Confessions of a Public Speaker
Confessions of a Public Speaker is a highly entertaining and insightful insider’s view of public speaking, with value for speakers of all levels.
This article is the latest of a series of public speaking book reviews here on Six Minutes.
Based on the provocative title, you might think this book is heavy on memoirs and light on educational content. You would only be half right.
Confessions of a Public Speaker is packed with personal stories from the author and also packed with tips and advice for speakers from all backgrounds. A more appropriate title would probably have been “Insights of a Public Speaker” or “Lessons Learned by a Public Speaker”; of course, neither of those titles would like sell as many copies as this best-selling book is.
The video below shows the author talking about what the book is about…
At the time of writing this review, you can get this hardcover book for only $16.49 from amazon.com. This is 34% off the list price.
At this price, it isn’t surprising that this book is the 7th most popular public speaking book on amazon.com since being released last November. Readers love it — everyone’s giving it 5 stars.
The three things I liked most about Confessions of a Public Speaker are:
1. Packed with Great Insights
Confessions of a Public Speaker touches on a broad set of issues — fear of speaking, preparation, organization of ideas, delivery techniques, teaching approach, dealing with a difficult crowd, preventing mishaps, speaking technology, and many others. Every speaker will find new advice and insights here.
As just one example, the second chapter (just 11 pages) is perhaps the most concise, sensible advice on public speaking fear I’ve read.
2. Wonderfully written!
Most public speaking books are written by speaking experts who, if I were to guess, are not authors by nature.
Confessions of a Public Speaker is different. Scott Berkun is a best-selling author (see: Making Things Happen and The Myths of Innovation) and refers to himself as a writer first, and a speaker second. His humorous, witty, and sharp prose make this a thoroughly enjoyable read.
3. Honest to a Fault
Confessions begins with an odd disclaimer:
This book is highly opinionated, personal, and full of behind-the-scenes stories. You may not like this. Some people like seeing how sausage is made, but many do not.
Although everything in this book is true and written to be useful, if you don’t always want to hear the truth, this book might not be for you.
It’s true. The honesty in this book may shock some, like this passage:
No amount of training will make a man with two brain cells seem anything but dumb, as the problem is not his ability to speak, it’s his inability to think. It’s rarely said, but some people will never be good public speakers. Unless they find someone to do their thinking for them, they only have, at best, half the tools they need.
[...] The problem with most bad presentations I see is not the speaking, the slides, the visuals, or any of the things people obsess about. Instead, it’s the lack of thinking.
Personally, I appreciate this fresh approach.
1. More Cohesion from Chapter to Chapter
Each individual chapter is well-written and feels “just right” as far as depth. However, I didn’t notice much continuity from one chapter to the next, and there’s no obvious rationale for the ordering of material.
Maybe this isn’t a bad thing. Each chapter stands on its own. It’s easy to read the book in short bursts — like I did, one chapter each night.
2. Better Photos
There are photos distributed throughout the book (and even one short chapter with a whole series of them), many taken by the author at speaking venues. The photos are referenced in the text, and they help to tell the story.
Unfortunately, the photos are not in color, and the contrast levels are too low, so many of them hard to view. A few are completely washed out in my copy.
Maybe this was a tradeoff that keeps the price of the book low? Maybe it was only my copy? Maybe the photos could be shared on the author’s website for keeners like me who want to squeeze every drop of meaning?
Update: Apparently, it wasn’t just my copy. On Scott’s blog, he reports that the low-contrast photos were a mistake in the first print run, and says the 2nd and 3rd run fixes this problem. If you get a copy now, you should get the good photos.
Gina Trapani, Lifehacker:
If public speaking is a part of your job–and it is, in some capacity, whether or not you’re Barack Obama–this book is a worthy read. It’s converted at least one person who has turned down speaking engagements because the idea was too scary to someone excited about getting better at a special and important skill.
Ben Rothke, Slashdot:
[...] Confessions of a Public Speaker is unique in that it takes a holistic approach to the art and science of public speaking. The book doesn’t just provide helpful hints, it attempts to make the speaker, and his associated presentation, compelling and necessary.
Jeff Bailey, Wired Presentations:
If you are new to presentations this should be the first book that you read on the topic. It gives a lot of great advice that many people take for granted.
Rhett Laubach, Authenticity Rules:
I have given at least 100 public speeches each year for the past 18 years and I have found a ton of value in it.
Ian Griffin, Speechwriter:
Confessions of a Public Speaker offers presenters—and those of us who support executives who give presentations—a great source of ideas to improve both the content and delivery of future talks.
Here’s my confession… I didn’t want to put this book down.
Confessions of a Public Speaker provides sound advice that can help anyone improve their speaking skills. Highly recommended.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review.
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