And they were sore afraid.

There are three people in my life who have a true phobia of public speaking: My grandma, an 85 year old life-long member who has never spoken in Sacrament meeting; my husband, who gave a handful of talks for mission purposes and never again; and my sister Annie, who once observed with growing dread a member of the bishopric approaching her in the hallway and burst into tears before he could even finish asking the question. Pro-tip: If you hate public speaking, do that. He hastily retreated and has never made eye contact with her since!

As someone who has an actual phobia (though not that particular one; mine is much stranger), I empathize. And while I’m fairly certain that my Perceived Righteousness will never come down to my ability to face my own irrational fear, for people with a severe aversion to public speaking, it could. When I was in high school, there were six minutes left at the end of a Stake Conference and the evil first counselor called on my friend to spontaneously come up and fill out the rest of the meeting with her testimony*. She was poised under the pressure and people were in awe of her for months. But what would have been the overall opinion of a panicky Young Woman who flat-out refused the request? Who sat frozen to her pew, shaking her head, wild-eyed?

Anyway, I thought a couple of polls and a discussion were in order. I tried to cover every possible angle but there’s always the comments section to expound on your choice in case I failed.



Me, I’m somewhere around the 4th option. I’d rather not be asked and I’m always nervous to speak, but I do a serviceable job. Fortunately, we’ve mostly lived in wards where couples share the pulpit each week, so Jon’s phobia has automatically disqualified me (thanks, honey!)



Additional discussion: Do you have any full-blown phobias? How does that color your responses? Do you conflate willingness to speak in Sacrament meeting with strength of testimony, even subconsciously?


*Yeah, don’t do this.


  1. In some cases, the willingness to speak may have something to do with testimony, or with a person’s perception of his/her ability to put testimony into words in an engaging and useful way. Some people really don’t believe that they have anything of use to teach the ward. They’re usually wrong, but I understand the feeling. I don’t ever think that the reluctance means that they lack testimony, however. As a rule, I don’t tend to make judgments about testimonies. I have a pretty strong one and I do things all the time that probably make it look as if I don’t.

    As an amateur actor, former debater, and speech student, I’m one of those sick people who enjoys public speaking and actively seeks opportunities, privately and professionally, to do it. I’ve trained large groups of financial professionals, addressed large crowds at Memorial Day observances, and so on – a sacrament meeting is nothing.

    But make me climb a ladder to paint the edge of the eaves or clean a gutter on a second-floor roof edge? I’m completely and utterly terrified. It unmans me; my knees turn to water. I can do a first-story roof; I’m marginally OK up to about ten feet off the ground. Any more than that and I can barely breathe.

    At Parris Island, I climbed a thirty-foot tower and rappelled down it. It speaks to the immense power of Marine Corps leadership that I was marginally more frightened of the drill instructor than I was of the tower. I almost wet my utility trousers.

  2. Matt Stone says:

    Scorpions. Armored death bugs with no purpose except to strike fear into the hearts of men. I grew up in Arizona in an area that used to be covered be orange groves (read: Scorpion Country), but by the grace of God never found one in my house despite the neighbors’ veritable infestations. School was completely different though, and the time that Dietrich Heinman found one walking up and down his deskmate’s back in the 3rd grade cemented the phobia for time and for all eternity. Later my parents moved to a house a couple miles away from where I grew up. One Sunday I was at their house and found a scorpion just inside the back door. I quickly committed arachnacide, and texted my brother across the house that he needed to come clean it up. Bless him, he did.

    I’m also really squeamish. Watching the coroner on a procedural drama open a corpse is the worst. Watching sports injuries on TV or YouTube would be my definition of hell. Remember that time that the one basketball player had a compound fracture on live TV during March Madness a few years ago? I flapped my hands and danced around the living room of my apartment like a member of a cult dedicated to never, ever watching basketball again.

  3. The Other Clark says:

    I have a friend with this phobia. When he was asked to speak, he faced his assignment with faith, prepared his remarks, and became paler and paler as the meeting progressed. When it was his turn to speak, he arose, made his way to the pulpit–and passed out!

    Needless to say, he hasn’t been asked to speak again, and I suspect the bishopric will be more understanding when anyone in the ward says they don’t want to speak.

  4. I have a natural dislike of public speaking, but I’ve been forced (and forced myself) into so many public speaking situations that I’ve learned to deal with it, and what started out as a phobia has become merely uncomfortable. I perhaps have even enjoyed speaking on one or two occasions. My last talk in church, however, where I discussed the issue of poverty, was perhaps too unsettling for my highly conservative middle-upper-class ward, and I doubt I’ll get the opportunity to speak in church (or for that matter, even teach a Sunday School or Priesthood class) for at least a few more years.

    The one thing I really don’t like is crowds, and especially crowds in confined places. Church is difficult for this reason, and I always try to sit next to a wall or in a corner so that I’m not surrounded by people. About a year ago I was in a Relief Society room, which was serving as the overflow room, to watch the Priesthood session of conference, and I started having some kind of panic attack. I listened to the rest of the session in the foyer.

  5. Terry H says:

    I think the majority of people who visit BCC are confident enough to speak and enjoy it (not to criticize those with phobias like you describe). That’s why the poll here may be a bit skewed. I was in a bishopric years ago when the brother we’d asked to speak stood at the pulpit looking at the congregation for over a full minute without saying anything, then he just walked off the pulpit, out the door and didn’t come to church for over a year. This was AFTER he’d accepted the invitation without any hesitation. I think refusal is better for some.

  6. Tim,

    I sense a confirmation bias happening. If your ward is anything like the wards I’ve been in, you probably would only get asked to speak every 2-3 years. The lack of speaking requests is likely to not be related to your talk on poverty.

  7. Tim, I have “people claustrophobia” too! When my husband tries to choose a seat in the middle of a pew so I’ll be blocked in I start having difficulty breathing. I even have a hard time with people sitting right behind me but I manage it in general. The temple sessions are hard for me for this reason — but I *swear* without fail whenever I try to show up early to find myself some space around me people come and sit directly behind me, even with all of the empty chairs around. Also hard for me: grocery stores, movie theaters.

    As for speaking, I prefer to bear testimony, and believe that the reason I’m not asked to speak in my wards is that in general, they hear from me about 6 times per year.

  8. de Pizan says:

    I hate public speaking, although it’s not as bad as it used to be. But it’s still bad enough that a few years ago when my sister and I were in the same singles’ ward and I was asked to speak on 2 different occasions….I ended up home sick and she gave my prepared remarks. (Yes, she’s amazing.)
    It’s not a full-blown phobia, but I absolutely hate the sensation of falling. Can’t do roller coasters (even when it’s a simulated roller coaster like at the beginning of Regal cinema movies, I have to close my eyes or look away the whole time), can’t jump down off big drops, can’t even do trampolines.

  9. I love speaking. I love teaching. I love to have the attention of a group of people, and take them on a journey, considering concepts and ideas, and tying them all together. I prefer teaching, because I like to hear other people’s insights, and ask interesting questions, but I also love giving talks. I don’t love speaking extemporaneously, partly because I find so much value in preparation, partly because it won’t be as good. I vote for finishing early, rather than asking someone to fill in the time.

    We had a Stake Conference once that was pretty much a meeting to go over boundary changes (every ward changed, and two wards were created), and the Stake President (in many ways an excellent one) thought that the best thing to alleviate boredom was to ask two or three people to bear testimony between slide changes. (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t).

    I think it’s great that we have talks by people who are regular members. There’s value in preparing, and in doing hard things, and in hearing different life experiences and points of view. The best talk I’ve heard this year was given by a 19-year-old who I’d kind of pegged as immature. It was centred in Christ, and simply worded, yet spoke of deep faith. I’m grateful for the talk, and the lessons it taught me – some of which were only possible because of who gave the talk (and my assumptions about them).

  10. Matt, not being able to see the crime, other people in pain, probably speak to you being an HSP (highly sensitive person). I have the same thing. There’s a test that you can take online and those things you mentioned are part of the test, found here.

    Also: my parents should have never let me watch Arachnophobia when I was a kid.

  11. I do have a phobia, and every time I start to tell people about it, I feel utterly weird. But it’s real, and it’s a thing, and it was a relief to me when I realized there were others, and it even had a name. But I honestly can’t even think about it without feeling like I’m going to be sick.

    My other phobia is sharks. Which my brothers have had great fun with other the years. Also, when I went to meet my future-inlaws, it was Shark Week, and what did my intended’s father have on? Oh yes, in it’s great gaping-maw of glory. I did my damnedest to avoid the tv while he talked with me. Then, for an outing, we went to… AN AQUARIUM! With more sharks! A great new exhibit on sharks of the Eastern Seaboard! Hooray! I thought I was going to pass out, but I managed to fake it and cling to the walls and look at the floor. New in-laws are nothing in the face of Jaws.

  12. And all you people-claustrophobics, I’m with you (at least a bit). Mine doesn’t kick in at church (where I prefer to sit in the middle of a pew – the edges leave me feeling lonely/exposed), because I know how to expect people to move (i.e. – they mostly don’t). Crowds of people moving around makes me keep tabs on the closest exit, and I start to freak out if it’s not easy enough to escape. Even the train at busy times makes me pretty stressed, because I don’t know who’s going to try and move past me, or when. I get a seat and tune out until my stop, if at all possible.

  13. My wife has a mild fear of public speaking which means she carefully prepares and then practices before giving a church talk. The result is a well-prepared, well-delivered talk. Would that more of us feared speaking–our meetings would be better for it.

  14. As a Bishopric member who regularly is approaching members to speak in Sacrament meeting, I’ll say I’ve learned to ask the question differently depending on the person. I’ll add that I have no phobias that I’ve encountered yet in my life but I can appreciate the challenge

    Let me explain my process first:
    We have a schedule of topics and I maintain a spreadsheet workbook that splits out every adult member and every youth into two different sheets. We track the last time each individual spoke and the topic they spoke on. As new members move in they get added to the list. I do split out the less active members to a separate list so as to be able to focus on those who somewhat regularly attend Sacrament meeting.

    When it’s my month to assign talks, a duty I rotate with the other counselor, I look over the topics, examine whose names pop to the top of the list (usually this means the adults haven’t spoken in at least a 1.5 years but potentially as long ago as 3 years or more – as for the youth it’s probably been 6-9 months), consider the topics and start praying about who should be asked to speak. As I start to think about the names I consider who might handle the topic well but I try not to let that drive the decision but really look for spiritual prompting on who the Lord would call to address the topic in question. I don’t always have a firm confirmation, but it frequently happens, that a specific person should be given the opportunity to study that topic and share their thoughts on it in Sacrament meeting.

    How I approach the request:
    With that said, after 4 years of doing this I have a pretty clear idea on who has issues with speaking, who will need 3 months notice instead of my typical 2 weeks, and who will simply tell me no. If someone tells me no, I try to ask kind questions to understand their rationale. I much prefer people be honest with me which can include a simple answer like, “I’m not really comfortable speaking at this time.” Occasionally someone tells me they don’t like speaking in public but there are only a couple of people who have confessed that to me. When that’s the case I ask, “Can we get to a point where you would be willing to speak in Sacrament meeting or what would you like to do?” I’m pretty sure there are at least a few other members for whom this is a phobia and they’ve blanched when I’ve asked but eventually made their way through delivering a talk.

    When I extend the call to speak I always ask first whether they’re going to be in town that Sunday and if the answer is yes, then I tell them that I felt they were the right person to speak on this topic but they are free to tell me no. I don’t think anyone is obligated to speak in Sacrament meeting but I do think it’s one of the privileges and responsibilities of membership in our faith community. I believe it is an opportunity to study a topic, possibly strengthen your personal testimony on some principle within it and share your experiences and understanding with the rest of the Ward. Hopefully the speaker brings a different perspective that speaks to many or maybe only one member in the congregation in a way that strengthens their testimony, answers a prayer, or brings comfort in their time of need.

  15. My ward’s sacrament meeting is very noisy, very irreverent. Some of the noise comes from little children, but mostly from disrespectful adults. I find it very frustrating to be in the room. A few years back my bishop asked me to speak, and I declined. I told him that it was very likely that some time during my talk I would tell the congregation to shut the f**k up. I haven’t been asked to give a talk since.

  16. i love public speaking, but if there’s a clown or a monkey in the congregation, im not going.

  17. Alain, it sounds like you’re a kind and sensitive leader. I suspect most bishops try and follow a similar pathway.

  18. Bookish says:

    I have actually never been asked to speak, member for 7 years and in 3 wards. But I am not fond of public speaking and acceptance would probably depend on the topic.

  19. What Alain said (although I’ve never been too good at giving people 2 weeks’ worth of notice.)

  20. stilesbn–
    It might be confirmation basis. I’ve never gone this long before without either teaching a lesson to adults or speaking in Sacrament Meeting, but then again this is the kind of ward where there’s tons of active people but the same guy gets asked to speak three times in six months, and the EQP is married to the YWP. It’s “the same ten families,” not because other families aren’t willing, but because the other families are largely ignored.

    Kristine A–glad to hear I’m not alone. I have a hard time going to the temple too, mostly because I don’t like to be surrounded by strangers, and I don’t have much choice over where I sit. I attended a smaller temple recently and it was so much better. Best temple session I’d had in years.

    I try to go shopping in the early morning, and go to the movies after the movie has been out for a while. I watched Serenity in a theater with just six people–and three of them were buddies of mine. The one crowded event I do enjoy is a good concert.

  21. Kevin Barney says:

    (Tracy, Alain is a friend of mine, and he is indeed a kind and sensitive leader, and a great guy to boot.)

    Like many of you, I quite enjoy public speaking. I know that I’m good at it, so I approach it with a sense of confidence. That’s one of the virtues of growing up Mormon; who else gets the opportunities that we do to speak publicly, especially at a young age?

    My wife, on the other hand, is quite introverted, and she hates public speaking. You would never know this from the talks she has given; they have been uniformly fantastic, largely because she prepares so very hard and brings her own personality to the process. But it just about kills her every time. She had reached a point where I think she would seriously call the church quits before agreeing to speak again, so I was proud of her declining the last two invitations. (I would rather have her in the church in a non-speaking role than have someone push really hard and drive her right out of the church.)

  22. I wouldn’t go so far as calling it a phobia, but I do dislike public speaking. Maybe once upon a time it was a phobia, but I was forced to deal with it when I got put in a leadership position in my singles ward, where I was constantly speaking in front of people. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten better at public speaking, but I’ve learned to be more at peace with the fact I’m a terrible public speaker. Every time I get in front of a group of people, I say to myself, “You’re a dork, Rebecca J. Just own it.”

  23. Many may have already seen this, but the Church has released a statement on mental illness that I (being a sufferer) have found very helpful. Interestingly enough, it mentions specifically that those who have a phobia of public speaking should be asked to serve in other ways. This is an encouraging change from the attitude that prevailed in my younger days when sufferers were simply pushed into the phobia-triggering situation in an erroneous belief that doing so would cure them.

  24. I like to talk, and I love to talk about religious topics. (No surprise for anyone who has been around the Bloggernacle for any length of time.) I loved being a High Councilor for that reason.

    If someone has an actual phobia of public speaking, they should have an automatic pass on giving sacrament meeting talks – just like I should have a pass on delivering a talk from a balcony that is more than three floors from the ground.

    Having said that, my worst phobia is heights – especially relatively unsupported heights (actual or perceived). I even have to focus on not looking over the side of the railing (and staying as far away as possible) in hotels with exposed hallways overlooking a central area when I’m only four or five floors from the ground.

  25. So the Grand Canyon Skywalk is off the table for you, Ray? (me too).

  26. Dave Frandin says:

    I was raised in the Church, and suffered through those “two-and-a-half-minute-talks” that were prevalent for youth in the Church back in the 60s-70s, despite being absolutely terrified of public speaking, and stuttering/stammering my way thru the few of those I was forced by my mother to give in my early teens. At 19, I was going to the local Jr College, and my dad warned me to get my carcass down and register for the fall semester. I blew him off and lo and behold, come August 1969, I get a “greetings” letter from my local draft board… PRECISELY what my father had warned me about.. Seems by not doing early enrollment for the next semester, I’d ended my school draft deferment and BAM they grabbed me.. To make a long story short, after getting drafted, I kinda quit going to Church, and picked up quite a few bad habits (smoking/drinking/pot) and for about 40 years, I had warm feelings every time I heard the MoTab, or saw Elders walking down the street, but never quite enough to get me “back in the fold”.. Fast forward to July 2010, when I got fired from my job and got VERY deeply depressed. My lovely wife contacted the missionaries who came by and I felt the spirit again, and now here in 2014, I’m working towards going to the Temple, plus my wife is now a member (she was Catholic when I married her, and when she contacted the missionaries)… Anyway, back to the topic.. So far, my bishop hasn’t asked me to speak in Sacrament meeting, and I’m not sure If I’d accept.. To this day, if I speak to more than just a few people, I stutter/stammer/hands shake/sweat… sort of a full-blown phobia….

  27. Welcome back, Dave.

  28. Growing up, I had irrational fears of Maine (every single Mary Higgins Clark and Stephen King book set there) and Australia (dingos and brown recluse on land, great whites and jellyfish off shore. Seemed like you’d get off the plane and just die.) I haven’t been to either, but met survivors of both, so I’m much less worried.

  29. Our ward has people with several different issues be our readers during the Easter and Christmas programs. This won’t help people with true phobias but people who are nervous or uncomfortable speaking due to disabilities, fears, etc. have been asked if they wouldn’t mind reading scriptures or a short narration. They are welcome to read it and don’t have to look up, smile, etc. I have heard these people say they are grateful to participate but glad they didn’t have to prepare a talk, make eye contact, share personal stories, etc. Also 1-2 minutes is their limit in front of a crowd. Some go and sit down in the congregation immediately afterwards. Hey, whatever works. Might be a way to include those who can’t give the traditional talks. Some still say no but those who agree are counted as having spoken on the bishopric spreadsheet. I love when people are put before programs. That’s how it always should be!

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