Do you suffer from stage fright?
Stage fright has long been touted as the number one fear among adults. Google just informed me however, that the term has been changed. We now call it – are you ready for this – performance anxiety. I guess in the 21st century, we have to have an anxiety disorder for just about anything. I told my daughter the other day, I have worried mama anxiety disorder.
Many people have told me after I’ve spoken at a seminar or retreat that they think I am amazing. They are so terrified of speaking in front of others; they could never do what I do. Shock replaces that amazement when I tell them that even after speaking publically for years, I still fight the willies every time I speak, sing or play the piano in public.
For some crazy reason, I feel better when I hear that I’m not the only one. In fact, the public speaker whose fight and flight with stage fright gave me the courage to overcome was named Moses. He was so afraid of speaking before others, he had the gall to argue with God about the Lord’s call to the public arena. God’s comeback is right on target: “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I the Lord? (Exodus 4:11)” In other words, Moses, if God gave you the gift and calls you to do a job, it is your responsibility to do it, fear factor not included.
And so Moses went forth to speak. I love tracing Moses’ growth and improvement through the next few chapters of Exodus. Moses overcame his stage fright in four ways.
1. Preparation. God was a great speech coach. He rehearsed with Moses exactly what Moses would tell Pharaoh. When I told my husband my idea for this blog, mentioning the first point as Preparation, he immediately said, “Over-preparation.” He is so right.
Whenever I play the piano in public, I plan on a ten percent deterioration in my playing. In other words, unless I’m really at the top of my game, nerves, an unfamiliar piano, or the pressure of the moment will cause my best practice to degrade by at least ten percent. If I’m not comfortable with a piece at home, I’m destined to mess up on the stage. Knowing what I’m going to say or play, rehearsing it in my mind, being organized before I ascend the stage steps all help me have the confidence to do my job.
2. Practice. Clichés become clichés because they are true. Experience is the best teacher. Our first attempts at anything – cooking, knitting, or playing an instrument – are pretty pathetic. I’ve always wondered what people are most afraid of about the stage. From living with a preacher, I think part of it is the fear of the unknown and fear of looking stupid or inept in front of others. Practice and experience makes the task more familiar. As we learn we can do it, we build our confidence. Looking back at our past experience reminds us we have succeeded and survived before.
God, in his wisdom, let Moses practice – over and over and over. He spoke to Pharaoh at least twelve times and many more to the Israelites. Pay attention to each encounter Moses had with Pharaoh then with the Israelites. With each public performance, Moses became less terse and more eloquent.
3. Passion. At a local fundraising dinner, my table mates were talking about stage fright, er, performance anxiety. One commented that the jitters aren’t so bad when we feel passionate about our topic. That is so true. I’ve heard it said that we need to approach our speaking opportunity as “I have something to say” not, “I have to say something.” When I’m fired up about a topic, I lose all sense of worry over what people think about me.
This weekend, I’ll be leading a teaching ministry seminar in Benson, Arizona. I love teaching teachers how to teach, to help them discover their unique gifts that will enable them to teach. I’m avid about our need to reach our children with the gospel message. After the first shaky deep breath and a few opening sentences, my knees stop twitching, my voice stops trembling and I’m off and running.
God was so frustrated with Moses that He told him to take his brother Aaron with him, to let Aaron be the spokesman. Have you ever noticed who does the talking by the time of the ninth plague? Check out Exodus 10:21-29. It’s Moses! Finally, Moses bought into God’s plan of redemption for the Israelites enough that he didn’t need Big Brother Aaron any more.
4. Prayer: Perhaps I should have put this first. Actually I saved it for last because it is the most important way to rise above the fear of public speaking. We can’t do anything on our own. All of it is a gift. If I’m doing God’s work, I can count that He will enable me and resource me to do the job He has called me to do. God told Moses, “Now go. I will help you speak and will teach you what to say (Exodus 4:12).”
So many times, God has helped me speak in front of others. I know it to the bottom of the soles of my feet. No, the nervousness doesn’t go away. But words and phrases come out of my mouth in such an articulate way that I know it must have come from somewhere other than myself. There have been Sundays I arrived at a Sunday School classroom exhausted and unprepared, and ended up having one of my best teaching sessions. Yes, you may not be able to speak, but the God who dwells within you does.
Like any ability, God expects you to persist in developing and practicing your gift. But God has also promised to work within you and through you, to partner with you, and magnify what you do for His glory.
“If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides. so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” – 1 Peter 4:11.