Confessions of a Public Speaker


A slightly more specialised book review this month.

Scott Berkun makes his living as a writer and as a paid public speaker, and therefore is well qualified to produce a book on public speaking. As someone who gives paid and unpaid presentations in a variety of situations it was heart-warming for me to read stories from someone with a much higher profile and speaking income about all the problems and mistakes that he has made, and continues to make.

I have entered in the Toastmasters public speaking contest and having won three out of the four competitions at my Toastmaster club but then only winning one out of three of the competitions at the next level of competition, I decided to buy this book as one of the ways to try and improve my standards. While in some ways what Scott has written is largely reminding me of things I already know, reading the book has been very helpful. In fact part of his message is that speakers and writers spend a lot of their time getting people to look at what they already know in different ways rather than giving them lots of new information.

The book is written in an easy to read conversational style and the first part mixes war stories of his mistakes and failures with tips about what to do about preparation, about ensuring that rooms are set up as they should be, what to do if that is not possible, and the lessons he learnt from making a TV show. While the value is in part derived from his experiences wherever possible Scott backs up his points on technique with research and provides a solid amount of reference material. It is obvious that he has thought deeply about his craft and not just applied trial and error to his methods of improvement, but has tried to understand the basis for his successes and failures. This is invaluable to the reader.

The second half of the book is dedicated to some more specific tips about equipment, how to structure the making of a point, and how to address specific errors you might be making as an individual. Those include being too slow, using repetitive phrases you may be unaware of, or having the ability to make sex boring. He then moves on to being prepared in advanced for stuff that goes wrong such as equipment failure, heckling, one individual dominating questions, etc. The last part of the book is dedicated to war stories from speakers that he knows and respects and recommendations on development and research.

Overall I would recommend the book if you need to make presentations to groups, even if it is only 3 or 4 times a year. The style in which the book is written and the variety of information means that speakers at all levels will gain something from reading it. The novice speaker will be comforted by the fact that even the best speakers are nervous and make mistakes and the accomplished speaker will find tips and information to take them to the next level.

Paul Higgins January 28th 2010