Article Category: Resources for Speakers

Psst! Readers’ Speaking Confessions and Lessons

Have you ever fainted in mid-sentence?

Have you ever shown up for a 1-hour seminar only to be told you had to give it eight times in a row?

Have you ever had your blouse pop open while speaking?

These were just a few of the confessions shared by Six Minutes readers in our contest to win a copy of Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun.

Thank you to everyone who participated. The responses are collectively funny, surprising, and educational. A few of the most shocking confessions and the most valuable insights are featured below. Click here to read all of them back at the original contest article.

Underwear, Clown Noses, and Hello Kitty Toys

Jeff Fisher:

Attracting, and keeping, the attention of an audience can be difficult when you are speaking in the last time slot of a long conference day. I’ve managed to keep audiences awake in the past by doing my presentation in my underwear, wearing a clown nose, giving out door prizes such as “Hello Kitty” toys, and more. Be unique, be daring, be humorous – and be sure to somehow tie the unusual action into the topic on which you are speaking.

Remuneration or Renumeration?

A.J. Kandy:

Our high school debating club participated in a province-wide debating tournament. Our president had typed up copies of the main debate topic for us, which was “Be it resolved that the renumeration of Members of Parliament must be modified.” We scratched our heads and prepared as best as we could, coming up with elaborate talking points about redistricting of electoral ridings. When we entered the first debate, we were shocked to find out that the topic was actually “…the _remuneration_ of Members of Parliament.” Our club president had to face some pretty tough questions the next day… Lesson learned? Preparation counts, but so does the ability to throw away the script and improvise judiciously.

Could you give that presentation 7 more times?


I was speaking for a sales force training day at IBM, [and] was told they needed an hour long session and to be there by 8:30. What I didn’t know was that I was the only presenter of the day, and they wanted me to give the same presentation 8 times that day!

Choosing the Wrong Person for Eye Contact


A friend was giving a presentation about making a website more accessible for disabled users (i.e., ADA-compliant) at a day-long conference on Diversity. To calm her nerves, she relied on the well-known tip of choosing and presenting to one person in the audience as if you’re having a simple conversation. However, the gentleman she selected in the front row gave her absolutely no encouragement in return. She grew more and more disheartened as the man didn’t even acknowledge her beyond a looking in her direction.

She realized the flaw in her plan when, after she concluded, the man pulled out his folding white cane and left. She had been trying to made eye contact with someone who is blind – a likely encounter anywhere, but especially at a conference themed for universal accessibility.

Yet again, know your audience!

Out Cold at the Podium

Dan Chihos:

I was in my last year of AFROTC at NDSU; one assignment was to prepare and give a speech to the Commander and his staff. I was so nervous that and unprepared that shortly after standing up to give my speech, I was out cold at the podium, I had fainted and was unable to complete the assignment. Somehow I was able to pass the class and earn my commission. I am now an active member of a local Toastmasters group.

The Curse of Knowledge

Barbara Brown:

My worst fault, to me, is that I tend to give analogies that are completely lost on my audience. I see a clear connection, but they don’t.
Then, I make it worse by over-explaining.

The Three-Word Speech

Peggy Bassett:

My most embarrassing moment occurred when I attempted to give a speech without my notes. I’d rehearsed and was please with my practice. But, when I gave the speech, I went totally blank. I couldn’t even remember the topic! After standing there a few moments, I said, “To be continued!” and left the podium. The lesson I learned: No matter how rehearsed you are, always, always carry a copy of your speech with a brief outline to jog your memory in case of an emergency!

Speaking Without Conviction


On my business college course, we all had assignments to make presentations about a certain company and present their product in best possible way like we are selling it. I chose a tobacco company where my mother works because I knew all about it. Therefore I would not need to invest a lot of time preparing the presentation. It took me just couple of hours to prepare everything. Presentation looked great, there was lot of information and it was very well presented, but when the questions from audience started it turned into a disaster. Why? Because I am a non-smoker and I actually hate that company.

You have to believe what are you talking about.

Really Connecting with 2nd Graders

Jonna E Ritchie:

My public speaking confession: I often look at a general table area common to all the people at the table when I speak. It gives them the impression that I’m making individual eye contact, when I’m not. Most embarrassing experience: I gave a talk to a group of 2nd graders and they seemed to be really getting the topic and appeared very focused, laughed in all the ‘right’ spots, etc. When I asked for questions at the end one of them asked what I had stuck to my front tooth. It was spinach from a salad. They weren’t laughing at WHAT I was saying, but instead AT me. I didn’t interpret their enthusiasm correctly. Embarrassing!

Speech Enemy #1: Almonds

Kevin Wortman:

I was scheduled to speak before a senior leadership team one afternoon and decided to quiet a hungry stomach with a handful of almonds just prior to the talk. Little did I know that in an attempt to quiet my stomach, I sacrificed my voice. After my introduction, an almond skin tickled my throat and I went into a hacking fit. It’s difficult to convey a message when you are turning your esophagus inside out. Needless to say, I’ve learned that a simple drink of water works best before a speech and have practiced that approach ever since.

Value for the Audience & A Popping Blouse Button

Beth Bridges:

Lesson Learned:
As Chief Networking Officer of the Clovis Chamber, I am frequently invited to speak on networking. I was invited to one of the area’s larger, more established Rotary Clubs. As I was looking out over the audience, a wave of panic overcame me. “What could I possibly have to say to this group of experienced business people?!”
I plowed through, sweating it out, but the intimidation factor didn’t make it one of my better presentations. I felt like it was a complete waste of time.
But that afternoon, I got a call from one of the audience members. “I really appreciated the information, I didn’t know a lot of what you presented, and I’d like for you to come speak to my employees and my business neighbors.” That presentation turned into another speech and is still having further effects.
Lesson? Even if just ONE person takes something away, you should never feel like you have nothing to offer.

Now for the embarrassing story:
I was presenting to a small group of about 20 people in a classroom setting when a button located in a strategic place on my blouse, popped off and audibly hit the desk in front of me. Fortunately I was wearing a jacket. I turned around, buttoned up, and no one ever said a thing. But I think my face was as red as the blouse!

More Speaking Confessions and Insights

This was just a sample of entries received. Click here to read all of them.

And the Winners Are…

Three readers who submitted confessions were drawn randomly to receive a copy of Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun.

Congratulations to:

  • Colleen Cole
  • Jeff Fisher
  • Beth Bridges

Winners have been notified by email.

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  1. Jessica Pyne says:

    I love these – while I can’t say that I agree with all the methods used (presenting in underwear? Really?), the mistakes are amusing and helpful.

    The big lesson here seems to be prepared for anything – which I couldn’t agree with more!

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