Chances are you have to give a message or presentation in the next month.
And chances are you’re already nervous about it.
No matter how long you’ve been speaking or how often you do it, almost all of us get nervous before we speak.
I was texting with a friend recently, and he mentioned he was suffering ‘the usual nerves’ because he had to speak Sunday at his church.
He’s an amazing communicator God has used to speak to thousands of people again and again. All I could think of was “you always do such a great job…why are you nervous?”
But it’s just a reminder that for most of us, including me, the fear never entirely goes away. After all, fear of public speaking is allegedly the #1 fear people experience.
Even though the fear doesn’t entirely go away, the fear doesn’t have to be debilitating. And it certainly doesn’t have to be destructive.
In fact, using a few simple strategies, you can learn to manage it and maybe even make it work in your favour.
First A Little Theology
Of all the directions issued in scripture, one of the most common is simple “Do not be afraid.”
I need to hear that all the time. Fear often stands in the way of faith. And somewhere in that dialogue between God or an angel and people is misplaced confidence.
I might always be asking “Do I have what it takes”, but the real question is not whether I have what it take, but whether God does.
Often the difference between an effective leader and an ineffective leader is the difference between someone who pushes through their fear and someone who succumbs to it.
Clearly God expects to experience fear (otherwise telling people to not be afraid makes no sense); he just encourages you to push through it.
The question is how do you do it?
5 Ways to Calm Your Nerves Before You Speak
Naturally, you want to pray and trust God. And I’m just going to assume you’re going to do that. But what practical strategies can get you through your fear and on into the message you need to deliver?
When I follow these 5 practices, I find my fear becomes far more manageable, and the little bit that’s left just gives me an edge that is actually helpful, not harmful. It pushes you to do better.
1. Prepare well in advance
You can over-prepare, but let’s face it, that is NOT the problem for most communicators. Most communicators under-prepare, and they prepare far too close to the deadline. I know this is my natural tendency (I work well under pressure), so I have to fight this with every talk and every series.
While I have never been a “Saturday night special” guy, far too many preachers and speakers leave the task of preparing a message to the 11th hour. If you’re a gifted communicator, you will do okay, but you will never develop your gift by growing your skill set.
I hear people say all the time that leaving things to the last minute “allows the Spirit room to move”. I had no idea the Spirit only showed up to help the unprepared. And that also assumes the Holy Spirit is not present in you study weeks in advance. I’m not saying you should never follow a prompting (you should for sure), but you should also follow the prompting to do your homework.
If it’s helpful, I wrote a post here about how to prepare a talk well enough in advance that you won’t need to use your notes.
2. Understand your message inside out
I don’t think you need to memorize your message, you just need to understand it. For me personally, I try to figure out the big ‘sections’ of the message and I try to learn my introduction and conclusion in great detail.
As long as I can remember where I’m going to next, I don’t need to worry about every single thing I have to say in a section of the message…I can just move on to the next section.
You already use this method in your everyday conversations. You don’t memorize what you need to say. You just understand what you want to communicate as in, I need to make sure we cover these three things. Then the conversation takes care of itself.
3. Focus on your audience, not on how you think you’ll do
Confession, I spend way too much time worrying about whether people will like me, how I’ll do and whether my humour will connect than I should. It’s a completely selfish attitude when you think about it.
Naturally, I want to do a good job, but I work hard to shift my focus away from me and toward God and the audience. How can I serve and honour them in my talk?
Not surprisingly, when I take the focus off myself, the talk itself tends to go better.
4. Just be yourself
I know, we all have speakers and preachers we admire and listen to regularly. And too many of us have a running dialogue in our head that goes something like “How come I can’t be as funny/clever/brilliant/dead on/effective as _____________.
But the truth is, you’re not them. And you never will be. And if you try to imitate them, you lose your voice.
God called you to speak. Or the group asked you to come in.
So be yourself. You’re much better when you are.
5. Pray that God would use it, no matter how it goes
We all have talks that we think bombed. I have had more than my share. Sometimes it was because I wasn’t prepared. And sometimes it’s just that they…well, bombed.
And yet I’m amazed how many times when I think a talk tanked, someone will come up and say “that really helped” or “that was just what I needed to hear.” I’ve seen people come to Christ during talks I gave on money when I didn’t even offer an invitation, and people surrender their lives to Jesus during a volunteer event when we were doing communion. I mean, God does the strangest things.
Which reminds me that Paul is 100% accurate when he says that it not our words that matter nearly as much as God’s spirit at work. Again, that’s no excuse for poor preparation (Paul went on to speak with eloquence at times and wrote some of the most beautiful words in any ancient literature).
But once again…this wasn’t about us anyway. It’s about the power of God.
These give things help me walk onto a platform with my perspective in check.
What helps you?
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