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How Warren Buffett Conquered His Fear of Public Speaking

Communication expert Carmine Gallo has 3 proven and effective ways by which billionaire Warren Buffett conquered his "terrifying" fear of public speaking - and how you can, too!

By
Carmine Gallo,
Episode #217

As a public speaking and communication coach, I’m often approached by a person in the audience who says, “I wish I could be like the speakers you’ve talked about, but I get nervous when I’m asked to talk in front of a group or to give a presentation.” Does that sound familiar? My response is, “Good, you should be a little edgy. It’s natural.” You see, the goal is not to eliminate the fear entirely; it’s to manage it. If you don’t manage it, the fear can become stifling as most of us have experienced at some point in our professional careers..

True story: The billionaire Warren Buffett was “terrified” of public speaking. He was so nervous, in fact, that he would choose and arrange his college classes to avoid having to get up in front of people. Get this…he even enrolled in a public speaking course, and dropped out even before it started. He was too nervous to take a course to help him overcome his nerves! At the age of 21, Buffett started his career in the securities business in Omaha and decided that to reach his full potential, he had to overcome his crippling fear. So Buffett tried again and this time he was determined to see it through. He enrolled in a Dale Carnegie course with another thirty people who, like him, were “terrified of getting up and saying our names.” The class worked and Buffett conquered his fear.

Nowadays, when asked, “What habits did you cultivate in your 20s and 30s that you see as the foundation of success?” Buffett answered, “You’ve got to be able to communicate in life. It’s enormously important. If you can’t communicate and talk to other people and get across your ideas, you’re giving up your potential.”

So if you’ve ever gotten the jitters about speaking in public, trust me, you’re not alone. In my experience coaching executives on their communication and presentation skills, I can tell you that many, if not most, wealthy, famous, and successful business leaders currently struggle or have struggled with speaking in public. I’ve also discovered that there are three proven and effective ways to manage your nerves and to overcome the fear of public speaking:

Tip #1: Manage Your Fear

Academic researchers in the field of communication tell me that it’s nearly impossible to rid ourselves completely of the fear. It’s natural and ingrained from thousands of years of evolution where human beings needed to be accepted in social groups in order to survive. Our primitive ancestors who didn’t care about the impression they made on others were cast out of the tribe or village. That’s not a good thing when a tiger is lurking around the corner. In other words, it’s perfectly natural and understandable that we want to be liked. In fact leaders who are not nervous at all about speaking are often unsuccessful at delivering presentations precisely because they don’t care about how they come across. Successful public speakers learn to manage their fear and not to eliminate it.

Tip #2: Reframe Your Thoughts

The world famous minister, Joel Osteen, sells out places like Yankee Stadium and speaks live to 40,000 a week who visit Lakewood church every Sunday. Osteen says the week before his first sermon in 1999 marked the worst days of his life. “I was scared to death,” he said. At the time he knew very little about speaking or preparing a message. In fact he was perfectly content to sit behind the video camera during his father’s sermons. When his father passed away, Osteen’s wife and family encouraged him to take the stage. It took a long time for Osteen to overcome his fear because he didn’t believe he was a worthy successor. Words, he says, are like seeds, especially the words you tell yourself. If you dwell on them long enough they take root and you will become what those words say you’ll become—if you let them. Osteen says negative labels—the ones people place on us and the labels we place on ourselves— prevent us from reaching our potential.

I find that leaders who are nervous about speaking in public say the most awful things to themselves—words that they would never say to anyone else.  Perhaps you’ve said these things to yourself:

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