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Posts Tagged ‘fear of public speaking’

Have you ever spoken in public and felt you bombed afterwards?

That happened to me on the day my daughter was born.

The men in our district were holding a rally at a local church, and someone asked me – one of the new area pastors – to be the guest speaker.

I sensed that God wanted me to talk about the power of the Holy Spirit, and so I prepared diligently … even working on my talk in my wife’s hospital room, both before and after birth.

Dinner that night went fine.  I received a polite introduction.  Then I started to speak … looked at the 85 men gathered in that room … and could barely talk.

For some reason, I couldn’t control my heartbeat … or my breathing … and my throat locked up on me.

I would talk … fight for air … gulp … but not be able to punch out the last few words of a sentence.

Was I embarrassed!  I wanted to die … especially when I noticed the unpleasant demeanor of a pastor whom I suspected didn’t like me anyway.

I had experienced one episode like this before: while preaching during Homiletics class in seminary.  While preaching on Christ’s temptation, the heartbeat/breathing/throat thing happened for the first time ever.  It got so bad that my professor came to the pulpit, stood next to me, and prayed for me in front of the class.

Billy Graham had nothing to worry about.

The following week, I gave the same message in class, and got through it just fine, so I figured that strange occurrence was an anomaly.

And for the next three years, I didn’t have any repeat episodes … until that scary August night.

Had I spoken well, I might have received invitations to be a guest speaker at other churches in the future.  But because I messed up, those invitations weren’t forthcoming.

I honestly didn’t know what had happened to me.  We didn’t have the internet then, so I couldn’t look up my symptoms online.  So years later, I went to the library and discovered a term that best described what happened:

Globus hystericus.

The English version?  Stage fright.

I learned that even singers like Carly Simon and Van Morrison have battled stage fright over the years.

While speaking in public bothers many people, I had always enjoyed it.  I told jokes when my extended family got together … volunteered to read in front of other students in school … talked in front of my youth group constantly … and preached to my home church dozens of times before – all without any problems.

But the seminary class and the men’s rally had one common factor: I wasn’t speaking to people I knew, but to strangers … and in some cases, unfriendly faces.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, it felt like I was on trial.

For the next few years, I spoke exclusively to my home church, and had few problems.  But when our church made plans to start over in a new location, I feared that I might experience stage fright again – and if I bombed, I wondered if my ministry career might be over.

Out of desperation, I made an appointment with a Christian counselor friend.  After I reluctantly shared my problem, he listed my options … including taking a beta blocker, which is designed to combat anxiety.

I opted for the beta blocker – which had to be prescribed by my doctor – and could not believe the difference.

When I spoke, I didn’t gasp for breath.  My heart didn’t race.  My throat didn’t lock up.  I could speak freely.

I stayed on the beta blocker for 7 or 8 years, but it was blunting my emotions, so I stopped taking it … and haven’t had a problem with speaking since.

By struggling with speaking, I learned three lessons:

First, everybody struggles with speaking at one time or another.

I once watched George H. W. Bush give his State of the Nation speech before Congress.  He gulped seven times.

Nearly 15 years ago, I was in the audience as my favorite preacher spoke before a group of pastors.  For the first five minutes, he struggled to regulate his breathing.

If a President and one of America’s greatest pastors sometimes struggle with public speaking, then I shouldn’t beat myself up when I struggle, either.

I just need to stay calm, take a deep breath, and keep going.

Second, there is help available if you’ll seek it out.

The night I bombed out before those men, I went home to an empty house because my wife was still in the hospital.

I called a long-time friend who was also a pastor.  He listened to my pain and encouraged me.  I don’t recall anything he said … just that he cared.

And I don’t think I confided in anyone until I consulted with that Christian counselor, who helped me immediately.

If I had only humbled myself and seen him sooner …

Third, sometimes our unresolved problems aren’t spiritual in nature.

I imagined that if I mentioned my problem to a Christian leader, that person would tell me that my problem was spiritual. 

They would say, “You’re not praying enough.  You’re obviously not prepared.  You must not be called to preach.”

That’s why I went to a Christian counselor.  But he didn’t diagnose my problem as being spiritual or even psychological.  In his mind, my problem was physical.

And when I corrected the physical problem, it was amazing how much more effective I became spiritually.

If you’re struggling with some issue right now, realize that others struggle with your issue … there is help available … and your problem may not be spiritual at all.

Now I don’t struggle with public speaking … but with putting what I write on the internet.

How has God helped you overcome your struggles?

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