The One Skill That Changed Warren Buffett's Life

April 12, 2017

Warren Buffett was born with a fear of public speaking. But he didn't let that hold him back from his dreams.

Warren Buffett has two college degrees, a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master’s degree from Columbia Business School. And yet, only one diploma hangs on his wall: his certificate for graduating from a Dale Carnegie public speaking course.

Why?

Because despite his education and early success – he sold his first business, a string of pinball machines, when he was in high school and hasn’t stopped making money since – he was born with an innate fear of public speaking.

"I would throw up," he told his biographer in the book The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life. "In fact, I arranged my life so that I never had to get up in front of anybody."

To fix that, he enrolled in the aforementioned public speaking course in Omaha. After learning some “psychological tricks” and being forced to speak in front of the class over and over again, Buffett finally got comfortable speaking in front of an audience.

Today, Buffett conducts countless radio and television interviews and gives speeches across the world, while also serving as CEO of a business with more than 350,000 employees. All of which require strong public speaking skills, and all of which are integral to him becoming one of the richest people in the world.

The bigger point

The point here isn’t to learn public speaking (although you should, if that’s an area you struggle in). The point here is the process in which Warren Buffett followed.

First off, he identified an area of weakness that was holding him back – public speaking. Second, he took time out of his day to learn that skill, which would help him throughout the rest of his career.

Think about it: if Warren Buffett didn’t become a strong public speaker, where would his career have gone? Could he really have run a giant organization like Berkshire Hathaway, if every time he got in front of a group, he could barely get a word out?

Of course not.

And today he uses his platform to advocate for the things he believes in most, such as his passion for The Giving Pledge, an effort by Buffett, Bill Gates and other billionaires to encourage the world’s wealthiest people to donate at least 50 percent of their net worth to charity.

How effective would he be at advancing that cause if he was too nervous to speak publicly about it?

Clearly, learning how to speak publicly changed Buffett’s life forever, for the better. And it was something he was really bad at, which he now is renowned for.

And that’s inspiring. We all struggle in some areas, and too many of us believe we’ll always struggle in those areas; that we are incapable of getting better at them.

Buffett proved that’s absolutely not the case. All it takes is a commitment to learn.

*Image from Fortune Live Media, Flickr

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