With an estimated net worth of $71.9 billion, octogenarian and Omahan Warren Buffett is one of the world's most successful financiers.

From an early age, Buffett seemed destined for greatness--by 16, he'd already amassed the equivalent of $53,000.

By the time he graduated from Columbia Business School, in 1951, it seemed nothing could stand in his way.

Well, almost nothing.

For much of his life, Buffett struggled with a crippling fear of public speaking.

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

How did Buffett overcome his fear to eventually become one of the most engaging, relatable, and revered business communicators of all time?

Simple: practice, practice, practice.

Overcoming the barriers to success

After returning to Omaha after grad school, Buffett saw an advertisement for the Dale Carnegie speaking course and enrolled.

Once a week, the 20-something Buffett joined a group of 30 equally terrified classmates. Each student was given a book of sample speeches and expected to deliver one in front of the class every week.

United in their terror, the classmates formed a supportive and encouraging environment.

"The way it works is that you learn to get out of yourself," Buffett explains in his book. "I mean, why should you be able to talk alone with somebody five minutes before and then freeze in front of a group?"

Through weeks of practice and by developing tricks to get around his fear, Buffett's hard work paid off.

Despite having earned degrees from two elite universities, the only diploma currently displayed in Buffett's office is a graduation certificate from the Dale Carnegie public speaking course he took in Omaha.

"That's the most important degree I have," Buffett once told the BBC.

The evolution of a great communicator

Today, Buffett is known for his clear, effective communication skills--not to mention the astonishing fortune they've helped him amass.

In his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, Buffett is notoriously down-to-earth and clever.

But even more important than the letter's content is the distinct and creative way in which Buffett communicates his message.

In surprisingly accessible 23-page reports, Buffett explains the year's financial ups and downs with clarity of thought and minimal jargon.

Buffett's trick for straightforward writing? He imagines he's addressing his sisters, not his shareholders.

Buffett's secret sauce

Buffett's career may be built upon brilliant ideas and smart investments, but his reputation is grounded in an ability to communicate effectively.

"You have to be able to communicate in life," Buffett explained in a recent interview. "Schools, to some extent, underemphasize that. If you can't communicate and talk to other people, you're giving up your potential."

What worked for him can work for you. Buffett urges other professionals to overcome their fears of public speaking as early as possible, saying: "It's so much easier to learn the right habits when you're young ... you've got to force yourself to do some things sometimes."

If Buffett's professional trajectory is any indication, forcing yourself to not only overcome the fear of public speaking but also to excel at it is an investment in your future--and, clearly, it's one well worth making.

Published on: Mar 16, 2017
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