Many people sign up for the Dale Carnegie Course to become a better public speaker. For some, the thought of getting up in front of a group of people is an almost crippling idea — your hands start to get clammy, your throat dries up, and you can’t stop the tapping of your right foot.
But that’s not me. I’ve given speeches at the university level and to organizations like City Year and Michigan Works! with great success. But it’s always been a positive experience because I’ve had time in advance to prepare, to put together a PowerPoint presentation, to craft exactly what I want to say to my audience.
Enter: Dale Carnegie Course, Section 6B — Think on Our Feet.
The objectives of this particular session are clear: communicate effectively in impromptu situations; apply methods that assist in communicating with clarity and conviction; and recognize the value of presenting our ideas with confidence.
Wait, did they just say “impromptu”? Gulp.
Impromptu speeches are a whole new ball game. It means no preparation, no organization, no practice. And for someone like me, that thought is absolutely terrifying. I knew this particular exercise would push me out of my comfort zone. No, scratch that. I knew it would throw me out of my comfort zone.
As each topic was called out and the speaker named, I became more and more nervous. What if the topic I’m chosen for is an easy one, but I clam up under the pressure of having to talk about it on the fly? What if I simply can’t think of anything to say? These thoughts and more were dancing around in my head as I waited for my name to be called.
“The topic is… a big moment in my life. Now speaking: Erica Finley.”
Oh my gosh, that’s me. Think, Erica, think. What’s it going to be? Do I talk about a moment from my childhood? Do I talk about my family? What do I say?
The first thing that came to mind was my trip to New York City this past April, getting on an airplane for the second time in my life, and exploring one of the most amazing cities in the world. I talked about how I walked the entire island of Manhattan (or at least it felt that way), visiting sites like Wall Street and Ground Zero, and the impact the experience had on me. I was so into my story, that I quickly forget what my original topic was, which was totally OK.
When my minute was up, I sat in my seat with a sigh of relief. I was glad it was over with, but at the same time, I was proud of myself for doing my best and articulating a personal story on the spot — no PowerPoints, no outlines. I was called up there one more time — this time to talk about a night of dancing — and it was much easier than the first time. It wasn’t exactly comfortable, but my confidence was growing.
At the end of the night, my classmates were gracious enough to honor me with a Breakthrough Award, given to the speaker of the night who pushed themselves the most, who truly stepped outside of their comfort zone. I was completely flattered by their confidence in me, and it made me proud to be a part of such an inspiring class.
The takeaway here is that no one signs up for the Dale Carnegie Course so they can sit comfortably in the bubble they’ve resided in for their entire lives. It’s not easy, and it takes a lot of work, and sometimes you’ll have to do things you’d normally go out of your way to avoid. But when you’re asked to rise to the challenge, to do those things that don’t necessarily come naturally to you, and when you succeed, the payoff is bigger than you can ever imagine.