Nervousness in Speaking

Presenter: Bob Deffinbaugh, Chuck Gianotti

Question: What can I do about nervousness when I give announcements or teach or am otherwise up front. I am a new elder

Chuck Gianotti: I am reminded of the great basketball player Bill Russell, who threw up before every game because of nervousness. All that is to say, that even those with much experience and expertise, the “Pros” still get nervous before they are “on tap.” So, you are in good company if you get nervous.

I know of a brother in a small church who slowly became more involved in being “up front” giving announcements, or praying before the congregation. His voice quivered, his hands shook, but he kept on plugging away. In time, he got better at it, but even now after 40 years he still has a bit of quiver in his voice … and laughs about it now.

Here are some thoughts that may be helpful.

1) First and foremost, just before you get up to speak or announce, have a personal time of prayer with the Lord asking for strength. Remember if he could help a stammering, stuttering man like Moses be able to speak in front of the most powerful man in the known world at that time, he can help you speak to your congregation in the church.

2) Remember, the people in the audience are “on your side.” They want you to succeed. They are also aware that you are new to this and thus will most likely be understanding and forgiving of mistakes.

3) Accept your nervousness as part of the territory of being used of God. You might even find some humor in it. The last thing you want is for you and others treat it like the elephant in the room that no one will talk about. That will only heighten the anxiety. For example, saying something like, “Please excuse my nervousness, as I get used to doing this.” You might even add a little humor: “If you want to help, then you can sit there and be nervous for me. Now, everyone lift up your hand and start shaking it with me.” Obvious, this may sound dumb, the idea is to somehow defuse the situation.

4) When you first get up to speak/announce, take a deep breath. Anxiety/nervousness can lead to shortness of breath, so be intentional with your breathing.

5) Make sure your notes are clear and easy to read, so that if you get lost in your words, you can easily find your way back. And rehearse you closing line or statement. Sometime out of nervousness, a person can end up rambling on and not know how to quit. If you find yourself in that situation, just go to your closing statement.

6) If you make a mistake (our worst fear), then simply correct yourself and go on. I have done that with preaching, after I realized I said something completely wrong or left out a key word that changed the meaning of what was said. “Let me restate that, because I think I said that wrong.”

7) It can be helpful to pick out a few “friendlies” in the audience, namely those most sympathetic to your struggle and focus your eye contact on them when you speak and think of yourself as having a conversation with them and not the entire congregation. As you get more experienced, you will be able move your eyes around the audience as you speak.

8) Be encouraged that the more you do it, the easier it will be come. It may or may not go away completely, but I must admit that after preaching and leading God’s people for close to 40 years, sometimes I still get nervous before I get up front.

Bob Deffinbaugh: One of our elders said this: “You don’t know how hard it is for some of us to get up and speak.” I’m sure he was right, but it is also true that he did speak, and the more he did, the better he became. One of our “more shy” elders has made incredible progress. One of the things I have noted is that he has given a great deal of thought to what he says, so there is a lot of preparation ahead of time.

Sometimes nervousness can be the result of thinking too much of myself. How will I look to others? Will I do something really embarrassing? The more inward my focus, the more likely I am to make a mess of things. I find 1 Corinthians especially instructive: “Let all things be done for edification” (14:26). The more intent I am on edifying others, the less I think about myself, and the more I think about what needs to be said. How can I speak that will truly encourage others in their relationship to the Savior? Has someone just said or done something for which I can express appreciation, or say an encouraging word? Is the meeting going long, so that I need to shorten what I planned to say? Words have great power, either to encourage or to dishearten (sounds like what we read in Proverbs, doesn’t it?).

The Scriptures say that we should be slow to speak, and quick to hear. Those of us with the gift of gab make speak too quickly, because it is easy for us to do so. Those who are more reticent may give more thought to what they say, and their words may actually have more benefit.

I note that Paul says that when he was in Corinth he spoke “in weakness and with fear and trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3). I think that his sense of weakness was a good example. Paul realized that apart from the Spirit of God bringing his words to life, they would be powerless on their own, and thus he had a deep sense of his dependence on God when he spoke. Paul is also the one who later wrote about his thorn in the flesh, which (so far as we can tell was not taken away). “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Cor 12:9 NASB).

In my opinion, most of us need more awareness of our weakness, rather than confidence in our apparent strengths.