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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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  1. I was speaking at a morning chapel in Mexico when I was much younger (19/20?).I was so nervous. One of the missionaries took me aside in the morning and told me:
    It helped and I’ve used it since then a few times.

    Jim Gray’s last blog post..Save the Dummies, and Their Blogs!

  2. Hi Brandon,

    I also was awkward and shy as a youngster and also had to give a “traumatic” book report in school.

    Here’s the thing: when we’re young our personalities are not fully formed and we’re beginning to shift identification from parents and other elders to our peers. Therefore, what happened back then was truly when we were not who we are now.

    The reality is that fear of public speaking is so easily cured it’s not even funny; the biggest barrier is “the stage fright monster under the bed”; like other invented monsters, it simply doesn’t exist.

    What does exist is our ability to relate to our memories or imagined future in a way that scares us – the key here is that WE are doing it to ourselves.

    Not a blame game; only the very, very critical distinction and realization that fear of public speaking is not caused by a virus or any other source but ourselves and that means we’re in the driver’s seat and can decide on a new direction.

    For anyone having stage fright or fear of public speaking, it’s helpful to 1. discern then “mess up” your ‘recipe’ for creating that fear and 2. use the natural process of emulation to give us a “hero’s example” to follow.

    Via that process, in short, one may easily realize that fear of public speaking is not a “thing” that exists, it’s a process of relating to our internal processes, and then watch out! You’ll become addicted to public speaking… no exaggeration.

    David Portney

  3. Brandon, great insight on this topic! I was one of those of guys that would rather jump onto a sinking ship in the frozen Atlantic than get up in front of people and speak. With this fear, God called me to preach. Talk about intimidating!

    Your tips are invaluable and definitely applicable for anyone. I, like you have learned to speak without notes. I have some points I write out just in case I get nervous and lose track. but after using a manuscript and realizing that I speak as if I am reading and fear taking my eyes of the page because I’ll lose my place in my notes, the freedom of knowing the material and speaking unchained really helps with my style of delivery.

    Thanks for posting this! I know it will help many.

    Dave Ingland’s last blog post..How do you trust in God?

  4. Great advice, and insight Brandon. I will definitely use these to sharpen my public speaking skills. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Excellent article. I guess this was written some time ago but I’ll throw in some comments …

    Dittos on especially it being about the audience and not yourself. I guess that’s more applicable to preaching in particular, but even for corporate keynote speaking, making it about what the audience wants instead of what you want makes all the difference.

    As for shooting from the hip, what works for me is preparing notes using just key or “trigger” words. *Never write a speech out word for word or try to memorize it. Rather, use the key words to remind you of what to say and then just speak from your heart, as you mentioned. Your audience does not know your speech and won’t know you made a mistake unless you tell them. And back your points with stories. They’re easy to retell and audiences love stories–gives you instant credibility.

    I was also add to use your voice. Speak loudly but without shouting. Speak louder than you would one on one. This gives you authority and confidence. Don’t rush–don’t be afraid to pause and collect your next thought. Pausing actually make you look very confident.

    Finally, use your eyes. Some say this is the most crucial. Don’t stare at the ceiling or the floor, and don’t try to imagine everyone in their underwear–that doesn’t work. Instead, look people in the eye randomly for 3 to 5 seconds. This can take practice. Again, use your family and friends. This technique alone will make you look like a professional speaker.

    Google: Divine Knowledge Transfer

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