Dale Carnegie Course: Week 7

This is part of a series on the Dale Carnegie Public Speaking Course.

Week 7 is a special week, and it was particularly special for me.

Each week, we give reports on our progress with applying what we learn to our daily life. At the very beginning it was stressed that this is an 11 week course, not an 11 session course, meaning that to get the best out of the course we need to be consciously using the skills we learn every day. Practice makes perfect. The reports are designed to give us practice at presenting. In our groups of about 6, we each share our reports, and each group votes for the best report to be considered for an award. Whoever is voted the best from each group gives the same report to the entire class, who then vote for the best. The top 2 win a prize, often accompanied by a pen. The pen isn’t the prize. The prize is the recognition of your peers. The winners then give a small acceptance speech, another skill we’ve learned.

I’m a bit of a competitive guy. I’ve wanted to win one of these awards since the beginning of the course. I’ve believed I could do it, and I’ll admit I’ve been disappointed each week when I’ve not even been nominated by my group. I’m ashamed to admit that I felt slightly miffed that others are better at it than me. When I should have been focussed on congratulating them, part of me was still self-absorbed, wondering why I didn’t win. It’s petty, and ridiculous. Rather than dwell on it, I’ve simply tried to focus on how I could do better next time.

My second report, on using enthusiasm, was voted the best unanimously by my group. I’d previously been concerned that my choice of topic was what had let me down before, but I hadn’t really planned a good topic for this report either. As I was giving it, though, I realised that it was the best report I’d given so far. When I finished, I knew I’d done well, and that all my other reports didn’t deserve to win anything. As I gave my report to the full class, I was even more confident about which parts of it worked well, and which parts needed trimming. I came to understand how great presenters have honed their skills through lots of practice, and that that is how you get good at it. I thought I knew this before, but now I really know it.

I won an award. It means a lot to me, not just because other people have deemed me worthy of an arbitrary award, but because I knew I’d done a good job, and that it was deserving of recognition. I didn’t deserve an award before, and I can certainly do better in the future, but I can see how I’m gaining the skills that I so wanted to learn by doing this course.

There was another aspect of this session that deserves special mention. In Scott Adams’ original post about this course that inspired me to attend, he mentions an exercise in complimenting others. The implementation details have obviously changed since he did the course, but the intent is the same. In our groups, we each took turns to compliment a member of the group, verbally, not writing notes as in Scott’s experience. We had to provide a compliment about the person’s character, using specific evidence from what we had observed in the course so far. We had to be sincere. Scott was right that this isn’t easy, but the results are powerful.

Hearing sincere complements from other people feels incredible. It’s also great to give a sincere complement that makes someone else feel good about themselves. Once you’ve experienced it, you have a new appreciation for how few complements you give to others, and how much it means to receive one. Some of the complements I received surprised me, in that what other people saw was very different to what I believed they saw.

One of my goals for this course was to learn how to become a well-spoken, witty, enthralling speaker. It is amazing to discover that people already see me that way.

This exercise was one of the moments in the course that completely justifies doing it.

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