Home » Fear of Public Speaing » Not Alone with Sweaty Palms

Not Alone with Sweaty Palms

It was good to learn I am not alone!

About two weeks ago, I presented the following issue to my colleagues on Facebook:

Am I the only one who gets REALLY nervous every time I speak? I don’t really get it. I can’t count how many times I have spoken in public since I entered HUC in 1968 and even lots before that. And yet, whether it is Kol Nidre before a big crowd or 20 kids in a classroom, I get really nervous. I hope (and have been told often) that it doesn’t show—thank goodness—but I don’t fully understand why that happens. Any thoughts?

It felt strange

 Yes, even though I served forty years in the pulpit and spoke in 65 communities on five continents as President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, I get very nervous each and every time I speak.

It might have begun with my Bar Mitzvah. I thought I would die (literally) before I could get up and read from the Torah. “You mean the scroll has NO vowels, and they expect ME to read it,” I remember exclaiming incredulously to my parents!

But then I did my first ever exercise in deductive reasoning. I thought:

  • Kid’s in my class who are older then I have had their Bar Mitzvahs (It was much later that I learned that the proper term is ‘B’nai Mitzvah’),
  • Some of them are dumber than I am.
  • All of them are still alive.

Vital Lesson Learned

 Therefore, I reasoned, if I really practice and study hard, maybe I can make it. And I did.

The lesson has served me well, I always try to be well prepared, but that has never prevented me from getting very nervous. And so half-afraid that my colleagues would laugh at me, I posted my question.

To my surprise thirteen different colleagues affirmed, “You are not alone,” and six others clicked “Like” in recognition of my issue. Their affirmations confirmed what I believed (at least what I hoped) all along:

Although different people feel it to different degrees, the nervousness is a function of really caring about what I say and wanting it to have as much meaning as possible to those who listen.

A Small Price to Pay

 Knowing that, “it is not just me” who gets nervous was very reassuring. Thanks to my colleagues I can go forward feeling that that the nervousness I must overcome each time I speak is a small price to pay for the sacred privilege of sharing the fruit of my study and my experience with others.

Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs is the author of What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives. He is the former President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Bet Israel, West Hartford, CT

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