Book Review: Dale Carnegie’s Public Speaking Book

Oh my God, guys, it has been an uphill battle just to get this video done. The first shoot was so smooth. I thought I’d nailed it. Then we found out that half of the audio was corrupted and that we’d have to rerecord most of the video. You know, after the mess that was the Sherlock Holmes video, when I said I wanted a redemption arc like Kylo Ren’s… I DIDN’T MEAN LITERALLY.

But it’s okay, it’s over now, we fixed it. And in a way, it was probably for the better. I was tired and didn’t feel like getting dressed up just for fifteen minutes of filming, so the second half is just, like… me, unfiltered.

a short book with a long title

This time, I read How to Develop Self-Confidence and Influence People by Public Speaking by Dale Carnegie. That’s quite the mouthful, but it grabs your attention, doesn’t it? If the author sounds familiar, it may be because he also wrote the fairly popular How to Win Friends and Influence People. At least that one had a shorter title.

Public Speaking was written in 1926, which is pretty wild considering that that was almost 100 years ago. It underwent several name changes, eventually getting shortened to Public Speaking for Success in 2005. I mean, it does roll off the tongue much easier, no offense.

Here’s a brief summary: as the name suggests, it’s basically an instruction manual for public speaking. It’s split into twelve chapters that cover different aspects of effective public speaking and offers a lot of practical tips. (There are even exercises in the back, though I didn’t bother doing them!) Carnegie writes in an easy-going, conversational style and uses lots of anecdotes and quotes to illustrate his points. Personally, I enjoyed reading it. He even gets sassy sometimes, to be honest.

This book was originally written for businessmen, but there are only a few places where it seems to be appealing specifically to that sort of male ego. Everything else is pretty applicable to everyone and I didn’t have any problems understanding it. Since it was written in the 20s, there are some funny phrasings and idioms sprinkled throughout, but for the most part, the language still holds water today.

my major takeaways

  1. Just like everything else in life, it takes desire and practice to get good at public speaking. Sure, some people have more natural talent than others, but anyone can develop the skill if they really want to and are willing to work at it.
  2. When crafting a speech, you have to care about your message. After all, if you don’t care about it, how the heck do you expect your audience to give a crap?
    • Take the time to research your topic thoroughly. (I forgot to mention this in the video.) Know more about it than you can use in your speech so that the information just flows from you effortlessly.
    • Don’t try to memorize the whole thing. Create an outline, memorize your main points, and then let your brain fill in the rest.
  3. When it comes down to it, most speeches boil down to this basic structure: state your facts, argue for them, and then appeal for action. Kind of like writing an essay.
  4. Utilize the natural laws of remembering: impression, repetition, and association. Impression means you focus on the thing you want to remember, repetition obviously means you repeat it, and association basically means you come up with mnemonic devices and other tricks to help you associate your main points with things that you can easily remember.
  5. It takes time to improve. It’s totally normal to hit a plateau, so don’t give up if you do–just keep moving and eventually you’ll push past it.
  6. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Make sure you’re emphasizing what’s important, pausing for effect, etc. You’re also better of talking in a conversational tone, thinking of your speech like you’re just talking to someone one-on-one–apparently even back in 1926 they were over high, lofty rhetoric. Thank God.
  7. Present yourself well and embrace your unique personality. It’s not so much about caring what other people think when it comes to your appearance as it is taking yourself seriously and not giving people any reason to get distracted by you. At the same time, be yourself. Don’t dress or act like somebody you’re not.
  8. The beginning of your speech is very important, but should also be just long enough to grab your listener’s interest. Don’t make it long-winded. Hook them in with something short and sweet–a story, a fact, a joke, whatever makes sense for your subject matter.
  9. The end of your speech is also really important–don’t end with a “that’s all, folks” kind of phrase, because (according to Carnegie) it’s really amateurish and basically makes you sound like a doofus.
  10. Use concrete examples with plenty of imagery–paint a picture for your audience with clear, specific descriptions.
    • Also forgot to mention: focus on one main message. Don’t try to tell the whole history of the world in one speech. Pick one main idea and elaborate on it in detail.
  11. People are inherently selfish and will listen to anything that has to do with themselves. Draw your readers in by showing how what you’re talking about pertains to them individually.
  12. Read a dictionary. Like, literally. I guess what he means is, use your best diction, take the time to understand what words mean, and read good books in order to expand your vocabulary. This one’s kinda odd and funny because (as I say in the video) it almost comes off pretentious. So take it with a grain of salt, I suppose.

So yeah, those were my major takeaways, though there were plenty of other helpful tidbits in the book. I’m really glad I read this and I think it has a lot of applications not only to speaking, but also to writing. I highly recommend it to anyone who’s ever wanted to develop self-confidence, influence people, and/or get better at public speaking.

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