The Art of Public Speaking | Dale Carnegie | Book Summary




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The Art of Public Speaking by Dale Carnegie

Spiders, heights, public speaking. Everyone has their own phobias. But even if you’d rather traverse a tightrope between two skyscrapers filled with spiders than give a speech in front of an audience, public speaking shouldn’t be so terrifying. In this book summary, we’ll explain how speaking in public is a matter of practice. At first it might feel uncomfortable, but the only way to overcome that discomfort is to dive right in. With practice and exposure, the rest is easy. Indeed, mastering oratory art can be a fun and fulfilling endeavor.


Sure, there can be a lot of practice involved, but, in the end, successful public speaking relies on being sincere and believing in the subject you’re presenting. This book summary will provide a variety of useful tips – from how to overcome stage fright to how to assemble an audience – with which to help build up your personal sincerity and belief. In this summary, you’ll also learn:

  • how putting together an audience is similar to building a campfire
  • why you can’t nail a tree branch to another tree’s trunk
  • what public speakers and basketball players have in common




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The Art of Public Speaking Key Idea #1: Being skilled at public speaking is a matter of practice, and anyone can beat stage fright.

Do you remember learning to swim? Did you buy a book, study a guide on the art of swimming and then, only after filling your head with hard-won knowledge, confidently put on your swimsuit and dive fearlessly into the nearest body of water with perfect execution? Most likely not.


You might not remember it, but you likely learned to swim by swimming. There was also probably a lot of awkward thrashing and getting water in your nose before you could master it. Why bring this up? Well, mastering public speaking can be just like learning how to swim.


The only way to become a skilled speaker is by giving speeches. To do that, you have to dive into the proverbial deep end. At first, you’ll be nervous about standing in front of an audience. But don’t worry; many great speakers are nervous when getting on stage, from the British statesman William Gladstone, to the American clergyman Henry Ward Beecher.


Becoming a skilled speech-giver isn’t about becoming fearless; it’s about having control over your fear. There are three techniques to help you to do that. The first is to forget feelings of self-consciousness by becoming absorbed by the subject. If you’re completely focused on the message you want to say, there’s less room for silly worries about your appearance or perception. Give yourself over to the content of your speech, and concerns about yourself being up on stage should disappear.


Also, it’s important to have something to say. The reason some speakers fail is because they come onstage unprepared. If you haven’t prepared any material or practiced at all, you’re likely to feel unsure and nervous in the moment. To avoid this, try memorizing at least the first few lines of your speech as a starting point.


Then, expect success. This doesn’t mean you should be overconfident and smug. Rather, imagine that it’s going well while maintaining your humility – not a submissive humility, but an energetic humbleness, an openness to improvement. By doing this, you’ll be more willing to succeed rather than judging yourself. After giving your first few speeches. you may feel like you’re drowning instead of swimming – but keep practicing, and they’ll soon be floating right along.

The Art of Public Speaking Key Idea #2: Use emphasis to overcome monotony.

Imagine you are a successful pianist. You could be playing your own songs or a famous composition, and there will still be a number of ways to interpret the music. You could change the tempo, play slowly or quickly, or with flourishes or uniformity. There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to how a piece of music should be played.


This idea also applies to public speaking. There are countless ways to give a successful speech, but before you can flourish, you need to understand the basics. Just like in music, monotony is the enemy. Imagine playing a famous Bach concerto only in one key. No amount of ingenuity could keep your performance from being monotone. So how can you avoid falling into this?


Well, it means you need to equip your public-speaking instrument with a variety of new notes. The first key (pun intended) to giving a dynamic speech is to use emphasis. A basic way to interject emphasis into your speech is to stress important words. For example, look at the following sentences: “Destiny is not a matter of chance. It is a matter of choice.”


What would be the best way to emphasize this sentence to your audience? Rather than each word equally, you can stress the word “destiny,” since it’s the subject. Then you can stress the word “not,” to highlight the negation.


And “chance” can use emphasis, since it juxtaposes with the next sentence’s central word, “choice.” Also, emphasis doesn’t always mean saying something at a higher volume. If you’re already speaking loudly, you might instead whisper, or if you have a higher tenor voice, you can rumble in a deep bass for effect. Indeed, changing pitch is the first key technique that can be used to stress a speech’s central idea. The second and third key techniques are changing pace and pausing.


In everyday conversation, people naturally speak more quickly when they’re telling about exciting events, and they speak slower for delivering momentous news. And often, we pause when telling stories for dramatic effect. So, consider pausing either before, or right after, saying a significant word or phrase. Or, you can speak more quickly through the first, less significant part of a sentence and then slow down to enunciate the crucial, final words. Your instrument’s keys are now yours to use. But how you play this instrument is still up to you to decide.




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The Art of Public Speaking Key Idea #3: Arousing emotion in your listeners is the crux of public speaking.

Imagine there are two speakers both delivering an anti-slavery speech in pre-Emancipation Proclamation America. One is a white politician who has a solid record of anti-slavery activism. The other is a black mother who is at a slave auction and just watched her son become sold away before her eyes. Which speaker do you think will have the more stirring speech? Well, it’s not hard to figure it out.


In fact, there are many American history speeches that have been given by just such women – enslaved black mothers who are outspoken about the inhumanity of slavery. These women had no formal training in public speaking, but instead they had something that training cannot provide: the force of feeling. Our feelings and emotion guide us through life. Think about it: why do we choose soft beds or drink cold water?


It’s not always logic and reason; sometimes it just simply feels right. Anyone who wants to master public speaking should consider this. Arousing passion in your listeners, if only momentarily, can do more work to win them over rather than hours of logical, rational argument. This is made even more aware by an advertising experiment done by a New York watchmaker.


He had two ad campaigns: one which emphasized a watch’s features, including durability, functionality, and design, and another that said owning the watch would bring pleasure and pride, with the slogan: “a watch to be proud of.” It’s not surprising that the second campaign did better, and he sold twice as many watches with that ad than the first.


So, how can you use this example to fill your speeches with the same feeling? We can’t deny that it takes work. When giving a speech, you have to fully enter into the subject. What does that mean? Well, think of the work an actor does to become a character. No matter what you are speaking about, you must become what you’re speaking.


Occupy it like an actor does a costume, so it possesses you like a spirit. Many actors try not to speak to others before a performance – try this for yourself. Focus on becoming what you speak and transform yourself into your subject. By doing this, you’ll be able to create emotion and interest in your listeners.

Key Idea #4: You can learn gestures, but they must come from a genuine feeling.

Imagine you have an apple tree in your backyard that’s gnarled, stunted, and leafless. What are you going to do about it? What if you could head into your garage, grab a chainsaw, saw off branches from another apple tree next door, and then nail them to your own tree trunk and pretend they’re yours? If only horticultural hurdles were so easy!


You don’t need to be an expert to know that a plant’s outward appearance reflects its inward circumstance. It takes a lot more understanding to apply this concept to the art of gesture. When someone is giving a speech, their movement and gesture has to come from real emotions and experiences while occupying the speech’s subject.


Too many theatrical, performed gestures will seem just as silly as those branches nailed to the gnarled apple tree. Yes, gesture is born out of true feeling – but you can still practice and get better at it. You can’t prepare every little gesture in your speech, as it should fit the occasion and come about organically when you speak. Just watch a talented speaker give the same speech twice, and you’ll note how it changes from delivery to delivery.


But this organic approach doesn’t always mean a good performance. Sometimes it can come out awkward or repetitive. To make gestures more effective, watch yourself speak in a mirror. Note what seems awkward and adjust. Effective gestures are just like good pronunciation: with more practice comes less thinking about it.


Practicing gestures will make them seem effortless and natural over time, and they will begin to emerge spontaneously when you want them to. Additionally, keep in mind that over-gesturing can be distracting. When watching yourself, also eliminate all unnecessary gestures. Also make sure they match your message. It would be odd to pause too long before gesturing or not matching your rhythm.


Remember too that facial expression is also a gesture! Your expression, as well as the way you stand, can be used to show your enthusiasm and spirit. After enough practice, you can rely on your sense and intuition for gestures. When your speech’s subject is your guide, you can let your gestures be as powerful as your words.




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The Art of Public Speaking Key Idea #5: A strong speaking voice requires good health.

What do basketball players and public speakers have in common? Yes, both need to perform in front of a crowd, but there’s more: they have to have be in superb cardiovascular condition! Both sprinting for a drunk and projecting to a large auditorium requires a strong pair of lungs. Lungs are crucial to a powerful, resounding voice.


The book author knew one orator who practiced his speeches when he went running, which forced him to take deep breaths and overall improved the power of his lungs. But if you’re not into running, there is one exercise you can do to improve your lungs and train yourself to use your diaphragm, which is the best way to take in a lot of air.


Start by standing with your hands on your waist, and with your hands there, try to make your fingers touch. This requires you to squeeze out all of the air from your lungs. When you inhale, do it deeply through your stomach and don’t raise your shoulders.


This technique will help you get the most of your lungs. Strong lungs aren’t the only criteria that make a strong voice: it’s important to relax, too. You have to open your throat and be calm. There’s a technique that can help with tension and nerves: move your torso around in horizontal circles.


As you move, relax your neck and let your head fall forward. This can open up your throat and help release tension that can tighten it. To improve your throat’s openness, try yawning. When you do, your throat opens on its own. Instead of closing your mouth, start speaking. You’ll notice a louder volume and a richer tone.


The ability to carry your voice isn’t only achieved by increasing volume; it’s also about placement. Seats at the back of a theater can hear the crumple of paper onstage all if its placed correctly. A speaker can whisper and make it audible with the right placement of his voice. This is done by pitching your voice forward.


You can practice by holding up your hand in front of your mouth and saying words like “crash,” “whirl,” and “buzz.” Speak until you can actually feel the tones from the words against your hand!

The Art of Public Speaking Key Idea #6: Arrange an audience properly to intensify the effect of your speech.

Who doesn’t love chirping crickets and a starry night sky? Imagine you’re camping, and you want to start a fire and roast some hot dogs. You’ve got some dry sticks, throw them down at random, light a match and drop it on the nearest bit of kindling. If you know anything about camping, you might have noticed a flaw in this choreography: the stick arrangement is important. If you want a healthy fire, you need a nice pile so the flame will move from one stick to the other.


So, let’s say the speaker is a match and the influence of the speech is the flame. To ignite the hearts and minds of her listeners, then you have to arrange the audience in a way to do so. This means sitting the audience closer together so your speech’s influence can move from one to the next. When an audience feels dense, it becomes more of a crowd, and a crowd is essentially a mob that is peaceful. As nineteenth-century social thinker John Ruskin once said, it is more prone to “think by infection.”


What this means is that if the audience is transformed more into a crowd, opinions will catch on like a cold. In addition to a crowd-creating method, join individual listeners by uniting them around shared worries. Acknowledge their needs, fears, and aspirations. If they feel that their individual preoccupations are shared mutually, they’ll naturally want to join up with those around them. Worried that crowds don’t work this way? Well, think about a performance of a song: after it ends, one person starts clapping, and within seconds, everyone erupts into applause. That’s contagion.


Look at history, too: in some autocratic governments, such as the Soviet Union, citizens are banned from congregating in public spaces due to fear of the crowd mentality and contagion of ideas. These governments fear that an anti-authoritarian sentiment might catch and spread among their population. If you can hone the ability to create a crowd, you can spread your message just like wildfire.




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The Art of Public Speaking Key Idea #7: Reinforce the strength of your argument by testing it.

Think about a king who wants to rule the world. This king had a skill for constructing impenetrable castles. However, this king also had a fatal flaw: he couldn’t topple his enemies’ defences. Building an irrefutable argument won’t go very far if you also can’t refute the points against you. If you can’t poke holes in the claims of potential disputants, then their claim is just as undisputable as yours.


To be an effective speaker, you have to be capable of building an argument as well as tearing one down. Sooner or later, all speech-givers find their views being challenged. The author details here how to build and demolish arguments in an effective way. He uses a list of questions instead of providing a bunch of dos and don’ts. There are four parts to an argument: the question under discussionthe evidencethe reasoning and inferences. Then there are eight questions (two for each part) that can be used to test the strength of any argument.


For the question under discussion, ask if it’s stated in clear terms. For example, if an opponent uses the word “gentleman,” question him to check if his definition of the word matches yours. Second, ask whether it’s stated fairly. There might be too little information – or maybe even the way the argument is formed contains a trap.


For the evidence, ask which experts are being cited. What makes them an expert? Is their research clear and unbiased? Second, ask which facts are being stated. Do they support or challenge one another? Are they confirmed or debatable? For the reasoning, ask whether the facts given might support a different conclusion than the one being offered in the argument.


Second, ask if the other counterarguments have been disproven or shown to be weak. And for inferences, ask first if they are guilty of a non sequitur – offering a conclusion that doesn’t follow the evidence. Second, ask if all the pieces of evidence complement with each other to draw your inferences from. Remember, it’s not only your argument that needs to pass the test of these questions. Use these against your opponent as well to become a double threat. You can be as invincible as the king in the castle, but able to take down the fortresses of your opponents as well.


The Art of Public Speaking Key Idea #8: Use imagination to your advantage.

Argument is the core foundation for any convincing speech. But if a speech is only a chain of logical statements, it’ll sound dull and lack any luster. It will surely be sturdy, but who will want to listen? This is why it’s important to use the power of the imagination when delivering a speech. One way to do this is by using figurative language.


For example, maybe your speech’s argument is that alcoholism can destroy a happy home. You could approach your audience and announce a claim and then give a long, monotonous list of statistics that prove your point. This could work if your crowd is full of fact-loving data analysts. But honestly, this approach would put most people to sleep.


It’s better if you ignite their imaginations through figurative language, a story. Perhaps you tell a tale of a drunkard coming home from a weekend binge, yelling and hitting his children. This will grab your audience’s attention but also stick uncomfortably in their minds more than numbers and generalizations. Next, you imagination to create mental images of your speech.


This means imaging just how your speech will go: imagine an audience, their reactions (both positive and negative), the way the room feels, and so on. With an audience in your mental eye, go through your speech. Think of the gestures you might use, how it feels to deliver it. This can reduce any anxiety about approaching them, and also make you more ready for any mishaps that may arise.


This will also help you remember everything you wanted to touch on and increases the chance that you’ll make a compelling delivery. After all, imagery is what makes a good poem, and public speaking is a kind of poetry. If you keep images in mind during your speech, you’ll stand out and deliver something anyone will want to listen to.

In Review: The Art of Public Speaking Summary

The key takeaway after reading this summary:


The best way to become an effective public speaker is through practice, practice, practice. Additionally, use proven techniques that promote success. Avoid monotony through emphasis, let your gestures form through feeling, improve your voice with good cardiovascular health, and transform your audience into a crowd. Finally, test out your arguments and the ones of your opponent with questioning, and use imagination to spark images in yourself and your crowd. 


Actionable advice:


Build up your vocabulary. You can be considerably more effective if you have a stirring vocabulary. A strong command of language is key for forcefully communicating ideas. The best way to broaden your vocabulary is to actually use the new words you find. So next time you look at Montaigne’s essays or Wordsworth’s poetry, write down the unfamiliar words. And then – this is important – integrate them into your language.




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