When I started preaching and teaching in 1999, I was scared to death. I shook so badly that people could see my legs moving. My face would turn red, and I couldn’t hold my notes in my hands because my hands shook. I thought I was going to faint from fear.
I preach a few times each year and teach bible study every week. Preaching and teaching have taught me a lot about public speaking. I’ll share three of the lessons here.
1. It’s ok to be nervous
One of the biggest mistakes novice speakers make is trying not to be nervous. It’s ok to be nervous. It’s even ok to tell the audience that you’re nervous. Being nervous is normal when you’re doing something unfamiliar. Take a few deep breaths and speak. Take your time. Use your notes. And be confident that you have a valuable message to convey to the audience. You have something they need, so give it to them.
2. Connect with your audience
Finding at least one person with whom to connect in the audience will help ease your nerves. Please don’t stare at that person the entire time; that’s just creepy. Instead, find that one friendly face, smiling at you and nodding their head, and make warm facial expressions toward them while you’re speaking. Scan your eyes around the room, glance at your notes, but find your way back to that friendly face. I usually keep looking toward my pastor because he encourages me, and I find that motivating to keep going.
3. Be yourself when speaking
One of the quickest ways to get nervous and feel ill at ease is not being yourself. Allow your personality to shine through. Are you funny? Incorporate that humor into your delivery. Don’t try to be like anybody else. You are unique, with your own set of gifts. The audience wants to hear what you have to say. Only you can deliver the message the way you can, not your mentor, friend, or colleague.
Applying these three suggestions is just a start toward lessening the anxious feelings you’re experiencing in your gut when you are called upon to speak in public. Just know that it’s ok to be nervous. Keep working at it, keep speaking, and while you’ll get more comfortable speaking in public, you may never lose your nervousness. Even after all these years, I still get nervous, but I’ve learned to incorporate it into my delivery.
I’m rooting for you and want to hear how you applied these tips the next time you have to speak in public.