Few things give us the sense of clear and present danger as speaking in public. This past weekend, I once again faced what can be a nerve-racking experience for many of us. Though I am an experienced speaker, self-doubt inevitably creeps in. I think of this as ‘performance anxiety.’ You are about to go on-stage and be vulnerable in front of a large group of mostly strangers.
Kind as they are likely to be, a little part of me is aware that if I stumble, misquote scripture or make a statement that contravenes the beliefs of the audience, there can be consequences I don’t want to see happen. I want success, which means being liked and respected for what I have to say.
Making this all the more challenging is that I am committed to walking my own talk. I rough in the structure of my talk, remind myself of some relevant stories and then stand up and speak. No script. No rehearsing. I want to be led by the Spirit, which means I need to be weak under God in order to let him be strong in me.
This level of vulnerability leads to tiny self-doubting thoughts creeping into my mind. “What if I lose my train of thought?” “What if I freeze up?” A sinking feeling can hit my stomach. My voice tightens up and I cannot sing worth a darn. Tension seeps across my body.
Oddly, I feel the same way when golfing with my gang. We put the heavy price of one beer at stake for the winning pair. I inevitably feel some performance pressure. I want to win. No, really what I want is to score well and impress. It pretty much never happens. I don’t golf enough to get good at the game.
I recently read astronaut Chris Hadfield’s book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. The level of repetitive detail that he expressed as part of his training reminds me that performance anxiety can be overcome by endless repetition and practice.
However, even that will only take you so far. There will always be that moment of truth when you either deliver or you bomb. Being neutral about that possibility is the real key to doing well. Once I start speaking, I’m fine and things go well. I’m okay with screwing up in the moment. I dug that plank out of my eye for the most part.
Now if only I could get neutral about my golf game. Sigh…it’s a journey. I thank the Lord throughout my day, and especially when speaking in public. However, I could do a better job of bringing him along with on the golf course!
Coming up next. My wife and I travel to the east coast of Canada on a road trip. I wonder what miracles the Lord will have in store for us?
ps. Here is the link to the talk I gave that day called Life in the Spirit: