The Most Morbid Pep Talk You'll Ever Hear

I’ve always enjoyed looking at old photographs featuring groups of people.

The photo might be of a group of fraternity brothers from 1899. Or a junior high school class from 1912. Or a company’s board of directors from 1925.

The photo below, taken of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity at Mississippi’s Jefferson College on June 24, 1884, is a perfect example of the type of photo I find thoroughly captivating.

Whenever I see one of these photos, I get lost imagining the life story for each person. Who was that man? What happened during the rest of his life? Did he get married? Have kids? Become famous? Get convicted of a crime? Invent a useful product? Live a life of quiet integrity? Suffer from a terminal disease? Live happily into old age?

Old Fraternity Photo

I use these photographs to serve another, more practical purpose, as well. If I’m nervous before a speech or presentation, I’ll sometimes look at one of these photos to gain perspective (they can occasionally be found on the walls of the company or in the hallways of the hotel at which I’m speaking).

All of those people in the photograph are dead, I’ll think. And I’ll bet they were also anxious before these types of public presentations. Their concerns—as big as they seemed to them at the moment—were probably pretty unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

I know that may sound morbid, but it gives me comfort. I might think: All of the people I’m speaking to today, including me, will be dead within 75 years. So don’t worry so much about being judged or imperfect. Go in, do your best, focus on their needs and not your own, have some fun, and chill out.

I recognize that may not help you manage your own speaking anxiety, but it occasionally helps me. Placing my public speaking nervousness into a greater perspective helps me see the big picture and relax. I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t put everything you have into making your presentations great—you should—but rather that you place the worst-case scenario into its proper context.

It seems to me that this is probably a good philosophy to help guide the other parts of my life, as well.

What do you think? Is this morbid, helpful, or both? Please leave your thoughts in the comments sections below.