This is a Q & A blog post by our Visiting Scholar in Philosophy, William Lane Craig.
I'm a young student in mathematics, who's just beginning to touch on his research career as a mathematician. I've watched your content for a long time and I admire the ability to give good formal presentations of topics in theology.
I've recently been invited to give a seminar on mathematics, and it's the first time I've ever had to give a talk in front of people who were most likely as if not more intellectually capable than me. Usually, I enjoy public speaking, but in this scenario I'm virtually frozen by anxiety to the point where I'm over-analyzing the details of my presentation and hardly getting it prepared.
Was there a time when you felt you struggled to present technical ideas to colleagues in your field or felt a similar kind of pressure? And what do you do to combat such feelings?
William Lane Craig’s Response
I’ve frequently had the opportunity to speak to audiences, for example, philosophy seminars at Rutgers or Notre Dame, members of which I knew to be far smarter than me. Just this month I spoke to the scientists and engineers at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories, reputed to be “the smartest square mile on Earth,” on arguments for the existence of God, the premises of which enjoy considerable scientific support. It can be intimidating!
My advice to you, first and foremost, is to be humble. We all are painfully aware of the limits of our own knowledge. So don’t try to fake it. Present your ideas as plausible suggestions, not dogmatic conclusions. Be dialogical in interacting with members of the listening audience. Be open to correction during the question time and admit it when you don’t know the answer.
Second, prepare to the hilt! Ample preparation is the key to success. If you know your particular subject better than your audience, then you will likely not be tripped up. So make sure you know the literature and issues regarding your chosen topic. Anticipate the objections that might be raised to your position and think of responses to each one. Other mathematicians may be in general far more brilliant than you, but they may not have thought deeply about the specific question you are addressing. I never cease to be amazed at how specialization actually promotes ignorance outside one’s narrow area of expertise. Folks may actually appreciate your insights.
Prior to such an event — like my dialogue with Sir Roger Penrose — I devote time to prayer, asking the Lord to give me quickness of thought and a gracious and charitable demeanor. Ask Him to quell your anxiety. Pray that He would use your meager efforts to extend His Kingdom in some way and then trust Him for a good result.