Way back in 1951, Warren Buffett was a 20-year-old man looking to surpass his goal of becoming a millionaire by the time he reached the age 35.
When he was 16 years old, he already made $53,000. He went to the best schools and already knew how to make money buying stocks.
But Buffett would need to defeat one of his demons before he could ever achieve intense wealth.
If the Oracle of Omaha were ever to fulfill his destiny, he was going to have to speak in public every once in a while.
“I was so terrified that I just couldn’t” speak publicly, he said to his biographer Alice Schroeder when she wrote “The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life.”
“I would throw up,” said Buffett. “In fact, I arranged my life so that I never had to get up in front of anybody.”
Once Buffett finished grad school and moved back to Omaha, he saw an ad in a newspaper about the Dale Carnegie speaking course. Warren Buffett trusted Dale Carnegie, because his book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” changed his life.
“I knew I was going to have to speak in public sometimes” recalled Buffett. “The agony was such that just to get rid of the pain I signed up for the course again.”
The course had 30 students and they met at a hotel in Omaha.
“We were all just terrified,” said Buffett. “We couldn’t say our own names. We all stood there and wouldn’t talk to each other.”
They received a book of speeches that came chock-full of examples of talks that you’d potentially give at a keynote event or if you were ever to win some type of an election. And each week the students had to deliver the speeches.
“The way it works is that you learn to get out of yourself,” said Buffett. “I mean, why should you be able to talk alone with somebody five minutes before and then freeze in front of a group?”
Buffett picked up a couple of “psychological tricks” in order to sidestep his fear, and he received plenty of experience speaking to groups of people during this situation that was very low key. The students of the class provided support for one another, and very slowly, Buffett became comfortable talking in front of crowds of people.
“Some of it is just practice – just doing it and practicing,” said Buffett. “And it worked. That’s the most important degree I have.”