After years of speaking in front of groups (and settling into a nice comfort level), earlier this year I BOMBED. High-pitched whistling through tension-taut air as the woman who is supposedly a trainer of speakers delivers a sinker (or stinker), proving once and for all she really is an oaf.

I might be over-dramaticizing my stage failure, but I certainly didn’t wow the crowd. And this was a crowd I was dying to impress.

THAT LITTLE FACT would be the highly flammable fuse on my failure.

It was a classic Peter-walking-on-the-water moment (Matthew 14:22-31). If I’d have kept my eyes focused on the message, it would’ve been smooth sailing. Instead, I allowed myself to get caught up in the elements:

  • I have to impress them!
  • Is that so-and-so in the crowd????
  • Maybe I should have worn a different outfit.
  • My voice sounds squeaky. Doesn’t my voice sound squeaky?
  • Idiot. Idiot. Idiot.
  • Dear Lord, don’t let me embarrass myself.

In the midst of this panicked self-talk, it’s what you don’t see that is the most telling.

I lost sight of The Message.

My eyes slipped off the correct objective and landed squarely on my subconscious one: making myself look good. And the more I focused on making myself look good, the more the frivolous elements became a force to be reckoned with.

Speaker, communications trainer and good friend, Jeff Vankooten, says “Clarity is the antidote to anxiety.” Paraphrased: If you want confidence, focus on the message, not the fluff. Make sure you know what you want to communicate ahead of time, and squash your psyche’s attempts to hijack your attention away from the message and on to your image.

Because the minute your image steals the stage, you’re sunk.

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