There is an erroneous belief that most wealthiest, affluent or influential people in the world don’t usually have problem with public speaking and communication skills. That statement in itself is fallacious! To prove that, we shall take Warren Buffett as case study.
Warren Edward Buffett (born August 30, 1930) is an American business magnate, investor and philanthropist. He was the most successful investor of the 20th century. For the record, Buffett is the chairman, CEO and largest shareholder of Berkshire Hathaway, and consistently ranked among the world’s wealthiest people. At a point, he was ranked as the world’s wealthiest person in 2008 and as the third wealthiest in 2011.
Here is how Buffett described his struggle with facing an audience at the earliest stage of his career.
“Up until the age of twenty. I was absolutely unable to speak in public. Just the thought of it made me physically ill. I would literally throw up. I selected courses in college where I didn’t have to stand up in front of the class, and I arranged my life so that I would never find myself in front of a crowd. If I somehow did, I could hardly say my own name. I’m not sure what led to this problem, but it was there in a big way.
When I was at Columbia Business School, I saw an ad in the paper for a Dale Carnegie public-speaking course and figured it would serve me well. I went to Midtown, signed up, and gave them a check. But after I left, I swiftly stopped payment. I just couldn’t do it. I was that terrified. I returned to Omaha after graduating and got a job as a salesman of securities. I knew that I had to be able to speak in front of people. So again, I saw an ad in the paper and went down to sign up; but this time I handed the instructor one hundred dollars in cash. I knew if I gave him the cash I’d show up. And I did.
There were about thirty other people in the class and we all had trouble saying our own names. We met once a week for a dozen or so weeks. They would give us different types of speeches to practice and taught us psychological tricks to overcome our fears. There was that communal feeling that we were all in the same boat and really helped one another get through the class. As soon as the course was over, I went to the University of Omaha and said, “I want to start teaching.” I knew that if I did not speak in front of people quickly I would lapse back to where I’d started. I just kept doing it, and now you can’t stop me from talking!
The impact that class had on my life was huge. In fact, I don’t have my diploma from the University of Nebraska hanging on my office wall, and I don’t have my diploma from Colombia up there either—but I do have my Dale Carnegie graduation certificate proudly displayed. That $100 course gave me the most important degree I have. It’s certainly had the biggest impact in terms of my subsequent success.
In graduate school you learn all this complicated stuff, but what’s really essential is being able to get others to follow your ideas. If you’re a salesperson, you want people to follow your advice. If you’re a management leader, you want them to follow you in business. Whatever you do, good communication skills are incredibly important and something that almost anybody can improve upon, both in writing and speaking. In my case, I proposed to my wife during the time I was taking the public-speaking course. Who knows, but maybe if I had been talking in my voice of six months earlier I wouldn’t have persuaded her to say yes. There are all kinds of good things that come out of sound communication skills.
One of the best things you can do in life is to surround yourself with people who are better than you are. High-grade people. You will end up behaving more like them, and they, in turn, will get it back from you. It’s like a planetary system. If you hang around with people who behave worse than you, pretty soon you’ll start being pulled in that direction. That’s just the way it seems to work. Who you choose to associate with matters”
Well… if a Warren Buffett can do it, who says you can’t? That is one lesson we all can tap from, right?