The Locust of Control: Preparing for Public Speaking

Where do you feel the center of control is with your public speaking?

Where do you feel the center of control is with your public speaking?


Do you have any regrets? I actually have very few, but one regret I do have is not giving more attention to the title of my Ignite Boulder talk about a year ago. "Neurological Triggers & Fiercely Protecting Boundries" ...it falls pretty flat to me now. You too? It falls into… a sort of simultaneously boring and confusing puddle. Not to mention the spelling error. *sigh*


What would I write if I could redo the title? Perhaps, “3 Steps to Stop Passing Out in Biology.” or “These 4 Weird Tricks Will End Needle Phobia NOW” or “You’ll Never Guess How Saying ‘NO’ Will Change Your Life!”


Clickbait aside, I do want to re-name and hopefully re-give this talk again with more emphasis on the crucial core idea of the talk: the transformation from an out-of-control feeling in your life to a sense of hands-on-the-steering-wheel in control. Are you the one steering the boat in your world (officially called an internal locus of control), or are you tossed about by other people’s desires (external locus of control.)


Um...no...not the cricket-like creature locust. Just locus. Different thing.


One of the most famous writers on this idea was Viktor E. Frankl in his book, Man’s search for Meaning. Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”


Or, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”


In my Ignite talk, I hoped to convey the subtle but crucially freeing steps I took to regain a sense of control over my body and boundaries especially when a vasovagal syncope response took over. (look it up or watch my talk)


This transformational moment from a hopeless feeling of external control to a freeing feeling of an internal locus of control is one reason I have become so enamored with public speaking.  You have to  You GET to really wrestle with where your sense of control is originating. The best speakers are the ones who are very clear about what message they want to bring to an audience, how they want to design their content, and what tone they aim to hit with the delivery.  



Dr. Al Siebert, founder and director of The Resiliency Center wrote about this in his book the Resiliency Advantage. In discussing internal and external centers of control he states, “both sets of beliefs are self-validating and self-fulfilling. People who believe that their fate is under the control of outside forces act in ways that confirm their beliefs. People who know they can do things to make their life better act in ways to confirm their beliefs.”  Self-fulfilling, but not set in stone.


Dr. Siebert has recommended steps for getting back to that hands-on-the-steering-wheel internal sense of control. These steps reminded me of the process I walk through with my clients as they prepare to speak in public. Here are his steps, and in bold, I’ve included actions to encourage a sense of internal control in public speaking situations.


1. Get an accurate understanding of the problem. Ask questions, research, observe. Get as much info about what’s happening as you can.

Know your audience

2. Ask yourself, “What do I want?” What is your desired outcome?

Set your ideal ending state of the audience

3.Come up with two or more potential solutions to the problem. Weigh the pros and cons of each.

Connect with your audience from the beginning

4. Take action. Pick a solution and throw yourself into carrying it out.

Do it! Design and deliver your talk

5. Take stock of the effects of your action. What’s working? What isn’t?

Get feedback from friends, audience members, or even your own smartphone which you remembered to set on “record” before you started (you smarty!)

6. Learn from the feedback you get. Fine-tune your approach to be more effective.

Don’t take criticism personally, know that every talk is a work in progress, and feel gratitude for the new information

7. Modify your efforts.

Get back on the stage and do it again



This drive to steer our own lives, to live and speak what we believe, and to continue to strive for meaning is the core of our humanity.  “Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning. The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her own life.” -Viktor Frankl

Margaret Watts Romney