No longer afraid of public speaking

A few weeks ago at a Bible study I attend, the leader gave us a series of ice breaker questions to answer as a kick-off to our fall study.

One particular section of the questionnaire asked us to describe something we were afraid of and something we were not afraid of. I got a little hung up on the answers.

First, I couldn’t think of a great answer off the top of my head of something I’m afraid of. I ended up going with the basic “fear of heights” as my answer. So did a handful of other women. This statement is true for me. I AM afraid of heights. But it’s not something I’m scared to talk about–which was how the question was phrased. Later I came up with a better answer, but probably not one I would share in that type of setting. It would have taken the atmosphere of the group from light-hearted to serious in a single sentence.

My first answer to the second question, something I’m not afraid of, was kids. I knew what I meant by that. I genuinely love children. I love parenting. But in a group of moms, that answer seemed, well, weird. So I changed it.

I, Malinda, am not afraid of public speaking.

And those words then mocked me at the end of the week as my stomach turned and churned and my heart tried to pump out of my chest as I waited in the stage wings to publically speak.

A few months ago, a friend of mine from college days contacted me, asking if I would be interested in being a speaker at an upcoming women’s retreat for her church’s denomination. I was. Then she gave me a list of words to pick from. Restore was an option. That word seemed a logical selection considering I lovingly dubbed an entire year of my life Project: Restore. So, OK. I was going to do something new. I’ve given presentations before, but I’d never been a speaker at a retreat. Even so, I was filled with excitement at the opportunity.

I decided early on that I would use Psalm 23 as my text. There’s a line in it that says, “He restores my soul.” I narrowed in on the He who does the restoration, and the what that’s being restored. To begin my study of the psalm, I prepared to lead a short Bible study for moms and kids. As a group, we spent a few weeks over the summer walking through the psalm and answering questions about the text. Once my kids were back in school and I had uninterrupted time to write, I started in on my retreat manuscript. I know some speakers who can get away with an outline. That’s not me. So I wrote word for word what I wanted to communicate.

As the event neared, I had a couple friends read through and edit my writing. While I waited for feedback, I worked on my PowerPoint. Both friends made good suggestions as well as encouraged me in the work I was doing. I took their suggestions, made a few changes, then started practicing.

And then there was the Monday morning Bible study. I’d already been practicing, and felt good about the progress. The retreat weekend was on my mind, but not in a heavy way. And so I filled in the blank: “I’m not afraid of public speaking”. A few days later, the joke seemed to be on me.

The weekend fast approached. I was set to leave for the retreat Friday. Wednesday night I had trouble falling asleep. Thursday I awoke with knots and nausea. Could I really do this? Friday I awoke with knots and nausea. Again, could I really do this? Friday afternoon I left for the retreat. For supper that evening, the camp served salmon. Again, nausea. Seriously folks, fish is never friendly to my senses, let alone when my nerves are high.

I was slated to speak Saturday morning during the 9 a.m. session. I managed to choke down a little breakfast and foul coffee, then went to spend some time on my knees in prayer–after getting a microphone hooked to my ear. Soon enough the song cue for me to head to the wings of the stage began. I stood behind a row of curtains, certain when I took the stage everyone would be able to see my thumping heart. But then my friend introduced me, my photo flashed onto the screen and my feet moved toward center stage. I started speaking. My heart stopped attempting escape. I made it through my allotted time and I ENJOYED myself

So maybe I’m not afraid of public speaking after all?

Malinda Just has been writing Lipstick & Pearls for the Free Press since 2008. To read more of her writing, visit her blog,

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