Book Review: Confessions Of A Public Speaker

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Practical advice on public speaking (photo credit)

I have been reading a lot of books on speaking lately. And Confessions of a public speaker by Scott Berkun is quite different. Although I was quite put off by the confessional narrative in the beginning, I think that is what sets this book apart. I expected it to be like most books we read on a topic and get filtered down, structured lessons to follow. This book does it but in Berkun‘s own unique style, drawing from his own experiences.

Confessions of a public speaker is exactly what the book promises to be. It gives a view from the speaker’s side of the stage, the behind the scenes view of it. What I absoutely loved about the book is its sweep across real life situations and solutions to the tricky ones. Having been a trainer for 14 years, I can see total sense in his advice on dealing with them. He is more like a friend telling you what to look out for when you go out to speak. And it covers not just preparing or delivering but travel, stay, choice of venue, fixing your mic, handling questions, dealing with tough audience, benefits of give aways, managing hecklers, being late for your talk, losing your slide deck, losing your mic or even losing audience interest – he has it all covered for you!

There are a few things that aren’t really my favourite about the book. It is too centered around someone who is a ‘professional’ public speaker – well! That’s what the title promised! A lot of his lessons can be applied to presentation skills but not really much of new information for a trainer like me. Also, I had to drag myself through the chapters on video recording and how to prepare yourself for it. I recently started recording videos and I understand exactly what he says. Although, I think, it could have been done more concisely. The other chapter is on teaching and did not make sense to me either in the large scheme of things. But all said and done, they don’t take away from the awesomeness of the book.

Although it is impossible to do justice to all the wonderful things shared in the book, here are a few tips, in no particular order, from the book that I think are useful for everyone:

1. Stop trying to be perfect

The first thing that he starts with, and I agree, is to stop trying to be perfect. I am a strong believer of “Done is better than perfect”. And this applies perfectly to public speaking, Unless you go out there and speak, you’ll never become perfect.

2. Prepare well.

The mantra I follow one hundred percent. Understand why your audience might come to listen to you. To learn something, to be entertained or just forced by their bosses. Whatever be the case, make sure that you are prepared to deliver. Berkun gives an illustration on how to prepare your speech using a simple example of “How eating cheese can save your life”. Although it’s just an example, you can get a clear idea of how to go about choosing the best outline for your presentation.

3. The magic formula of being prepared

By the end of it, you should have 3 versions of your talk: an elevator pitch -the title, a five minute version – each point and a brief summary and the full version – with ppts, videos etc. This, to me, is a magic formaula for any speaker. If you know your speech so well, you can never be ill prepared with your material.

4. Don’t bore people

Set the pace for the audience. Use stories to make it interesting. You are the star – get a little dramatic. Know what happens next to create the right effect at the right time. Have books as give-aways to keep the interest up.

5. Work a tough venue

I particularly like this one since not many people talk about the energy in the room and I really believe the concept. So what do you do if you are given a huge venue and a small number turns up? The people scattered across the area only divide the energy in the room. Get them to come ahead and sit closer so that the energy is focussed in a smaller area between the speaker and the audience. Very valuable tip!

The second section of the book is called Backstage Notes is the best reason to read the book. It is indeed a goldmine of information on the inside story of speaking. This part covers tips like how to deal with situations that can go wrong – wardrobe malfunctions, hateful audience, hecklers who refuse to shut up, never ending question from an audience member etc.

Berkun debunks the myth that the confident speakers we see on stage have a great time. Everyone has his/her own set of glitches with a new city, new venue or a new audience with a very different reaction to a speech delivered before.

All said, the book is unparalleled in some of the practical lessons it offers in public speaking in any situation. It’s a must read for a beginner or if your work involves a lot of speaking at different places for different audiences.

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Difference between a lectern and a podium? (Photo credit)

Do you know the difference between a lectern and a podium? Go read the book! 🙂

(A quick disclaimer: this book review, like all the others on this blog, isn’t a paid one. I write reviews after reading books and find tips I can share with you all)

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