Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People is something of a cultural paradigm. Most everyone has heard of the bestselling self-help book, originally published in 1936, though many approach the book with an eyebrow arched and an ironic comment ready. Though the title is quaint and prone to induce skepticism, the book has stood the test of time in a big way. It has been translated into 31 languages and over 15 million copies have been sold worldwide. The book was originally spawned from a 14-week course at the Dale Carnegie Institute and Carnegie’s compelling introduction of the book leaves no doubt in the readers’ mind that if his principles are applied rigorously, one’s life can certainly change for the better. Though we will delve into the book more closely in the coming months, for now, here are a few presentation lessons we can learn from the man himself, Dale Carnegie.
“Do the hard jobs first. The easy jobs will take care of themselves.”
For you, what’s the hardest part when preparing a presentation? Is it coming up with ideas during the brainstorming session? Is it the narrowing down of content? Is it finding your main point, the core of your idea? Whichever part it is, try to tackle it as soon as possible. Obviously, you have to do things in a certain order (if your hardest part is actually giving the presentation, clearly you can’t do that first) but it’s also very easy to procrastinate on doing something that you don’t want to do.
It’s helpful to simply be aware of your weaknesses and your dislikes when preparing a presentation. Then you can allot an appropriate amount of energy and exertion to each part of the process. If public speaking comes easy to you, relax while you practice (or as Carnegie would say, let it take care of itself), and then focus more of your energy on something you dislike doing, like narrowing down your content. Awareness is half the battle.
“If you want to be enthusiastic, act enthusiastic.”
It sounds obvious to act how you want to be perceived, but consider an offshoot of this idea embodied in a 21st century phrase: Fake it until you make it. If you want to be seen as confident but you are quickly breaking into little pieces inside, act confident on the outside. It may sound strange, but it’s easier than you think. If you act a certain way– happy, excited, energized, confident– you will embody that characteristic to your audience. And the best part about the ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ mantra is that, with some luck, the potentially idealized way you project yourself to others can become a reality. Maybe you don’t feel any confidence when you’re onstage speaking to others, but if you continually project confidence, the audience will see you that way, and hopefully you’ll begin to feel truly confident, too.
Interestingly enough, Dale Carnegie had a little bit of the ‘fake it until you make it’ quality in him: his last name was spelled Carnagey until he changed the spelling in the early 1920s to mirror that of the revered Andrew Carnegie. He knew people would recognize that spelling of his name much more so than the other, and that it would be synonymous with a man whom the country admired and respected. He was a savvy marketer of himself. How can you improve your image, how you are perceived, to better connect with your audience?
“First ask yourself: what is the worst that can happen? Then prepare to accept it. Then proceed to improve on the worst.”
This is apt advice for any presenter, especially those who tend to be nervous on the big day. Though your first thought might be to avoid any thoughts of failure or disaster, it’s better to go ahead and consider those possibilities when you’re practicing your presentation for the umpteenth time. What’s your biggest fear? Falling flat on your face? Having something in your teeth while you’re speaking? Forgetting what you need to cover? Give yourself time to mull over these terrifying possibilities, let your mind accept them, do everything you can to avoid their occurrence, and then move on. Mentally prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and go up there and give it your all.
If you’re at all curious about the grandfather of all self-help books, or you’re wondering what the fuss is all about, or even if you’re one of those who smirk when the antiquated title is mentioned, you should check out Carnegie’s masterpiece. It’s worth the read. But if you’re just looking for a quick Cliff Notes-style fix, there’s always Wikipedia.
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