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What I learned at the Dale Carnegie Course

By Stephen Shannon
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #59, 2004.

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Stephen Shannon


Where can high school students get important public speaking training and practice? Where can they learn to improve their human relations skills? Where can they learn to handle stress and worry? Where can they do it in a positive, supportive environment? The answer: The Dale Carnegie Course. This past summer I, at that time a junior in high school, took the course and received enormous benefits from it.

Through this training, I became very comfortable at speaking to audiences of all kinds. I learned how to prepare speeches quickly and easily, and how to deliver them with impact and poise. I learned how to think on my feet and give impromptu talks. I learned how to communicate my ideas clearly and concisely. I learned to use gestures to add effectiveness to my talks. I improved my relationship with my family members and my friends. I also learned how to decrease the amount of worry and stress in my life, and how to increase my enthusiasm. I learned leadership skills and I greatly increased my confidence level. On top of that, I made dozens of friends. I enjoyed myself so much that I am currently serving in another Dale Carnegie Course as a graduate assistant with my original instructor, Dr. Dale O. Ferrier.

What is the Dale Carnegie Course? To understand the course, you first need to understand the man. Dale Carnegie was a rural schoolteacher and salesman who moved to New York City to become an actor in the early 1900’s. Failing at that, he realized that he was an excellent public speaker, and began giving public speaking classes for adults at the New York YMCA. His classes became very popular, because many people, especially businessmen, needed public speaking skills. Dale Carnegie quickly discovered that there were several other things that people hoped to learn from his course. Many wanted to increase their interpersonal communication skills. Others were working to increase their self-confidence and their ability as leaders, and to decrease their job stress. Almost all of them wanted to improve their human relation skills. As a result, Dale decided to integrate these skills into his public speaking class.

In order to teach human relation skills, Dale Carnegie researched it thoroughly. To do that, he spent years interviewing some of the most successful businessmen and leaders of his time, people such as Henry Ford, J.C. Penney, and Charles Schwab, one of the greatest managers in American history. He also studied the lives of people such as Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, and St. Paul the Apostle. Dale Carnegie gathered the knowledge he got from his research into his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, and condensed it into thirty principles on human relation skills. Dale Carnegie also formed another thirty principles on conquering worry and wrote another book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.

Since the first official Dale Carnegie course in New York in 1912, the availability of the course has steadily expanded. It can be taken all over the United States and in many other countries. Even though Dale Carnegie died in 1955, the course still holds closely to his original ideas. His book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, the original textbook for the course, is one of the most widely read books in the world.

The modern Dale Carnegie Course is divided into twelve sessions that are held in the evening once a week. Each session is about three and one-half hours long, and is taught by an instructor who has been trained and qualified to teach the course by Dale Carnegie & Associates. Each class has anywhere from twenty-five to forty-five students in ages ranging from sixteen to sixty. The students come from diverse backgrounds and careers. Many are business managers, executives, and sales marketers. Others are blue collar workers such as industrial foremen. The focus of the course is to help the students develop these five objectives: build greater self-confidence, strengthen people skills, enhance communication skills, develop leadership skills, and control worry and stress.

Public Speaking

Public speaking is a major part of the course and the main tool used to help the students reach the objectives. At every session everyone gives at least one talk, usually a two-minute one. The topics are simple and easy to prepare. For example, in session four, the students give a report on an achievement or goal which they had worked towards and attained. I talked about how I spent three and one-half years taking martial arts lessons, and finally achieved the rank of Black Belt.

The instructor of the course always gives encouragement and coaching to the participants in order to help them improve. Often, the classes start with a brief warm-up, in which the students give a short, easily-remembered talk and practice broad gestures.

I can see from my fellow students that anyone who goes through the course, whether they are good or poor at public speaking, will come out many times better.

Confidence

As important as the public speaking is the focus on increasing self-confidence. The primary way the course does so is by gradually pushing the students out of their comfort zones. All people have certain things that they are comfortable and confident doing, and things that they are uncomfortable doing. For example, at my very first Dale Carnegie meeting, I was asked, like everybody else, to stand and tell everybody my name and a little about myself. I was not uncomfortable doing that since I had done it often enough on other occasions. Later, in the same class, I was asked to give a one-minute talk on how I hoped to benefit from the Dale Carnegie Course. Since that was something I didn’t do very often, I felt a little uncomfortable. Now suppose I had been asked to stand up alone in front of all the people and give a long talk on nuclear physics! That would have been very far out of my comfort zone.

The instructor of the course is always working to gently push the students farther and farther outside their comfort zones, until they are confident at doing things that would once have made them nervous. Before I took the Dale Carnegie Course, I would have been very nervous if I had to address a group of strangers. Now, I would only be mildly nervous.

People Skills

The thirty human relations principles are an integral part of the Dale Carnegie Course. Dale Carnegie arranged his ideas in principles is so that they are easy to remember and to apply in our day-to-day dealings. The first and most important principle is, “Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.” Criticizing, condemning and complaining are all negative. They put other people down, discourage them, and made them feel defensive. Instead, Dale Carnegie formulated principles such as these: “Give honest, sincere appreciation,” and, “Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view, “ and, “Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.” These are much better ways of influencing another person’s behavior.

Throughout the course, you work on memorizing the principles, applying them at home and at work, and reporting on your success in using them. For example, for two weeks we worked on improving relationships with specific people. I chose my six-year-old brother Vahn, who is very talkative and sometimes annoying. Because he talks so much, it’s easy to ignore him, which makes him unhappy. I applied the principle “Be a good listener.” I looked at him, listened to him, and commented on what he was saying. Vahn actually talks less now that he has a good listener.

Coolness, or Grace under Pressure

Here are some of Dale Carnegie’s principles on conquering worry: “Keep busy,” “Don’t fuss about trifles,” “Don’t worry about the past.” His “perfect way to conquer worry” has just one word: “Pray.”

This is probably a good time to answer a question that many of you are wondering: Is this a good course for Christians? The answer is an emphatic “Yes!” Dale Carnegie in his book makes clear that he is a Christian, and often mentions Jesus. Dr. Ferrier, my instructor, is a Christian, and he has several times told the class that the Dale Carnegie principles are based on Jesus’s Golden Rule. Most of the students are Christian, and I think that the course has helped several of them to apply their faith.

So, is this course good for homeschooled students? And is it good for high-school students? Let me give you a comment I have received several times from Dr. Ferrier and from fellow students, all of whom are older than I am: “I sure wish that I had taken this course when I was your age.” A high school student is on the verge of moving into the adult world, into jobs and college. Confidence, communication skills, and human relation skills are all very critical at this stage of life. Homeschooled high-school students, in my experience, have more than enough maturity to take the Dale Carnegie Course seriously and benefit from it, as I have done.


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