I was introduced to public speaking my first year of college. I was 18. The course was "Women's Speech" (I think a man just screamed "NNNNOOOOOO!" somewhere.) As though we women folk need help in the speaking department. Isn't that innate? Yes, maybe. But speaking and public speaking are two very different things. The class had only 12 people, just enough for it not to get the ax from the local community college I attended. All 12 of us were women. My BFF and I were the youngest in the class by about twenty years. It was community college - the majority of students were returning students or "later-in-life" students, my unsung heroes.
When I got up in front of the class to give my first speech my knees were literally knocking together. I was trembling from head to toe. I gave my half-hearted speech, which I am sure was utter torment for everyone, and then I cried. Yes. I said I cried.
I think I actually cried while giving the speech. And my sweet BFF sat on the front row and cried with me/ for me. (That's a true friend.) I wasn't giving a personal story about my life that pulled some deeply rooted emotion out of me. I wasn't speaking about the time my dog Aimee Jo Johnson died. The speech was not hinged on anything that should incite tears.
I cried out of my utter fear of public speaking. I cried because I didn't want anyone to look at me and see the flaws I saw in myself. I cried because I felt exposed and vulnerable and out of control. So my response to not wanting to be exposed and vulnerable and out of control was to cry in front of my professor and my classmates. Great plan, Jes. Awesome. It was so bad that my professor took pity on me and said I could video my next speeches and show the tapes to the class. I did not give another speech in that class. I videotaped every assignment, created faux commercials, added theatrics using my friends (yes, the dork who cried during her first public speech had friends), and I earned an A. But I did not learn the art of public speaking.
After that class, I did not give another public speech for five years. The next time I spoke to an audience was in 2003 when I taught the high school class my church. The group was large, about 75 kids, and I was terrified. But I knew that God had something to say and He wanted to say it through me. Why me? I dunno. I wasn't qualified. I was a total screw up. A total screw up who relied on Jesus more than anything else because I knew that if I didn't I might screw up again and the next time might be the last time. So I studied my heart out and I spoke. And I didn't cry. And you know what? People said I did a good job. The kids asked the student pastor if I could speak again, and he let me! And then other groups in the church heard that I was a decent communicator, so I got to speak at this thing or that shin-dig. And then I had the ultimate privilege of team-teaching with my pastor and the high school student pastor on "Student Day" on a Sunday morning in May 2005. A Sunday morning...in west Texas...and I'm a GIRL!!! And that went really well, so God began increasing the opportunities and the size of the audience. I still can't believe what God has let me do; where He's brought me. I feel alive when I'm in front of 1,000 people. I feel excited to offer them Jesus, a hope and a laugh. It feels like I'm operating in my calling but there are many times when I still struggle with not feeling qualified.
Have you been there? Do you struggle with feeling qualified to do what is before you? God's got this thing He's offering you and you're sassing back saying, "Who me? I'm not just not qualified...my life, my choices make me disqualified."
Keep going, sister. I'm right there with you. And do I have a word to share with you...