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Tame Your Fear of Public Speaking

  • Deborah Smith Pegues Author
  • Published Aug 24, 2011
Tame Your Fear of Public Speaking

“You can speak well if your tongue can deliver the message of your heart.” John Ford, American film director

Moses couldn’t fathom being the chosen spokes­person to persuade Pharaoh to release the Israelites from bondage. Surely, God knew about his embarrassing speech impediment. Let’s listen in on their dialogue:

But Moses pleaded with the Lord, “O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.”

Then the Lord asked Moses, “Who makes a person’s mouth? Who decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.”

But Moses again pleaded, “Lord, please! Send anyone else” (Exodus 4:10-13 nlt).

Not even God could convince Moses that he was capable of fulfilling the speaking aspect of his historic assignment. God became angry with Moses, and finally agreed that Moses would do the leading and his brother Aaron would be his spokesperson (Exodus 4:14-16).

Fear Analysis

Moses was not alone. According to Toastmasters International, glossophobia,the fear of public speaking, is number one of all human fears. It is rooted in the core fears of inadequacy and loneliness (isolation). Most people get anxious when required to speak to a group because they are afraid of being humiliated, of looking foolish, or even panicking and drawing a blank. Perhaps they remember an embarrassing childhood experience in which the whole class laughed at them as they stood up front, or the panic they felt when they forgot their line in the school play. Such events can scar your confidence for a lifetime if you don’t “jump back on the bicycle” and ride it again.

Because I tend to speak rapidly, I used to fear when giving a speech that I would run out of material before my allotted time was up and have nothing else to say. On a few occasions this has happened, despite timing my speeches beforehand. However, the grace of God has covered me with “on the spot” information and insight each time as I have shifted into faith mode.

I admit it can be a little scary. Nevertheless, I know that goals and objectives are accomplished by communicating with people—sometimes large groups at a time. No leader or anyone desiring to achieve anything meaningful in life can afford to succumb to this fear by avoiding public speaking opportunities. Further, allowing fear, shyness, or self-consciousness to keep us from sharing the information God has entrusted to us is the epitome of pride and self-centeredness. Unfortunately, many people decide that man’s opinion or evaluation is more important than God’s purpose. “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe” (Proverbs 29:25).

Action Plan

When a group invites you to speak, they have already concluded that you can deliver the goods. You don’t have to be a great orator with a huge vocabulary. You simply have to deliver a message. You do not have to emulate any other speaker; you just have to decide to be the best “you” possible. Try the strategies below and soon you will find public speaking to be an invigorating and satisfying experience.

-- Stick to subjects for which you have a passion or related experience.

-- Thoroughly research your topic. Get the facts; find illustrations, anecdotes, and simple statistics that bring life and practical application to your points. Internet search engines, such as Google, are a speaker’s dream. Simply input your topic and a host of resources will appear. Remember, confidence is rooted in knowledge. The more you know about your topic, the more confident you will be.

-- Don’t over prepare. Limit your speech to three points. Actually, one principle or big idea thoroughly researched and supported with great stories or examples will be even more memorable.

-- Settle on the purpose of the speech. Do you want to inform, inspire, persuade? Whatever your objective, know that the information must be presented in an interesting and entertaining fashion to hold the audience’s attention.

-- Check out the place where you’ll be speaking. If possible, stand at the lectern and with the eyes of your faith, envision yourself delivering a powerful message and having a great time to boot. See everyone in attendance soaking up the value of your words.

-- Wear an appropriate and attractive outfit that makes you feel confident. This is not the time to be distracted by self-consciousness.

-- Forget about messing up. Chances are that you will know more about the topic of your speech than 90 percent of the audience. If you stumble, so what? It signals the audience that you are human—just as they are. People will connect better with your vulnerability than your strength. Besides, they are rooting for you. They want you to succeed.

-- Rather than using postcards, print speaking notes (using at least 16-point type) on regular 8.5 by 11 paper. Punch holes and anchor the sheets in a one-inch, three-ring binder to eliminate the possibility of dropping them during your presentation. Many speakers have experienced the embarrassment of trying to collect and reorganize postcards that have fallen and scattered on the floor.

-- Don’t be a slave to the notes. After a few speeches in which you write out every word, start using only an outline with key facts and examples. Just practice being familiar with the information.

-- Create a bond with the audience during the critical first three minutes of your speech (based on information you have already obtained about them). Humility will take you a long way here. Try making a candid confession (use discretion), telling a story, asking for a show of hands to a question, complimenting the audience, or using humor. A word of caution: Tell a joke only if it is really funny and you are good at delivering a punch line; test the suitability of the joke on your friends first.

-- Focus on imparting value to the audience rather than trying to impress them or getting stressed over how they perceive you.

-- Maintain good eye contact; focus on the friendly faces to maintain confidence.

-- Don’t belabor a point. If you notice people looking around, doodling, or talking to one another, conclude your point and move on to another—or to the conclusion. Vary the pitch of your voice often. Time your stories to break the monotony of facts.

-- During your speech, deal with symptoms of nervousness as they occur. Dr. Paul Witt, communications professor at Texas Christian University suggests the following:1Dry mouth? Take a little sip of water.

  • Knees knocking? Shift your weight and flex your knees.
  • Hands trembling? Put them together.
  • Voice quivering? Pause, take a deep breath or two, and smile. It is amazing what a smile will do.
  • Sweating? Forget it, nobody sees that anyway.

-- Keep running toward your fear of public speaking. Accept every formal and informal opportunity to hone your skills. Consider joining your local Toastmasters International club (, a world leader in helping people become more competent and comfortable in front of an audience. Practice. Practice. Practice.

-- If you are asked to bring a biblically based message—a Word from God—do not rely on your intellect only. My now-deceased mentor always warned, “Prepare as if it all depends on you; but when you present, know that it all depends on God.” Yes, preparation is essential, but you must learn to rely on the Holy Spirit for the words you’ll speak. The apostle Paul proclaimed, “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5 kjv).

Taken from: 30 Days to Taming Your Fears. Copyright © 2011 by Deborah Smith Pegues. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR. Used by permission.

Deborah Smith Pegues is a Bible teacher, a speaker, a certified public accountant, and a certified behavioral consultant specializing in understanding personality temperaments. As well as the bestselling 30 Days to Taming Your Tongue (more than 500,000 sold), she has written 30 Days to Taming Your Finances, 30 Days to Taming Your Stress, and Emergency Prayers. She and her husband, Darnell, have been married for more than 32 years and make their home in California.