Passenger Uses Flight Skills to Land Plane

More Lessons for the Public Speaker! I saw an Associated Press article in the San Francisco Chronicle this morning about Doug White, a Florida man who had to land a twin engine plane he was a passenger in when the pilot became unconscious and died in the air. White had his single engine pilot’s license but had never flown a plane as large as this. He tried to stay calm as he listened to the air traffic controller relay detailed instructions. And he did it. What helped him succeed? “It was a focused fear,” he said.

Focused fear means using the heightened adrenalin caused by fear—the fight or flight response—and channeling it into a level of deep concentration. What can focused fear teach us about public speaking?

Millions of people suffer from a general fear of public speaking. Some feel anxiety because they have very little experience speaking in front of a group and have not been trained what to do. They feel as though they’ve been thrown into the deep end of the swimming pool without a life preserver. For this group I suggest learning more about the best practices of public speaking by reading books, attending a training program, or joining your local toastmasters group. In other words, I recommend that you take the steps to get your pilot’s license!

But what if you do have your pilot’s license? What if you have been trained and have experience? What if you have spoken successfully to small groups for years and have felt some discomfort, but never paralyzing fear? And what if you are suddenly thrown into a situation that is new and more challenging, such as speaking to a large audience of 500, and suddenly you don’t know if you can actually land the plane?

What will help you succeed is the same strategy Doug White used: focused fear. You must use the skills and techniques that have made you successful speaking to small groups and apply that knowledge to the larger audience.

Speaking to a larger audience requires that the speaker be “larger” too. The skills and behaviors used in the small meeting or with the small group are similar, but the scale of the group requires that the speaker use bigger skills. The drama of the situation requires a slightly more dramatic performance.

Therefore, focus any anxiety you feel and channel it to help you concentrate deeply on the important skills. Only then can you engage your audience and safely land the plane.