Personal Models: Public Speaking

What inspired me to learn public speaking.>

Do the thing you fear to do and keep on doing it... that is the quickest and surest way ever yet discovered to conquer fear.- Dale Carnegie

By his nature, my father was a shy man.   He created himself from a rural farm boy to a business man with his sheer will to be someone, to accomplish something, and to make a difference.  He collected inspiring words around him and was proactive in seeking self-development.  

Looking at the books on the basement shelves that now collect dust: he purchased, collected, shared, and found books that were about finance: money management, investment, and of course the classic

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The Unlimited Dream Company.   There are also books on public speaking, people management, communications, negotiations, and self-mastery.  

I don’t remember ever seeing him read.  He was cutting the grass, laying stones for a sidewalk, fixing the toilet, repairing the yard light and of course in the earliest years washing the car.  Maybe he read after I went to sleep.  Certainly books were the vehicles for learning.  Pre Internet days, books for the constant form of reference.  The Encyclopedia Britannica and dictionary were always there to find out what one didn’t know.   Books were the way you self-taught.  Thus, my household was one of self-learning and if I wanted to know something I needed to look it up. 

However there is one thing that has stayed in my mind: was his determination to speak in public.  He was not a talker and for sure an introvert.  He said to me once that he could spend the whole day by himself as he had so many interesting thoughts in his own head and was always coming up with new ideas. 

Because of his shyness and introversion he didn’t use his voice much.  I don’t remember him ever yelling or expressing his feelings with his voice.   He could say cutting things but never in a loud voice.  And his voice was not an instrument he had at his disposal so to speak in front of people meant he had to drink water to moisten his throat and work on his breath support so his words could be audible.   

I have memories of him, before he went to meeting, putting on a tie, taking it off, and then retying it.  Maybe it was a nervous preparation habit or maybe the tie felt too tight around his throat.  I am certain he was exceeding nervous, as he was unable to engage with me.  He was most certainly trying to master a force to counteract the fear that was exploding inside him. 

As he progressed in his career he was required more and more to no longer write the reports but to present the reports and as he contributed more to the community, he needed to communicate ideas and plans so that others could understand what was required so decisions could be made. 

He would often express dread at these meetings saying something to the effect that there was no easy answers but to ignore the decision would move things backwards so people needed to be informed of the options and the consequences.   He would prepare thoroughly and read the financial reports and draw out the necessary trends that contributed to the logic that he would help others to understand a new way forward.   But even with the facts and the preparation the last hurdle for him was to present in meetings his findings.   He read the books to find hints on how to overcome his shyness and to speak in a compelling matter to make the changes that were necessary. 

Another factor that contributed to his desire to make a difference was he carried around a clipping in his wallet about Attitude; I found it again after he had died.  It was yellow and well worn and crinkled but it summed up how he lived his life.  He worked on his attitude about things.  He believed he could change his attitude and with that change, solutions could be found.  For me it is what helped him to face his fears – he told me that fear was the other side of excitement and that by focusing on the excitement of the new opportunity the fear would be diminished.

When I was 16 or so, he encouraged me to enter a speech contest. With his support I did get up behind the podium and spoke about something.  I remember him teaching me the facing the fear lesson of life at that time.  I obviously wasn’t a failure at public speaking as I went on in life and did a lot of public speaking.  I also read books took courses and joined Toastmasters clubs to perfect the skill.

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If my father had not faced his fear of public speaking, I would have never developed my own skills but even more relevant is that I likely would have never learned that I could be more than my fears.  It is from him that I faced my fears and traveled the world and followed my curiosity into jobs I was not yet skilled in because I had no fears.  It seemed to me what was required was openness to learning – and one could transform fears into new experiences.  

My father was a great example for facing fears and to keep facing them.  He never gave up and as he said to me, he never did become a great public speaker, but he did it anyway and he never let the fear get in the way of taking up a new opportunity.