This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Public Speaking for Success" by Dale Carnegie. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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What careers entail communicating to an audience, either in a conference room or an auditorium? In your personal life, when could you be called upon to speak in front of others?
Legendary author and lecturer Dale Carnegie believes that the most important skill in life is public speaking. It provides fulfillment, and it opens countless doors of opportunity. In Public Speaking for Success, he discusses the benefits of public speaking, including influence and confidence-building.
Read more to discover why Carnegie says that public speaking is such a valuable skill.
The Benefits of Public Speaking
According to Carnegie, public speaking is life’s most important skill because it can yield more benefits than any other. As he outlines the benefits of public speaking, he says that effective public speakers change people’s minds and hearts, influence the discourse on societal and cultural issues, drive businesses’ growth, and much more.
(Shortform note: Another great reason to learn public speaking is to connect to the rich history of human oratory. From the rise of rhetoric in Ancient Greece, where public speaking became a skill to persuade, influence, and gain power, to the communal oral traditions of First Nations cultures in North America, speaking has been and remains a fundamental human skill. Before the invention of writing, entire cultures and traditions were passed down through speech. And, while written language has become a key feature of Western civilization, academics have begun to recognize that oral traditions are not inferior to writing, but rather complementary.)
The Benefit of Influence
Becoming a skillful public speaker can give you influence at work and at home.
Influence at work: Carnegie says that speaking well can improve your social standing, which he argues determines your professional success. Great speakers can befriend and influence colleagues, sway decisions, and build stellar reputations in their fields.
(Shortform note: In Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi says that if you’re aiming to use public speaking as a way to network and improve your professional reputation, you can look to large conferences in your industry. Speaking at these conferences will get people thinking that you’re an important figure, and many of them will want to seek you out and build a new connection.)
Influence at home: According to Carnegie, public speaking is just skillful communication writ large, so it’ll also help you improve relationships with friends and family.
(Shortform note: While Carnegie advocates for the use of persuasion in at-home communication, other experts disagree. In Nonviolent Communication, Marshall B. Rosenberg recommends instead that when you need to have a serious conversation, you should listen, empathize, and authentically relate to your friend or family member. For communication to be nonviolent, it must come from compassion, not the desire to make someone do what you want—in other words, from dialogue rather than persuasion.)
The Benefit of Self-Confidence
More than just increasing your influence, learning to speak in public will also boost your confidence because it requires you to overcome what for most people is a significant fear. In doing so, you’ll show yourself what you’re truly capable of. And, according to Carnegie, that newfound self-confidence will ripple out into other areas of your life.
Before you start learning the skill, take the time to face any fear you may feel of public speaking. Carnegie argues that it’s perfectly possible to overcome such fear and that it’s completely natural to be afraid at first. Learning to speak confidently in front of large groups is not an inborn talent, but a skill that everyone has to learn. According to Carnegie, even famous speakers such as Abraham Lincoln struggled in the beginning.
(Shortform note: In TED Talks, Chris Anderson explains that most people fear public speaking for two reasons: The possibility of speaking poorly and feeling humiliated in the moment, and the possibility that such mistakes will damage the speaker’s reputation in the long term. For example, Lincoln describes himself as “nervous and unfit” to speak in a letter written just after the speech that first brought him national attention, suggesting that his newfound reputation was a source of fear. Anderson agrees with Carnegie that these fears are completely natural and that overcoming them will make you more confident—and that that confidence will bring opportunities your way because people are naturally drawn to confident, influential speakers.)
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Here's what you'll find in our full Public Speaking for Success summary:
- Why public speaking is one of the most important skills to have
- How to overcome the fear of public speaking and adopt poise
- How to research, write, and deliver a memorable speech