For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.
- Timothy 1:6-12
“Glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, affects millions; many fear speaking in front of a group more than death. Jerry Seinfeld once joked, “In other words, at a funeral, the average person would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.” Fear of failure, rejection and opposition are all influences that feed and strengthen this phobia.
“According to the book of Acts, the apostles had threats of incarceration, persecution and death if they shared the gospel, much like Middle East Christians today. Asking for boldness during this time was no small thing. In Acts 4, after Peter and John were released from jail and warned not to preach Jesus again, they and their friends prayed for courage to preach all the more, and God answered in a big way.
“Whether giving a public speech, sharing the gospel with your neighbor or standing up for what’s right, ask God for boldness. Evil is so prevalent.”
- Presidential Prayer Team Devotion
You look at the highlights of my life from a junior in high school to my retirement, and glossophobia is the last thing you would think of.
I was the villain in the junior high school play, acting against mostly girls in the cast. I played Marryin’ Sam in Lil Abner my senior year, singing one solo and singing duets with both Lil Abner and Daisy Mae, but singing solos in church caused me to nearly throw up. I was so scared, and, while in church, it was important that I do my best before God. Also, at church, I was myself. On stage, I became the role that I portrayed.
In college, I won two technical presentation awards (on technical merit), but our university lost its bid to become the host of the regional convention because my voice shook during the presentation my junior year. They felt I would have a meltdown if I were the president of the regional convention. They might have been correct on that assessment. Still, I won the presentation competition my senior year also, on the technical merit, not my presentation style.
In graduate school, I taught some graduate classes once the professor realized I knew some techniques in computer programming that he was unfamiliar with. With the small class of graduate students, I was a little more comfortable, but when presenting my findings on an engineering study that I conducted at the chemical plant, where I worked, to upper management, I chose to sit down and just talk to them. If I had stood up, they might not have heard me due to the knocking of my knees.
In the Army, the new Colonel came to my construction site before lunch one day. As they sat down to hear my progress report on my project, the Colonel interrupted, “Lieutenant, I just want to say that I have heard a lot about your stage performance. I am excited to finally get to meet you, and I look forward to your performance at the Engineer Ball tonight in Heidelberg.” He completely threw me off guard. I was well prepared, but suddenly, I could not remember my name. I struggled through the presentation. Afterwards, his executive officer, an LTC, and the Sergeant Major told me that the Colonel was trying to put me at ease, and it looked like it backfired. They assured me that the new Colonel was the nicest guy I would ever meet. “Don’t be scared next time.” It was this colonel who trusted me on a year and a half mission to lead facilities management, normally a civilian’s job. I guess he saw the technical merit, just as they had in college. The Colonel’s nickname for me was “the Whiz Kid”. I was hated by many of my fellow officers, because they had no nickname. I only heard about my nickname when a Major got in my face about not supporting my latest project. Oddly, he ended up giving me what I needed, the personnel to get the job done. He had to. I was relocating all medical personnel, and what would happen if the Major’s children got the sniffles?
By the way, I sang “Harvey and Sheila” that night at the Engineer Ball, with five generals on the dais, and countless colonels, majors, etc., several hundred officers and their wives in their dress uniforms. “Harvey and Sheila” is Alan Sherman’s comical words to “Hava Nagila.” Upon the second line of the second verse, I froze on stage. I had forgotten the song. I quickly recovered, a feat others later marveled. But I cannot remember those words today, roughly on the 40-year anniversary of the event. I felt better about it recently when I heard that Barbara Streisand had the same thing happen to her. She quit live performances until the teleprompters became popular to help the singer remember the words.
My glossophobia did not go away until a few years after that fateful Engineer Ball. I gave a safety talk and started the talk with my impersonation of Justin Wilson, at the time a popular Cajun cook on public television – again playing a role rather than being myself. I even slipped in and out of the Cajun accent with ease. I learned if I could make people laugh, I could do this.
Within five years of my first successful safety talk, I became a technical instructor full time. I also became a cubmaster, the master of ceremonies at Pack meetings where the louder, the wilder, the crazier, the better for boys ages 7-10 years old. I was an instructor of Cub Scout leaders in my spare time. I also started teaching Sunday school about that time, in front of a group of people seven days per week at times.
Remember, before this time, I gave technical presentations the way Don Knotts gives talks about tranquilizer pills. You might find that one on Youtube. In that one, he tries to read a letter, but the paper shakes so bad, that he puts it down and tries to remember what it said. What I have been unable to find on the internet is the Don Knotts speech where he tries to drink a glass of water to calm his nerves, but his hands are shaking so bad, he wears the water with none of it reaching his lips. I have done that!
How can someone, who looked more like Don Knotts giving a speech, spend the majority of his career in front of large groups, six to roughly 600? God gives me the strength.
Yes, I spent a long time down memory lane on purpose here. My problem was debilitating, but God had things that He wanted me to do. So, he cured me of my fear. My fear was not as bad as that of Red Skelton. It is said that Red threw up before each performance. I still get scared today, but I know God is my strength. A short prayer, and I am fine. I was reminded of God’s strength every time I got in front of an audience for 30+ years. Is that not a tremendous blessing?
God can give you the strength to overcome your fears. I am nothing special. Don’t think that you are too insignificant that the God of the Universe won’t grant your prayer an answer.
But be warned, God may cure your fear, because He has something for you to do. Be prepared.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.