Hands up, then – who knows who Dale Carnegie is? If you know you are likely to be an old git, like me. This man became famous in the 1930s in America (he’d have to be American with a name like that). He is most well-known for writing *How to Win Friends and Influence People amongst other similarly-titled self-improvement books. For me personally he did a great job in the 1970s: he gave me self-confidence.

The company I worked for in those days had excellent training facilities at our head office in Slough. The Dale Carnegie company ran courses for self-development in the UK and used our office facilities. My company saw this as a development step for fledgling managers which is exactly where I was at in 1977. I was on a six-month assignment as an Area Sales Manager. You were rarely just promoted, you had to pass an assignment first. I was given the London and South-East region, a daunting task as it contained some of the company’s most gnarled and cynical characters, especial the Greater London ones. I was very apprehensive about trying to manage this team with very little previous man-management experience. Enter the strange world of Dale Carnegie and his ‘Human Relations’ course.

The twenty-week course consisted of four-hour long sessions every Wednesday afternoon between four and eight pm. The other delegates were from all different walks of life and other companies. Some like me were trying to climb the greasy pole of company management, there were also entrepreneurs or M/Ds of small companies who had difficulty relating to people. In general terms the course was designed to help people deal with other people – ´Human Relations´ described it well at the time.

The format was the same every week. For the first two hours we took it in turns to stand up at the front and talk for two minutes on a subject we had been given at the end of the previous week. Then you had been given a short verbal briefing on the subject with a few guidelines. You had to talk without notes for exactly two minutes, with only a ten-second leeway either way. It was strictly adhered to, so it had to punchy, accurate and concise – and two minutes can be a very long time.  At the half-time five-minute break we were given another subject to talk on in the second half, also for exactly two minutes – except of course on this occasion we had no preparation time. For a very short time most of us felt a little inhibited, but the whole experience was so hands-on, so funny, so intense that there was little time for nerves. The emphasis was on helping each other improve, and we all did quite dramatically. It was encouraging to see one another grow in confidence.

There were real life lessons, like how to remember names and the importance of doing so. I never forgot the three C’s in basic man-management: don’t Criticise, Condemn or Complain – easy to say and very difficult to carry out. Another week was hugely emotive, telling the class something you had never told anyone before. Several were horrendous, the stories were mostly very humbling. One was from a big strong man about his infant son dying: I don’t think anyone in the room could help crying, it was so sad. But without realising it you were losing your inhibitions of speaking in public, and building your self-confidence.

The course instructor was an amazing character called Harry, tremendous on his feet. He put so much effort each week into our sessions I thought he would burst sometimes. You would have expected him to lie down in a darkened room to unwind afterwards. A major feature every week was a vote as to who had done the best talk – and who had improved the most since the last week both of which were very competitive. Strangely some people I didn’t really take to initially I started to really like. Much material talked about every week was personal, about people’s lives, families and jobs. Some were hilarious, the Ford Sales Manager of a new car showroom kept us in stitches with tales of his team prima-donna salesmen, like highly-strung ballerinas from his weekly stories – being in sales myself I loved it.

At the end of the course you voted for the person who you thought had improved the most over the twenty weeks bringing a chance to become an assistant on future Dale Carnegie courses. I came second, and often wonder what might have been had I won. If Harry was anything to go by, I don’t think I’d have survived long, I would have burnt myself out. Despite huge work pressures during the course I never missed a session, it was much too important to me. I felt I was learning and improving so much I owed it to myself not to miss a moment.

In not-too-many years time I found myself standing up at sales conferences as my company’s National Sales Manager, addressing a large sales force of over a hundred people. Although I was naturally slightly nervous, it really didn’t bother me too much. Pre-Dale Carnegie I don’t think I could have done that, the thought of it would have brought me out in a rash. Public speaking has that effect on many people, but I conquered all that during the course.

I still have the training in me today, the techniques I learnt are inbred in me. If you want an example – smile when you meet people. Use their Christian name when talking to them – people’s names are the sweetest sounds of all to them. Thank you Dale.


*How To Win Friends And Influence People ;1938 by Dale Carnegie; Cedar Books