Last week I went to see the extraordinary film: the Oscar winning Documentary, Free Solo. Watch the trailer
This was an extraordinary film; terrifying at times (I don’t like heights); exhilarating; inspirational and at times puzzling in a “He’s mad, why’s he doing this” way. But more than anything, is a thought provoking documentary on how a human being can push himself to be in a position that where he makes a tiny error, he could lose his life. Plenty of Free Solo Rock Climbers do lose their lives.
The film follows the attempts of Alex Honnold, who is a well known Free Solo rock climber (he uses no ropes when climbing) in his quest to climb El Capitan: a granite monolith about 3,000 feet high. This is a challenge for any rock climber but for a free solo climber it has never been achieved before. And as I am sure you can appreciate, there have sadly been many casualties of climbers who weren’t successful.
The documentary follows Honnold’s preparation as well as the thoughts from his colleagues, partner, mother AND the production company filming the quest. The National Geographical had funded the filming of this climb and so there was a certain amount of pressure from the producer. Also, Honnold realised that camera men being so close to him whilst climbing was actually putting him off – I should mention that the cameramen were climbers and had ropes!
But most interestingly was how the documentary not only recorded the fear and concerns of everyone around Honnold that: let’s put this bluntly, that he could so easily die from the quest. One very small error could result in death.
It also highlighted the level of preparation Honnold did, in order to be successful. This man was blessed (is this the right term) with the fear areas of his brain being less sensitive that a normal human being. The doctor who scanned his brain said “you need more stimulation than other humans before fear kicks in” – so climbing up a 3,000 foot block of granite with no rope….
However, Honnold said he did get very scared at times but he practiced and practiced to push the fear away. And this is something we can all learn from; I often work with people who are scared of speaking or presenting, and really knowing what you are going to say and being properly prepared can give you a lot of confidence.
Honnold was also prepared to bail out when he wasn’t fully confident he would succeed. Of course this was a smart move. If you aren’t 100% confident in those conditions, then he could have fallen and died. In his case there were a couple of very difficult moves and whilst he had practiced with ropes (and fallen) he wasn’t totally sure it would happen and he was finding the filming so close, very off putting. So he stopped the original climb and waited 6 months. So for us, declining to speak on topics that we aren’t familiar with; or conditions that won’t do us any favours are positive. But ensure you keep the door open so that the opportunity will present itself again when it is the right topic.
Finally Honnold knew the route inside out and practiced all of the difficult moves time and time again. These difficult moves were highly choreographed; he knew exactly what to do in an intricate series of moves. He wrote everything down; visualised and memorised it. He was match fit physically and mentally before the climb. We need to be that focused for important presentations too.
I do recommend you go and see the film; although it is terribly scary at times, it inspires you (and me) to push ourselves to achieve more. And in public speaking ways, to step up and become more visible.
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