C h a p t e r 1 Keys to High Impact Delivery
The Dale Carnegie organization is the world’s leading
resource for public speaking mastery, and this has
been true for almost a century. Just as certainly, the
Nightingale-Conant Corporation is the world leader in audio
learning technology. Now, Dale Carnegie and Nightingale-
Conant are proud to bring you this definitive book on speaking
in public. So whether you’re just starting out, or if you already
have extensive experience with oral presentations, Stand and
will take you to the next level of mastery.
Literally since the dawn of civilization, speaking well in
front of others has been an ongoing human challenge. This
was especially true for the classical civilizations of Greece and
Rome, but public speaking ability was also highly esteemed in
biblical times, and by Native American tribes, and by the cultures
of India and China. Fascinating as it might be, however,
our purpose here is not a history lesson. So right at the outset,
we’re going to introduce three key tools for creating a high impact
presentation. These are timeless principles upon which all
great speakers have relied—though each has done so in his or
her own way. By blending your unique identity with the universal
principles we’re about to discuss, you can transform yourself
into an effective public speaker almost instantly. So please read
carefully. What you’re about to learn will have a dramatic effect
not only on how you communicate to others, but on how you
see yourself as well.
Human beings are talking
beings. We start talking when we
wake up in the morning and we keep at it until we go to sleep—
and some people don’t even stop then. Good conversation is one
of the great joys of human commerce. Good conversation should
be like the game of tennis, in which the ball is struck back and
forth, with each player participating equally. Bores are like golfers
who just keep hitting their own ball, over and over and over.
Good conversationalists make good speakers. They’re sensitive
to the presence of others. Their antennae are forever alert,
picking up signals from their audience and responding to those
signals in the presentation. Good speakers achieve a marvelous
give-and-take with listeners, just as good conversationalists do
in a social setting.
More specifically, both speakers and conversationalists recognize
that people desire recognition more than any other
factor. They frequently ask questions such as “Do you agree
with that?” Then they’ll pause and read the response that’s
forthcoming. It might be silence, rapt attention, nods, laughter,
or concern. If listeners are bored, they will always find ways
of showing that, despite their polite efforts to hide their feelings.
If they’re interested, they’ll show that too. As speakers,
we have a duty to be interesting or we shouldn’t stand before
an audience in the first place. Creating interest is the task of the
speaker, whether we’re the manager of the sales force in a car
dealership, an insurance agency, a real estate office, or a large
international organization. When interest leaves, the sell goes
out of our message.
Our responsibility is not only to create a speech that will lead
an audience to a believable conclusion. We must also make the
building blocks of that conclusion as fascinating as we can. In
this way we can hold the attention of our audience until we get
to that all-important final point. In addition, if we can develop
techniques that make our audience feel that we are conversing
with them, we will convey that we care what they are thinking,
and that will create the emotional climate for them to accept us
as favorably as possible.
Along with understanding the similarities between speaking
in conversation and speaking in public, you should also
understand certain important differences. You need to master
certain key skills that create the illusion
that your presentation
is as personal as a one-on-one conversation—but that illusion
is only possible when you’ve professionalized yourself as a
speaker. David Letterman has the ability to speak with virtually
anybody while 10 million viewers are looking in. Yet he’s able
to make this seem as casual as a break at the office watercooler.
Now, you many not think of David Letterman as a great public
speaker, but he draws on the same principles that virtually
every accomplished speaker has used since ancient times.
What are these principles? The first is actually quite obvious,
and maybe that’s why so many speakers seem to forget
it. It can be stated in a single, short sentence: know what you’re
. Learn the material so well that you own it. Don’t
just have some expertise in your topic—master it
. Be able to
fill every second of your presentation with solid content. Once
you’re able to do that, 90 percent of your work will be done before
you even get up in front of the audience.
To make this point, Dale Carnegie liked to invoke the
example of Luther Burbank, a great scientist by any measure
and probably the greatest botanist of all time. Burbank once
said, “I have often produced a million plants in order to find one
or two really good ones—and then I destroyed all the inferior
specimens.” A presentation ought to be prepared in that same
lavish and discriminating spirit. Assemble a hundred thoughts
and discard ninety—or even ninety-nine. Collect more material,
more information, than there is any possibility of employing.
Gather it for the additional confidence it will give you, and
for the sureness of touch. Gather it for the effect it will have on
your mind and heart and whole manner of speaking. This is a
basic factor in preparation. Yet speakers constantly ignore it.
Mr. Carnegie actually believed that speakers should know forty
times more about their topic than they share in a presentation!
Knowing one topic supremely well is obviously much more
practical than trying to master a larger number. Professional
salespeople, marketing experts, and leaders in the advertising
profession know the importance of selling one thing at a time.
Only catalogs can successfully handle a multitude of items. In
a five-minute speech or even a long speech, it’s important to
have a single theme, and like a good salesperson, you pose the
problem and then give your solution. At the end, the problem is
restated and the solution quickly summarized.
Your opening statement should be an attention getter. For
example, you might say, “Scientists all over the world are
agreed that the world’s oceans are dying.” A sobering thought
indeed. It captures immediate interest, and everyone is thinking,
“Why, that would presage the end of the world. What are
we doing about it?”
By invoking an internationally recognized authority as
your reference—someone such as the late Jacques Cousteau,
for instance—you provide supporting evidence that your
opening remark is true, then you outline the possible ways
that the disaster might be averted. At the end, you might say,
“Yes, the oceans of the world are dying today, but if we can
marshal the combined efforts of the world’s peoples, if we can
influence every maritime country to pass laws governing the
pollution of the seas by oil tankers . . .” So you end on a note
of hope and at the same time enlist the sympathy of every one
of your listeners in your cause.
Not all talks are about social problems, of course. You might
be talking about a recent fishing trip, in which case you find
something of special interest in the story and open with that.
You might say, “Ounce for ounce, the rainbow trout is one of
the gamest fish on earth.” It’s a much better attention getter
and interest stimulator than saying, “I want to tell you about
my recent fishing trip.” After a few words about the fish you
were after, you can work in the rest. “Two weeks ago, John
Cooper and I decided to try our luck on the White River near
Carter, Arkansas. It’s one of the most naturally beautiful spots
in the country . . .” Stay with the trip and that rainbow trout,
the hero of your story, and how good it tasted cooked over an
open fire on the bank of the river. Then at the close, to more
closely link your listeners to the subject, you might say, “If
you’ve never been trout fishing, let me recommend it as one of
the world’s best ways to forget your problems, clear your brain,
and gain a new perspective. And when you hook a rainbow
trout, you’re in for one of the greatest thrills of a lifetime.”
Watch your personal pronouns. Keep yourself out of your
conversation as much as possible. In the fishing story, talk
about the fish, the beautiful scenery, your companions, other
people you met, a humorous incident or two perhaps, but don’t
keep saying, “I did this” and “I did that.” The purpose of the
speech is not to talk about you but rather the subject matter.
An old saying is that small minds talk about things, average
minds talk about people, and great minds talk about ideas.
What you’re selling is almost always an idea, even if it’s painting
the house. The idea is the good appearance or the protection
of the house. The fishing-trip story is about the idea of
getting away and going after exciting game fish. One idea, well
developed, is the key.
A beautiful painting is put together by a thousand brushstrokes,
each stroke making a contribution to the main theme,
the overall picture. It’s the same with a good speech.
When speakers—especially inexperienced speakers—prepare
a talk, their biggest fear is not having enough to say to fill the
allotted time. Most people worry that they’ll run out of material
in the middle of their talk, but they respond to this fear in
a misguided way. They “puff ” their presentation. They wind
up trying to cram the story of their lives into their fifteen minutes
at the podium. The presentation gets bigger, but instead
of really growing, it just swells. This is an especially dangerous
pitfall for new speakers since it’s usually unconscious. The
principle of knowing what you’re talking about doesn’t mean
you have to say it all. You say just enough to fill your time effectively.
You leave your audience wanting more, and if you’ve
truly mastered your subject, they’ll know that there is
You’ll project knowledge to them that’s above and beyond your
actual spoken words.
To reach this level of mastery, you should begin preparing
ten days to two weeks before your event. Start your preparation
by sitting down with a pencil and paper for twenty minutes—
no less and no more—and writing at least fifty questions about
your topic. Fifty is the minimum, but you should definitely try
for as many as possible. Write your questions as quickly as you
can. Don’t give them a lot of thought. That’s why the twentyminute
time limit is important. This stage of preparation is a
sprint, not a leisurely stroll through your mental library.
During this twenty-minute session, you’re creating an outline
for your talk—and we want to stress the importance of
putting this in the form of questions. Research shows that this
is much more stimulating to the brain than a conventional outline,
and since you’re not supplying answers at this point, it can
also be done much faster. The answers will come later in other
sessions leading up to your talk.
Let me repeat, your first session should be limited to twenty
minutes, and it should be done the old-fashioned way, with an
actual pencil and paper.
In your second session, you’ll start supplying answers to
your questions and providing evidence for your ideas. This is
when the computer becomes an essential tool. Begin by creating
a document file of your questions—there should be at least
fifty—and quickly writing an answer for each one based on
your own knowledge. Write this just as you would say it if you
were sitting in Starbucks with a good friend. Unlike your first
session, you don’t have to limit yourself to twenty minutes, but
don’t feel as if you have to answer all of your questions either.
Just keep at it until you feel your energy start to fade. Resist
the temptation to use the Internet to gather information. That
will come later. Right now your job is to access everything you
know about your topic, which is probably a lot more than you think
It may take you several sessions to answer all the questions
you wrote down, but that’s no problem as long as you begin
at least ten days in advance. Just make sure that you complete
your answers with three or four days left before your talk. In
those final sessions, you can surf the Internet for facts and
figures to enhance what you’ve already written. Remember,
you don’t have to report everything there is to know about
your topic. Ideally, you have total mastery of your subject, but
that’s for your benefit as much as for the audience’s. Mastery
allows you to feel completely confident in your role as an
authority. It’s not something you have to demonstrate in the
actual words that come out of your mouth. So pick and choose
the pertinent and hard-hitting information that you want to
include. Think of your talk as a special meal you’re preparing
in your home for some honored guests. Don’t think of it as a
full service restaurant.
For some presentations you have little or no prior information.
Other times the opposite will be true. For example,
if you’re talking about your own life or career, you’ll have a
wealth of material on the subject. Your problem is to select
and arrange the information. Don’t try to tell your audience
everything because it can’t be done. Your talk will come off
as sketchy and fragmented. On the other hand, if you’re talking
about something that’s less familiar to you, avoid trying to
cover this up with excessive research. Be frank with yourself
and your audience about your relationship to the topic. You
don’t have to say you feel ignorant about it, but you don’t have
to pretend you’re a total expert either. You might want to take
only one aspect of your topic and expand upon it. Don’t make
your talk an abstraction. Make liberal use of illustrations,
personal observations, and self-revelations. Think of specific
situations you’ve observed, and let those situations reveal any
general principles. Your goal should always be to share your
authentic point of view with the audience. That may be the
view of an excited and highly motivated learner, or of an experienced
and completely genuine, reliable, and empathetic
teacher. By showing this is who you really are, you’ll capture
the goodwill of your listeners.