Confessions of a public speaker

I must have delivered many hundreds of presentations over the years, including some fairly high profile events, so I wasn’t optimistic that I’d find a lot to interest me in Confessions of a Public Speaker (O’Reilly, 2010) by Scott Berkun. I was wrong. I have never seen Scott speak, but I can tell you that he’s a great writer who kept me thoroughly engaged and entertained. This is not your run-of-the-mill effective presentations book – it’s packed with tips that you can use straight away.

He tells some home truths, designed to make you feel a little less anxious:

“Most people listening to presentations around the world right now are hoping their speakers will end soon. That’s all they want. They’re not judging you as much as you think, because they don’t care as much as you think.” Steady on Scott!

“If you’d like to be good at something, the first thing to go out the window is the notion of perfection.”

“They (the audience) want to be entertained. They want to learn. And most of all, they want you to do well. Many mistakes you can make while performing do not prevent those things from happening.”

It’s perfectly natural to be scared, because, as Scott reminds us:

“Our brains, for all their wonders, identify the following four things as being very bad for survival: standing alone, in open territory with no place to hide, without a weapon, in front of a large crowd of creatures staring at you.”

If you need one good reason to buy this book, it should be the section on what to do when things go wrong (you’re being heckled, everyone is staring at their laptops, one guy won’t stop asking questions, everyone hates you, and much more). Scott’s advice is both practical and hilarious.

You might wonder why Scott, who makes his living presenting, should want you to be as knowledgeable on the subject as he is. Well, he’s not stupid:

“No matter how much you hate or love this book, you’re unlikely to be a good public speaker … Most people are lazy … There will always be a shortage of good public speakers in the world, no matter how many great books there are on the subject. It’s a performance skill, and performance means practice.”

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