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If the Stage Gives You a Fright!

Public speaking is the greatest fear of most people. Standing before a crowd to give a speech paralyzes many individuals. Several surveys report 41% of Americans identified public speaking as their worst fear.[1] Even snakes are not as scary to some people as public speaking. Fear and anxiety are real challenges for many speakers.

Fear is “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.” [2] Speakers can fear inadequacy, failure, rejection, or embarrassment. Fear and anxiety are similar but different. Anxiety is “a state of uneasiness and apprehension, as about future uncertainties.”[3] Anxiety or stage fright often affects a speaker physically as well as emotionally.

In Chapter 11 of our book we explore the common experiences of anxiety and fear which accompany public speaking. We describe the nature of fear, and offer suggestions for managing fear and strategies for utilizing fear. Speakers who understand stage fright, overcome stage fright, and utilize stage fright will become excellent communicators. We also recorded this video on the topic!

 

Understanding Stage Fright

It is important for speakers to understand that stage fright is inevitable. Almost everyone experiences some degree of anxiety or nervousness before speaking. “The person who knows no fear is not only a gross exaggeration, he or she is a biological impossibility.”[4] The presence of fear is real in the life of a public speaker.

If you accept its reality, stage fright can be used for good. Without some anxiety, speakers may become arrogant experts or over-polished performers. When anxiety takes over, a speaker lacking confidence can be overwhelmed and unable to take the stage. A balance of fear and confidence serves a speaker well.

When the mind encounters fear, the body responds. Anxious feelings are typically expressed through sweaty palms, rapid heart rate, dry mouth, trembling hands, and/or knocking knees. The adrenal glands shoot energy throughout the body and the mind often goes blank. A public speaker must quickly get control of any anxious thoughts or distracting behaviors before they take over. Reportedly 80% of all speakers experience stage fright.[5] A Christian speaker has the truth of God’s Word to withstand stage fright and the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome fear. What assuring promises!

The Bible speaks about fear and anxiety. Neither of these feelings are included in the fruit of the Spirit or indicated as traits of the Christian faith. In other words, neither are to be pursued. Instead, they are to be avoided or overcome in personal life and speaking ministry.

The psalmist David acknowledged that God delivered him from all his fears (Ps 34:4). God commanded the prophet Isaiah to fear not “because I am with you, to strengthen you and help you, to hold you up with your righteous right hand” (Isa 41:10). Belief in God’s presence and strength helps a Christian speaker acknowledge anxiety and manage stage fright.

In the New Testament, Jesus encouraged His disciples to speak, despite their fear of inadequacy. When commissioning His disciples, Jesus assured them with these words: “Don’t worry about how or what you should speak. For you will be given what to say at that hour, because you are not speaking, but the Spirit of your Father is speaking through you” (Matt 10:19-20). Christian speakers today can claim that promise and triumph over fear when proclaiming a message from the Lord. In 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul reminded Christians then and now that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and of sound mind.”

 

            [1] Stephen E. Lucas, The Art of Public Speaking (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004), 21.

            [2] “Fear,” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fear (cited 22 March 2013), Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, (Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, 2013).

            [3] “Anxiety,” http://www.thefreedictionary.com/anxiety (cited 22 March 2013), American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed. (Houghton Mifflin, 2009).

            [4] Steve Brown, How to Talk So People Will Listen (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 35.

            [5] Carol Kent, Speak Up with Confidence: A Step-by-Step Guide for Speakers and Leaders (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2007), 139.


1 Comment

  1. Rhonda and Monica:

    While fear and anxiety are real challenges for many, either way you look at it public speaking is not the greatest fear for most U.S. adults:
    http://joyfulpublicspeaking.blogspot.com/2012/10/either-way-you-look-at-it-public_23.html

    Public speaking just is the most common social fear. When you look at what fear is most common, snakes came first in a 1988 Roper Survey, and in 1998 and 2001 Gallup polls:
    http://www.gallup.com/poll/1891/snakes-top-list-americans-fears.aspx

    The latest YouGov survey also has snakes first:
    http://joyfulpublicspeaking.blogspot.com/2014/04/yougov-survey-of-us-adults-found-they.html

    Also, the Gallup and YouGov surveys show there are sizable gender differences between women and men.

    Richard

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