Book Review: Confessions of a Public Speaker

Scott Berkun’s Confessions of a Public Speaker is a great first public speaking book to read (from my personal experience). The lessons and laughs contained in its pages are  bound to inspire even the practiced public speaker. Rather than speaking about a specific strategy for structuring presentations, Berkun demonstrates how to perform for your audience, regardless of the visuals you use.

Berkun tells stories from his own experience, and supplements with findings from books about teaching and lectures and learning. The book is a pleasant, entertaining, and a quick read (just 240 pages)—I plowed through it in four days and, for the record, I tend to read pretty slowly. What I enjoyed most about Confessions is that Berkun makes it clear that public speaking is simply another skill you have to practice and can continually improve. The two themes that stood out most to me were:

  1. Most people in your audience simply want to be entertained. They might not even need to learn something new; reminding them of something they forgot might be even more useful.
  2. Great presentations are a result of lots of thinking and practice. If you can think, and if you take the time to practice, you can be a successful public speaker.

Besides these two great lessons, I found the outlining strategy that he explains in Chapter 5: Don’t Eat the Microphone to be especially helpful. It basically goes like this: 1. Decide on your title, 2. Brainstorm questions you might answer that are related to that title, 3. Refine your list, and ditch the bad stuff. It’s a simple idea, but one that provided me with a solid plan to the presentation I hope to give gave at UXCampDC.

Final thought—the appendices are my favorite part! Weird, I know. The appendices cover the quick and dirty advice that’s perfect to refer to again and again. Berkun not only includes book recommendations, but also suggestions for other ways to improve your public speaking. For instance, study comedians. Comedians are public speakers and they have to be funny. If you learn timing and structure from them, you are bound to improve your public speaking. To me, the book is worth purchasing just for these great lists and blurbs of advice.

So, if you find yourself giving any sort of presentation, whether it’s at a conference with a large audience, or at your monthly board meeting, I highly recommend reading Confessions of a Public Speakerby Scott Berkun. I feel reassured and energized having read it, and I am sure you will, too.


About Veronica Erb

Designs, researches, illustrates, and writes code. Plays ukulele. Dances Balboa. Grew up in a geodesic dome, and hasn't gotten over it.
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