Oscar Wilde: “What fire does not destroy, it hardens”

by Michael Rickwood

How does the element of fire help us presenters? 

Oscar Wilde was one of Ireland’s most celebrated playwrights. He was a master wordsmith of wit and observation. He wrote some of the English languages most famous stories and plays including the Importance of Being Earnest and A picture of Dorian Gray. In this particular quote from Lord Henry Wooton, a character from Dorian Gray: “What fire doesn’t destroy it hardens” it is referring to the strong “character” of another female protagonist. “She has not feet of clay but rather feet of porcelain and they have been through fire.” The flames of experience are truly what will make us grow and there is no faster way to growth than through pain, providing that we have sufficient grounding. As presenters, we truly evolve, develop and grow only by putting ourselves in the ring (or rather on stage) when we are strong and prepared, with a genuine desire to challenge ourselves.

Here are 3 thoughts I have around flames and presenting:

  1. Fire hardens through experience: Take measured steps to grow. You shouldn’t be throwing yourself into the deep end too harshly. This can do more harm than good, especially if it leads to a traumatic experience. But keep challenging yourself. In different situations, with different technologies. With slides, without slides, small audiences, big audiences. Different levels of formality. Learn to say yes rather than no. Step outside of your comfort zone, gain in confidence through trial and error. Step tentatively into the flames. Challenge yourself! Fire is the element of conversion and transformation. 
  2. Fire warms and illuminates: The warm nature of fire brings us closer to our audience with comfort and good humor. There have been some wonderful speakers whose warmth has been infectious. A speaker like Brené Brown has warmth, with passion but also compassion in it. Fire also illuminates the way for our ideas. Connect your content to your heart, rehearse and work to stay present in the moment while presenting. Get a feel for your audience’s reactions. We can also warm with our voice by varying our tone, phrasing and tempo. This is particularly important for online presenting. 
  3. Fire is inclusive. It unifies us: The sunny quality of fire unites the crowd. If they see a passionate, joyful and radiant speaker they will drop their guard. Like a great stand-up comic, it encourages group dynamics. The big secret here is to take a little risk and try to improvise. Adapt to the moment, like water. Fire and water are connected in this regard. 

I’d like to finish on this quote by Carl Jung:

“The difference between a good life and a bad life is how well you walk through the fire.”

Fire awaits us all. We will all be inevitably tested at some point, the question is how can we be prepared, grounded and resilient enough to emerge stronger from the trials. That doesn’t mean that we have to get burned to evolve, but we have to challenge ourselves regularly, with a positive mindset.