o I got railroaded (har-dee-har-har) into giving a two hour-long clinics at Protorails, a convention of model railroaders who focus on the prototypical. Mine was named TT&TO for Dummies, an introductory course about how trains were dispatched from pre-Civil War until recently (when you don’t have any direct communication or control over the crews).
I took a Dale Carnegie at work a couple of years back. It taught me a couple of things: First, you need to prepare, testing out your speech to make sure you have it down flat, that you can pick right back up after an interruption or question. And second, that the audience knows if you are sandbagging them, umming and ahing your way through a speech. You want to engage them, move along, and be organized.
That was the thing – in the Dale Carnegie class I took, it was clear that none of the other students tested their speeches – they didn’t even have cards. And they’d take a two minute speech to five minutes or more, hemming and hawing. I once put up a hand when we were asked for feedback and told the entire class that they were wasting my time with half-ass efforts (that really got me in good with them). But that was then, this is now.
Three months before my speech, I wrote in a doc file all the points I had to cover. This allowed me to spend a week adding to it, moving things around, until I was totally happy with the flow. Then I transferred the speech to nineteen index cards. And then I started practicing.
I’d stand outside and give my speech to the birds at the feeder and the squirrels dashing about, tuning my speech to get it within an hour, to be smooth in my delivery and to be polished and professional. I even gave it to a friend and my wife, an early draft, and they gave me a number of good ideas for my handouts.
And then, all too soon, it was Protorails.
I was scheduled for 7pm the first night and 9am the next morning. I passed the day going to clinics, watching the speakers blather and prevaricate, clearly not comfortable with public speaking (the only thing that makes for difficult speaking is unpreparedness). But about 5pm, I was getting antsy. Nervousness and doubt is what I do. I went up to my room and paced a bit, telling myself I was trained, I was ready, I was good to go. And then I picked up the index cards, cut the deck and started speaking off a random card. I had it so down, it was no problem to pick it up and run with it. I did three cards by rote before I realized I was about to do the entire speech. That calmed me down. I could do this.
Went downstairs, set up my room (early, and thank goodness because the lights had to be turned on somewhere else). Handouts ready. Pocket watch propped up on the table (using the card clip). Cards in my pocket. And then people were coming in. I smiled, found myself growing confident, joked and laughed and greeted the few people I knew. And then, 7pm sharp, I started.
If anything, the next day was even better. I could feel myself in the flow, tossing out facts and asking the audience questions, bringing them in. There is that moment when you see someone watching you get an important point, or ask a sharp question (which you can answer). I was no longer scared or worried. I was enjoying myself immensely.
After the Saturday speech, some of the audience stayed behind for a little follow-up chat. We talked, we shook hands, and I even got invited to a TT&TO operation up in Macon Ga (which I intend to take advantage of). So yes, Dale Carnegie taught me what to do. And what to not do.