as a Pastor, I aced some college courses on speech and communication and it’s actually become a passion for me – I love it now. What has made the difference? That’s what I hope to share…


Know Your Material

This first rule is the most important in terms of eliminating nervousness. Relieving the stress is all about preparation. Ask anybody who speaks publicly on any regular basis and they’ll tell you about the common nightmare of being behind a podium in front of a crowd only to discover you don’t have a shirt on! It may sound silly, but it’s the constant paranoia of a lack of preparation. Know your material.

Shoot From the Hip

Even though you should know your material, I still recommend shooting from the hip. I preach without any notes. Others use a manuscript or a brief outline. There’s not a right way, but I’d challenge you to shoot from the hip a bit.

Speak From the Heart

Infuse passion into your message. Why? Because people don’t care how much you know until they know that you care about what you want them to know! Allow your emotions to become involved in the story you’re telling. People connect with story and emotion, and if you allow yourself to be free with your emotions (within reason) then it eliminates one more pressure – that of holding back.

Help, Serve, Give

One of the best tips I ever received about overcoming the fear of public speaking was the need to realize that my audience needs what I have to say. You’ll eliminate the nervousness of speaking by giving to your audience generously with a goal of investing something into their lives. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Remember, the people to whom you are listening need what you have to say.

Love Your Audience

Every time I go to the pulpit to preach I pray, “Lord, help me to love these people.” It’s one of the reasons I love the picture of a Pastor being a shepherd, which requires attention and affection for the sheep. Lead them, love them. This is the greatest peace of advice I can give, especially if you’re speaking in a ministry context.

I’ll be writing more about this subject soon, but feel free to offer your own tips in the comments.

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