How to Build Confidence in Speaking: 4 Tips From Dale Carnegie

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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Does even just the idea of speaking in public make you nervous? What if you could build confidence, not just in your speaking abilities, but in your general abilities?

Most people fear speaking in public. Dale Carnegie’s time-tested lessons help you overcome that fear, take the stage, and speak with assurance and poise. He shares four tactics that will give you the courage to speak and, in turn, provide you with the confidence to do just about anything.

Keep reading for Carnegie’s fourfold advice on how to build confidence in speaking.

How to Build Confidence in Speaking

Learning to speak in public will 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, once you’ve learned how to build confidence in speaking, your newfound courage will ripple out into other areas of your life.

(Shortform note: If you struggle with a deep fear of public speaking, consider investigating the variety of therapies that may help, such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or exposure therapy. CBT teaches you to notice your thoughts and to replace negative, unhelpful thoughts with positive, self-supportive ones. On the other hand, exposure therapy works by directly putting you in contact with your fear, a little bit at a time, until you overcome it. The two keys are repetition and gradual exposure: So you might start by giving a small speech to friends and family, work your way to a local Toastmasters group, and eventually step onto the stage at a big conference. But take it slow—jumping right into the deep end can actually worsen your fear.)

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 at 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.)

To overcome your fear of public speaking, use Carnegie’s four tips.

Tip #1

See yourself succeeding. In other words, imagine the version of yourself you want to become. Hold that vision firmly and you’ll get there in time.

Tip #2

Practice consistently. Confidence comes through experience, so look for opportunities to speak. Start with small groups, even just family or friends. Over time you’ll steel your nerves and be ready for more.

Take Visualizing and Practicing a Step Further

In Decoding Greatness, Ron Friedman offers another perspective on these tips. Firstly, he argues that you should actually imagine yourself performing a specific, detailed activity—like giving your speech—rather than imagining your success as Carnegie recommends. This is because rehearsing the details begins to establish neural pathways that prime your brain for that activity. In contrast, imagining your success just gives you a brief emotional high that may prime you to do worse. 

As to practice, Friedman says that in addition to consistency, effective practice requires reflection. You can reflect on and review your practice sessions by journaling afterward, which Friedman says will help you notice your progress over the long term.

Tip #3

Persist through plateaus. Carnegie explains that we don’t acquire new skills linearly—rather, we learn in fits and starts. Remember this when you worry you’ve stalled, and persist to your next big burst of growth. 

Tip #4

Commit and follow through. If you don’t give up, you’ll reach success in public speaking as a matter of course. Believe in yourself, practice, persist, and you will become a competent speaker.

(Shortform note: In Mastery, George Leonard also speaks to these two principles. On following through, he suggests that you commit yourself to a path of lifelong learning. Leonard argues that rather than getting frustrated or giving up when progress stalls, you should accept that mastery takes a lifetime—so start from where you are, put one foot in front of the other, practice regularly, and you’re already on the way. As for the plateaus Carnegie points out, Leonard says these are your opportunities to fall in love with the mundane, plodding details of regular practice—dedicate yourself to all the days where nothing special happens, and you’ll learn to show up, work hard, and master your craft.)

How to Build Confidence in Speaking: 4 Tips From Dale Carnegie

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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

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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