“Sing unto the Lord a new song” (Psalm 96:1; 98:1; etc).
She has a marvelous voice, one anybody this side of Juillard would be proud to own. When she sang in church with her musician husband, they blended wonderfully and blessed the congregation. But she undermined her own effectiveness by her timidity, that paralyzing self-consciousness which froze her in place and refused to let her enjoy the moment.
Stage fright, we call it.
Who among us is unacquainted with that monster?
Most of us know precisely how she feels.
That’s why, on the final night of our meeting, as I expressed appreciation in private to this couple, I spoke to her quietly. “Can I tell you one thing about your presentation?”
She smiled shyly. “I know what you’re going to say.”
And she did, to a point.
I said, “You have a beautiful smile. Look at the sketch I did of you this week. You were smiling. But I want you to use that smile when you sing. It will double the effectiveness of what you share.”
Don’t ask me how I know that or whether it’s true. I just believe it.
Nervousness. Shyness. Fear. Stage fright. Self-consciousness. Fear of public performance. However we phrase it, it’s a frightful thing that many of the Lord’s most-gifted servants have to contend with on a regular basis.
Now, we have all learned we can make ourselves smile. You just turn your lips up. But commanding our knees not to knock, our voice not to flutter, or our spirits not to panic is another matter altogether. Anxiety does not respond to commands, otherwise I’d have long ago left behind that tension I feel before doing certain things (which will remain nameless here for the simple reason that they do not matter).
So, readers will want to understand that in talking to the young singer, I was speaking to my own inner self as well.
Call it stage fright, anxiety, or plain old fear. It must be faced and manhandled, wrestled into submission, and made to serve our purposes, not dominate us. Otherwise it will rule our lives.
We know certain things about this kind of fear of public performance:
1) It is natural. And it is universal. Everyone feels it at one time or other.
2) It feels awful. No one enjoys it. “Fear hath torment,” Scripture says somewhere, and that is so true.
3) It is a preoccupation with self. Can I do this? They’re all looking at me. What if I stumble?
4) If we give in to such fear, we retreat further into our shell, displease the Lord who has gifted and commissioned us, and fail those who need what we have to offer.
5) This fear must be overcome or channeled or dealt with in some way, otherwise it can thoroughly whip us up one side and down the other, then lock us inside the tiniest dungeon on the planet.
6) People who serve God regularly and successfully all know this monster. They all have testimonies as to how they subdued it. (Few of them co-exist with it. Most tamed the fear and turned it into a kitten from the lion it was formerly.)
So, we asked some of them for advice.
My friends’ stories were all over the map, as expected. Most however, agreed that the following actions are beneficial….
–a) Practice, practice, practice. Then, rehearse some more. Some rehearse in front of a mirror, others while driving down the highway or taking a walk.
–b) Pray for your audience, pray for yourself, and pray that the Holy Spirit will use what you offer. Then, trust Him to answer your prayer and get out there and do your job.
–c) Keep telling yourself: “This is not about me.” That self-consciousness must be put in its place again and again.
–d) Believe in your material. Assure yourself the audience needs what you have to offer. Focus on them and not on yourself.
–e) Keep in mind the audience is on your side. They are not spectators but participants with you. They are not critics but team members, pulling for you to do well. Not one person in the room wants to have wasted their time in coming today. Believe that and relax.
–f) Carry notes if necessary. In my case, since (in my retirement ministry) most of what I preach has been given numerous other times in one way or another, notes are unnecessary. However, when I was pastoring and rendering two or three new messages weekly, much of the material was not as familiar as I would have liked. So, carrying notes in my Bible helped, whether I used them or not.
–g) Give yourself freedom to make a mistake. Even the best speakers and singers goof sometimes. Be prepared to laugh it off, to take it in stride, and go right on. If you will handle it easily, your audience will also. But if you die on the spot from embarrassment, the crowd will share your pain and nothing about it will be good.
The audience will take their cue from you.
–h) Remember that no one in an audience enjoys seeing the speaker or singer freeze up. If you tense up, everyone in the room is uncomfortable. I suggest you get to the room (or church) early. Walk around. Sit in different places. Envision what you will be doing. Greet some of the early arrivals. Laugh. Relax.
Here’s a promise….
The day will come when you will love publicly singing or speaking so much you cannot wait for the next opportunity. That adrenalin will still be there and some will call it nerves. But you know better. This is pure energy. And you’re going to channel it into your presentation.
You will be a better singer or speaker because of this high energy. It propels you to take nothing for granted, but to pray and prepare and to keep your mind on your business.
In time you will pray never to be without this shot of adrenalin before you do your thing. It’s a gift when properly channeled.
Now, go out there and wow them. For Jesus’ sake. (I mean that. Really. )
The Lord wants you to do well more than anyone else in the room. Anyone questioning this should read what God said to Jeremiah about stage fright. It’s found in Jeremiah chapter 1, verses 17-19.