Communication Devotional, Eloquence is Overrated, by Donna Elkins

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Eloquence is Overrated

Then Moses said to the Lord, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” Exodus 4:10 (NASB)

Most of us can relate to the idea of speech anxiety.  For many, speaking in front of a crowd elicits all types of physical reactions like shaking, sweating, butterflies, rapid heartbeat, as well as mental reactions of fear, nervousness, and inability to think.  According to the University of Pittsburgh Department of Communication website devoted to speech anxiety,¹ feeling anxiety around speaking is normal and nearly everyone who has to give a speech or presentation gets nervous, even those who are very experienced speakers.

So why does the thought of standing in front of a group scare us so much? For some, like Moses apparently, it centers around past experiences where we have not done well and we carry the memory of those failures into any future speaking expectations with us.  A few years ago, researchers used a PET scan to examine the brain of one group of speakers who had no fear of public speaking and another group who had high levels of fear about public speaking.  The first group tapped into the cognitive, rational part of their brain, while the second group was relying on the part of the human brain that recognizes danger or hazards.²  What the study demonstrated was that we can actually rethink our fear around public speaking and use that to overcome anxiety.

When preparing for a speech or presentation, most people think about it as a performance.  Moses was certainly thinking about standing before the leadership of Egypt and telling them something they would not be happy to hear as having to perform.  This perspective of speaking makes us think we have to deliver a perfect message.  And in that case, the onus is all on us to be eloquent.  However, in the following verse (Exodus 4:11) God reminds Moses that He made the tongue and He therefore controls our ability to speak, whether eloquent or not.

If we think of speaking in front of an audience as a performance that we are tasked to do eloquently, it is more than likely we will also feel a great deal of anxiety and fear about it.  But if we remember that it is not a performance reliant on our abilities, but a means of sharing our thoughts through the abilities and opportunities God has granted us, it is more likely we can push through that fear and maybe even find some enjoyment in the process.

Reflection:  What are your greatest fears about speaking, whether to a large audience, to a specific person, or in a certain setting?  Think back to the last time you had to speak in any of those situations.  Did the outcomes encourage you to speak in future, or like Moses have you become even more fearful of speaking?  How could you rethink those experiences to help allay your speech anxiety?

Today’s Challenge: Make a list of your five greatest fears when it comes to speaking in public.  Next to each of those fears write the rational response to dealing with that fear.  For instance, if you fear forgetting your words, write about how you might use notes to help you remember.   Next time you are called upon to speak, concentrate on the rational responses rather than the fears.

Donna M. Elkins, PhD, Campbellsville University, Associate VP for Regional Administration

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