• July 31, 2017

What can plane crashes teach us about public speaking?

What can plane crashes teach us about public speaking?

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Chances are there’s at least one person you know who is terrified of flying. And who can blame them? The thought of being locked inside a gigantic aluminum tube at 30,000 feet above the ground while turbulently barreling through the clouds at 1,000 km/h can feel horrifying.

As a public speaking coach, I find it fascinating to hear about these all-too-common fears of flying. Mostly because flying is surprisingly the safest form of transportation. In fact, let me hit you with some data that knocked my socks off when I first read about it.

A plane crash occurs just once in every 1.2 million flights! And that’s just your typical aviation mishap… Fatal plane crashes happen just once in every 11 million flights! To put that in some serious perspective, your odds of dying in a car or traffic accident are just one in 5,000.

Upon learning this, a question naturally emerged for me… one that has a lot of insight for effective presentations. The question was simple – why? Why is it so common to fear flying more than driving?

At first, I thought it was a matter of repeated desensitization. What I mean is this – if you’re at all like me, you’ve survived 100% of your experiences in both cars and planes. However, because you’ve travelled in cars vastly more times, you feel desensitized to the risks of this mode of transportation. I believe that this experienced desensitization plays a part, but I couldn’t help but assume there were other factors influencing this phenomenon.

So I took to good ‘ol trusty Google, and did some digging. It turns out that many people think the reason stems from all of the stories the media tells us about fatal plane crashes. Because they are so statistically rare, the media feels the need to report extensively on them. Car accidents on the other hand, where over 3,000 people die every day worldwide, are so common that they aren’t worth the story.

The key here is “the story”. The facts are overwhelmingly clear. If you have a fear of flying, you should probably have an equal, if not greater fear of driving. But facts don’t move people. Stories move people. Stories evoke emotion, and if you want to effectively portray ideas and motivate action, you can’t just present sound logic, you have to evoke emotion. Stories have the power to do just that.

Often times, people tell me that they don’t consider themselves a storyteller, so they’ll need a different approach. I believe – with certainty – that everyone is a storyteller. And while some people have cultivated this skill naturally over time, others simply haven’t learned the strategies yet. If there’s one thing you can do to level up your public speaking ability, it’s investing some time and effort in learning the art (and science) of story. But alas, more on storytelling strategy in another post.

(Or check out our Public Speaking Made Easy workshop)

For now, just remember… the next time you’re sitting on an aggressively turbulent airplane, and you’re worried if you’re even going to survive, all probability suggests you’re going to be totally fine. And on the flip side, you’ll have an awesome story to tell about that time you thought you were going to die 🙂

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