“The fear of public disgrace never forced me to keep silent” (Job 31:34 CEV).
Does that phrase make your liver quiver?
It does just that to a lot of people, including me. Yet that’s how I make a living these days. And thankfully, after a long pandemic lull, invitations to speak at church events and writing conventions are starting to pick up again.
But that doesn’t mean my stage jitters are one whit better than the first time I was asked to speak to an audience back in 2010 about how to handle stress, the topic of my Too Blessed to be Stressed series. Ah, the irony! The author about books on stress management, hiding in a bathroom stall backstage, a quivering mass of tears, trying to pull it together with five minutes to go before mounting a stage to speak to 200 people about a topic she obviously was not qualified to talk about.
Yet that was exactly what I needed to be doing. The good Lord knew that none of us fallible humans are qualified as experts on handling stress in every situation, and here was another scenario He was handing me to qualify me as unqualified. Humility is the best teacher of total dependency on Papa God for every need we have … including the need to continue breathing in and out when your lungs feel like they’ve seized up and your heart is about to pound it’s way right out of your chest.
So now are you wondering what in the world got me out of that stress mess? How did I make it through that speech without collapsing?
It was a miracle, I tell you. A genuine grace note right from Papa God.
I started quoting a little Psalm I’d learned as a child when the monsters in my dark closet and under my bed refused stop wrestling with each other as I tried to fall asleep. “When I am afraid, I will trust in Thee,” (Psalm 56:3). Yep. I said it out loud. “When I am afraid, I will trust in Thee!” I said it over and over and louder and firmer until the words penetrated the self-convicting cry of “Fraud!” screaming in my frontal lobe and shattered the accusation into a thousand bits.
My sense of panic was replaced with supernatural calm and peace-that-surpasses-all-comprehension.
I was assured that I was right where I was supposed to be and that my Creator was currently making me into a bold new creation, and I should NOT be ashamed. Every other person in that building who secretly felt like a fraud was also being transformed by the love of Christ, and perhaps one of them needed a little encouragement by a fellow fraud that very evening.
As I dabbed my sweaty face, my heartbeat returned to near-normal and my breathing settled down. But I kept on repeating that verse until I landed on stage in front of the terrifying mic and launched into the message I suddenly believed in more than ever: “With his love, he will calm all your fears” (Zephaniah 3:17 NLT).
So just last week I was discussing this very topic (fear of public speaking) with my friend Amy. Amy has been one of my besties since we met in 7th grade (yes, bosom buddies since we got bosoms) and she totally topped my story with one that kinked my neglected leg hairs.
Amy’s first public speaking experience occurred when she was 30 and had recently (reluctantly) accepted a new position teaching Air Force fighter pilots how to teach other fighter pilots. Okay, what movie comes to mind here? Top Gun, right? So can you imagine yourself walking to the front of a room and turning to face an audience with a young Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer staring back at you?
Truthfully, this whole scenario shocked me. Amy has always been the shy and quiet type. I couldn’t imagine what she was thinking when she accepted such a fish-out-of-water position completely in outer space of her comfort zone. In retrospect, she can’t either. But she did.
So there she was, glared down by a bunch of cocky fighter pilot dudes impatiently waiting to see what this non-fighter-pilot woman could offer them that they didn’t already know (because they knew everything, right?).
Amy very professionally welcomed them, sat on a stool to lead a short icebreaker, then stood to cover her first teaching point … and promptly passed out. Splat. Hit the floor. Out cold.
Her commander scooped her up like she was a sack of potatoes and carried her into his office, where he laid her on a couch until she came to. Totally embarrassed. No, more like deadly mortified.
But she didn’t give up (although she sure wanted to). She tapped into her faith and the next day found her back in that classroom (where she said the pilots were surprisingly kind and understanding), giving it another go. And with practice, she became more and more dependent on strength outside her own to perform her job. As a result, it got easier and less stressful.
Amy’s and my first public speaking experiences will naturally be very different than yours, but hey, are you up for sharing yours with your BFFs here? We’d love to hear your story!
P.S. Listen, my friend, while we’re on this subject, if your church or civic organization is looking for an inspirational speaker on the topic of stress management, please toss my name in for consideration (personal recommendations go a LONG way!). You can refer them to my speaker pages at my website www.DeboraCoty.com or contact me directly through this blog or the contact page at my website. Then if we successfully schedule an event, I hope you’ll come pray with me (and maybe even bring me a calming choco-treat) before tee time. Many thanks!