Dealing with nerves when giving a talk

[This post is part of the series on Preaching for youth]. Being nervous before or during a talk or sermon is completely normal. It’s not something to worry about or feel ashamed about.

But your nerves can hinder you from speaking freely and with conviction. So here are some tips on dealing with nerves while speaking to youth. There are four things you can do before hand and four tips for dealing with nerves while talking.

What you can do beforehand to minimize the changes of getting really nervous for a talk or sermon:

Know your stuff

When you’re prone to nerves, make sure you know your stuff. That means preparing your talk well and making sure you know it by heart. There should be no doubt in your mind that you have done everything you can in prepping your sermon, so that cannot cause extra nerves. You should be able to focus on your delivery because you have the content down to a t.

Dress comfortably

I’m a very casual dresser and for me, having to dress up adds stress. I get worried my blouse will wrinkle, that I will get too hot wearing a jacket, that I will have no place to put the battery pack of the head set mic I’m using…so even when I’m preaching in the ‘big church’, I will dress as casual as I can get away with.

If you are often nervous when giving a talk, make sure to dress comfortably in something that fits well and that you feel good in. It will make you feel comfortable and more self-confident, which is what you want.

Pre-talk routine

If you’re going to give talks regularly, you’ll need to come up with a good pre-talk routine that helps you combat nerves. That may include solitude, an hour of prayer, reading a book, or reading over your notes till it’s time. Others prefer to be around people, to seek distraction, to eat or even play a game. Find out what works for you and stick to it.

Personally, I never look at my notes right before a service. When I speak in a youth service for instance, I like hanging out with the youth right before. It helps me focus on whom I’m talking to, it reinforces my love and compassion for my audience and that helps me relax.

Watch what you eat/drink

For a while, we had the habit of going to McDonald’s with the band and everyone involved in the youth service right before. That didn’t work so well for me, because eating greasy food doesn’t make me feel comfortable or relaxed. Eating something light works better for me. Eating a lot of sugar is something to be mindful of as well, because it can cause blood sugar spikes and the accompanying drops, with severe effects on your well-being. Drinking a lot of caffeine may have negative effects on your nerves as well, so be careful with the coffee and the cola.

Once you’re ‘on’, there are still things you can do when you feel nerves hitting you. Here are four practical tips:

Breathe

Sounds like a game changer, right? Seriously, nerves can affect your breathing to the point where you’re only taking very shallow breaths. It can affect your voice and make it tremble. It can even make you hyperventilate. So when you feel you’re nervous, focus on breathing in deeply and slowly. Let the air not just fill your lungs, but your belly as well. It will bring your heart rate down and help you relax.

I tend to speak way too fast when I’m nervous (or excited) and this breathing technique even helps combat that. I just take one deep breath in between sentences, and then another one after two more sentences. My speed will decrease automatically and I find my ‘inner rest’ as I call it. It also helps to get your voice under control if you tremble.

Pray

Of course you don’t have the time for a lengthy prayer, but you can say a quick prayer and ask God for help, for peace and rest. A ‘God, please help me’ will do the job. Or you could pick a ‘breathing prayer’ in advance that you can focus on to help you relax. Something like ‘You are my rest’ or “Peace be with me’ will work.

Find a position of rest

Nerves often show in trembling hands or restless movements. If you feel or see yourself doing that, find your position of rest. This is a basic position you need to practice beforehand in which you can relax in being relatively still, without looking like a corpse. It can be standing behind a lectern with two hands on the lectern, it can be standing still with your hands loosely folded into each other above your waist, it can be any position you feel comfortable in that communicates well to your audience (for more about this, see the post on What to do with your hands when you’re preaching).

Take a sip of water

Taking a sip of water can also help you find some rest when you’re nervous, especially if you’re suffering from a dry mouth. Just make sure there’s a glass of water (not a bottle – this looks very weird on stage) ready and take a sip. You can use about ten seconds for this and take a deep breath right after, to calm yourself down.

Remember: it’s okay to be nervous, don’t beat yourself up over it. Just breathe and tray to relax. God is with you, every step of the way!

Are you nervous when you give a talk? How do you deal with your nerves?

[Image: BenRogersWPG via Compfight cc]

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