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Life, Death and Public Speaking

sketch by eric quigley

Imagine this scene, one year from now…

Your boss has asked you to give a speech at a shareholder’s meeting in two weeks. Profits are falling and you’re speech is supposed to keep the shareholders from dumping shares.

You don’t feel good about this. You’re not a public speaker. You’re not even an extrovert. In fact, your main talent is being shy. You’re invisible at office parties, hate making eye contact and avoid socializing like the plague. Thinking about your speech fills you with terror. If you get past the first sentence without collapsing in a sweaty mess, you’ll surely be thrown off the stage by your boss. Shareholders will sell the company for peanuts and you’ll be fired without a severance.

And it gets worse. You’re spouse will leave you for being spineless, you’re children will call you a fool and your parents will finally accept your complete failure as a human being.

But there’s hope. The speech is two weeks away. If you turn in your two week’s notice of resignation now, you won’t have to make the speech!

But two weeks notice is no good. You need to give at least a month’s notice or everyone will call you a jerk.

They will anyway when they hear your speech! Oh No! You’re doomed!


Now imagine this scene, 15,000 years ago…

The night is bitterly cold. You have no shelter except for the hide on your shoulders.

The goat your tribe killed last month is gone and you haven’t eaten for a week. A small fire is burning, round which you sit with your freezing tribe. Everyone is exhausted, hungry and dejected.

Into this mess arrives an emaciated scout, who reports that a herd of Mammoths is approaching and will arrive tomorrow morning. You think the same thing as everyone else. “Why couldn’t it be a herd of rabbits?”

The last time you hunted Mammoth a third of your tribe was killed, including all the best hunters. Why is the Great Spirit toying with you? You feel pain deep in your heart. The cold, your hunger, your life makes you want to quit. You look at your tribe. Everyone is as miserable as you are.

Then you look at your child, sleeping in the arms of his mother. You love your child and can’t accept that he will die of hunger. You love your mate too. Looking again at your tribe, you know your heart will break if they perish. Something happens deep inside and you think, “We have to live. We have to kill a Mammoth!”

Rising to your feet, you feel energy lift through your body. The energy is hunger and love crystalizing into an objective. Your gaze steadies on the fire and you know what you must do. You must convince the tribe to go on a hunt with impossible odds. They have to believe they can take down a Mammoth.

Lifting your hands to the heavens you address the Great Spirit, imploring it to look down on your people. “Look at us, Spirit! See how we strive!” Your voice is small but it rings true. The tribe looks up and listens, momentarily forgetting their hunger. You stride toward the center, turn and face them. They look back at you, expectantly.

Without knowing how to begin, the words “I love you” come out of your mouth, loud and clear. The love is heart-felt, unconditional and it penetrates the tribe. They’re no longer so aware of the cold. With passion you continue, “I love you so much that tomorrow I will kill a Mammoth!” Never mind that you’ve been known to this point as someone who’s talent is finding berries; the words “I will kill a Mammoth” have come out of your mouth and you meant them. You’ve stated your objective unequivocally and with power. Feeling that power, you take it a step further: “I love you so much, I will kill a Mammoth ALL BY MYSELF!”

Everyone is shocked. A few stand up and shout. Before they know what’s happening, you grab a spear from the ground and hold it like a hunter. Crouching down, you begin to stalk an imaginary Mammoth. The tribe is shouting. You have no idea where this is going and you don’t care.

Your cousin Gak is so excited he’s jumping up and down. “Kill the Mammoth!” Gak yells. He grabs two sticks, holds them like tusks and joins you in the center. You turn your spear toward Gak. He’s helping you! Now the other tribe members are jumping up and down and cheering. They want you to succeed so badly they pick up their spears and rush to join you.

Soon everyone is pretending to hunt Gak, taking care not to actually impale him. Gak is giving a huge performance. No one wants him to succumb too quickly. They want a hunt of epic proportions! Gak delivers, and when he finally falls, the tribe explodes with joy and laughter

Everyone’s hugging and filled with pride. You love each other. You love the Mammoth. Tomorrow the Great Spirit will see how you live and if need be, how you die!

I bow down to our ancestors. They teach us about living, dying, and even public speaking.


Here are things they teach me:

  1. Acknowledge your feelings. They’ll help you see your path.
  2. Connect with your basic needs. They’re a source of strong objectives.
  3. State your objectives boldly and go after them.
  4. Be passionate. Passion is the heart in action.
  5. When you accept a greater definition of who you are and what you’re able to do, others will too.

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