Article Category: Resources for Speakers

Win a Book! Share Your Public Speaking Confessions

Last week, we reviewed Scott Berkun’s latest book, Confessions of a Public Speaker.

I asked Sara Peyton over at O’Reilly (the book publisher) for a few copies for Six Minutes readers, and she kindly agreed.

Now, you can win one of three copies by sharing your own public speaking confessions!

  • What speaking lesson did you learn the hard way?
  • What was your most embarrassing speaking experience?
  • What secret speaking techniques do you use?

[Another reason to celebrate? This marks the 200th article at Six Minutes. Yippee!]

How Can You Win?

Just submit a comment on this article (click here to do so) with:

  1. Your public speaking confession. It can be any speaking experience where you learned a valuable lesson.
  2. Your name
  3. Your email address (so we can contact you if you win)

That’s it!

To be eligible to win, your comment must be received before 11:59 pm EST on Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010.

Update: This contest is now closed.

We’ll randomly select three winners from all entries received. Winners will be announced next week and we’ll feature some of the best confessions. Winners will receive a copy of Confessions of a Public Speaker straight from the publisher.

Submit your entry now!

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  1. I use a special technique to respect the time limit. I use a hierarchical structure for the material of my speech. This way, I have the flexibility to skip a subtopic if I am short of time. I published a post about this technique this morning.

  2. Jeff Fisher says:

    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.

  3. A.J. Kandy says:

    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.

  4. Tony Ramos says:

    Came here via Twitter, which, coincidentally, is a thing @Berkun has had a reevaluation about. Good reading as well.
    His tweet: “Twitter Reconsidered – my follow up to Calling BS on Social Media –

  5. Lon says:

    i was speaking for a sales force training day at ibm, 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 8x that day!

    Completely frazzled, I came back from the washroom with both my fly and my belt bucklet undone for one of the sessions.

    tip – know the specifics of when you’re speaking, and buckle up!

  6. Merritt says:

    Confession: I once spoke to a room full of 250 college students who were told they had to attend my day-long session or be hit with a $50 fine. I was cursed at, ridiculed or ignored for a good portion of the day. The upside – it forced me to toss out my notes and wing it, proving (mostly to myself) that I had it in me to do so.

    Lesson: ask more questions about the job, especially the background/mindset of your audience

  7. I gave a poster presentation and for some reason that was planned for 10 minutes and all of a sudden they gave me 15 minutes. My problem was that I stood there after 10 minutes and didn’t know what to say anymore. So I simple stopped and asked if there were any questions and it turned out that because I limited myself to 10 minutes to convey the idea rather than the details the amount of question generated can easily exceed your presentation time. Man I still get email from people asking me questions about the presentation I gave!

  8. Bernadette says:

    It’s not my experience, so I won’t count this as an entry.

    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!

  9. Speech class in college. We had to give 3 10 minute speeches to convince our fellow students to do something. My first speech lasted 2 minutes. My second 30 seconds, and I didn’t give a 3rd.

    I’ve recently joined Toastmasters, and while I’m not a good speaker (yet), I’m able to give a speech, and I learn every time I give one.

  10. Dan Chihos says:

    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.

  11. Carolyn says:

    Table topics question was that I’m been asked to recommend Sarah Palin for a job as hairdresser. I could have and should have avoided the temptation to share my political views and gone for the humor of the question. But all I could think of at the moment were my own opinions and a political pundit I am not. It was a good lesson learned and one I often reflect back on.

  12. This past week, I was a hypocrite. I was presenting a seminar on how to present well, focusing on preparation as the path to success.

    Unfortunately, I did not prepare as well as I should have. No rehearsal.

    The good news was that I did have an outline. But as I came across a section of my outline where I talked about weaving a narrative theme throughout a speech, I realized that I hadn’t done that in my own speech.
    Feeling guily, I decided I was going to weave some theme in – right there and then, and I just started talking, not knowing where I was going.

    As I spoke, I was literally thinking “uh oh, how am I going to get myself out of this?”

    I had a stroke of — not genius, but dumb luck. I remembered thinking of an analogy on the trip in, and I weaved that in on the spot (thank you Toastmasters Table Topics!!!)

    The audience didn’t realize it, but I knew, and now you know, that I was one lucky hypocrite!

    My speaking secret is OUTLINE, because even if other duties and deadlines gobble up your preparation time, you have a roadmap for your speech.

  13. Ronald Smith says:

    I have had several that stand out. I joined Toastmasters in the 70’s, 80’s and rejoined in thee eqrly 90’s and still there. My worst speeches were when I Got away from my formula and did not do the preperation and tried to wing it and failed misserably. I purchased a college trextbook and getting back on track with my speaking, so failure is temporary if you get up amd change diorction and get back on tract

  14. Barbara Brown says:

    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.

  15. Being an American history enthusiast, I developed several programs telling the stories of the beginnings of our country – incorporating singing related patriotic songs. The most popular is the telling and singing of The Star Spangled Banner story. At one presentation I was deeply moved by my own emotions as I related the story and it’s importance to our history, becoming moved to tears and choking up while singing the fourth verse. Being embarrassed I apologized to the audience, regained my composure, and continued to finish – on a highly emotional note. At the conclusion of the program, an older gentleman approached me, tears streaming down his face, grasped my hand with a firm grip and hung on and looked my straight in the face and said “never apologize for your own passion!”. He was a veteran, and the story of struggle, apparent defeat, and ultimate victory were especially personal for him. I don’t apologize for my passion and emotions, I try to keep it in check during my programs, but I am as moved today by the story of triumph and independence as I was when I began. I will never forget that man who also was not afraid to show his passion, and love of his country.

  16. Betsy Orlando says:

    What I have learned in my public speaking experiences are three important lessons: timing, conclusion and know your audience. As to the latter, I work with many high school and sometimes junior high school students and have come to realize that I have to watch my word usage (no $5 dollar words) and my examples to fit them. If I mention a country, I need to either explain where it is or describe as many of them have no idea of world history, politics or geography at that age. As to timing, I once gave a presentation in Germany that went super but went way over my time as I was having too much time and shortchanged the next speaker. Which goes to conclusion, without one it just ends limply and there is no power or take home message so I have been working hard on developing powerful ones.
    My speaking tip is I do my presentation notes on PowerPoint so I can’t write the whole thing out. Also I print them in handouts 2 on a page which is enough to allow me to refer to them and to easily slid to the next page while not losing my place. Notecards can be disastrous this way.

  17. Colleen Cole says:

    In high school, I tore up my speech the day before a significant regional public speaking competition. The speech had everything, including the “peel the onions” topic of the day, terrific delivery and great language and I hated it. As far as I was concerned it was boring and contrived and I didn’t want to hear it one more time – or subject an audience to it either.

    My team was aghast! I had just delivered it during our pre-contest practice and they were sure it was a winner. I was simply sure it was boring.

    I decided my objective was to have a good time at the contest and winning just didn’t matter. I wrote a speech that evening about my imaginary trip to another planet. The judging was round robin style to ensure fairness, so the participants were broken up into groups and the judges rotated through the rooms to hear the speeches. I had to deliver it three times.

    The speech was hysterically funny, not serious at all and ended up being delivered without notes because it was fresh in my head – and my hands were shaking so badly that I couldn’t read my notes when I looked down, so I abandoned them.

    I was selected as a finalist.

    As a finalist, we were given a selection from literature to compose a speech around. The Seven Deadly Sins. I had no idea what they were, prior to that morning, and had no knowledge of the history of the author, George Bernard Shaw. In the half hour I had to prepare my speech, I crafted a speech that illustrated and fought against each of the sins, weaving one argument into the other. I went out there to have fun, not to knock it out of the ballpark.

    I was heckled. Significantly. By one audience member. He was likely hoping he would throw me off and help his team mate win. Thing is, I wasn’t trying to win, I was just trying to have fun. So he helped my speech by allowing me to react to his heckling. I stayed calm, had fun, and was relaxed while speaking.

    End result: First Place

    I learned that day that giving a good speech is more about your audience that it is about your speech. The audience didn’t really learn anything from either of my speeches, but they sure had fun, and that was my only objective. So when I met it, I felt comfortable and it kept my delivery upbeat and my body relaxed.

    Now when I give speeches, I think back to that speech and ensure that the fun factor is always there, regardless of my topic. (These days the audience do learn from my speeches!) The audience relaxes along with you and is much more receptive to what you have to say.

    Seriously, while I may have won that contest, winning isn’t everything, and if you set that as your goal at a competition, you are setting yourself up for a rough ride.

    Happy Speaking!

  18. Leon says:

    In grade 4 I volunteered to take part in a debate. Quite confident and having written my research on a handy piece of paper, I walked up to the lectern to make my stand. I reached into my jacket pocket – only to realize I had forgotten my notes. I had relied completely on it, so I just stood there rambling key words I could remember that was slightly related to the topic – think Miss South Carolina at the 2007 Miss Teen USA – just not so funny when its you.

    Lesson I learned – actually try to learn something from the material, don’t just try to memorize it.

  19. George Sharp says:

    What speaking lesson did you learn the hard way? Always show up early and make sure the equipment works with your presentation.
    What was your most embarrassing speaking experience? Having the equipment not function with my version of powerpoint.
    What secret speaking techniques do you use?
    Sit in the rest room stall during breaks and listen to how the audience is reacting to speakers and conference. Of course I only get the male point of view. Some times this is better than the written evaluation you receive.

  20. Christy McCrary says:

    Public Speaking is definitely the greatest fear for most people. That is why I joined Toastmasters to overcome those fears. Prior to Toastmasters, my stomach would be tied in knots to the point I would get sick prior to having to speak in front of a group and get tongue-tied but after 2 years so far in Toastmasters those fears have gone by the waste side somewhat. Public Speaking is now as feared as before. Please consider me winning this book. Would love to share confessions of public speaking to members of Toastmasters. Thank you.

  21. Art Johnson says:

    I once gave a speech in front of a couple of hundred members of a retirement community and some of their children and grandchildren. It was Christmas time and the speech was a recitation from memory of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. A couple of minutes into my speech I lost my place and drew a complete blank. How embarrassing. It was a valuable lesson on not giving memorized speechs. I do sometimes memorize an opening or closing, but I’ve learned some memory and recall techniques to prevent drawing a blank in a speech.

  22. Chris says:

    People frequently remark on my ability to speak without notes. My secret preparation ingredient is a hand drawn mind map. It makes it much easier to remember what I had planned to say.

  23. Peggy Bassett says:

    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!

  24. Roger Morehouse says:

    I was giving an inspirational speech at my local Toastmasters meeting. I was using a story about Native Americans and braves crossing the desert and bringing back a sample of what was growing at the point the turned around. I did not take into consideration that my audience had members from China, India and other nationalities that didn’t know what a cactus or sagebrush was. It is tough to inspire people when you need to explain what you are talking about. My lesson: remember who is in the audience.

  25. Joanne says:

    I used to memorize my speech line by line. And one time during one speech, I couldn’t remember my next line and blacked out. Then, I just froze on stage. After that happened, I realized the key to memorizing your speeches is to do an outline and know the key points but not memorize it line by line. This way, as long as you can remember the key points, you can talk about it naturally, and it’s much easier to remember your speech.

  26. Mohammed Irfan Shaikh says:


    As a Tech Lead at my company, I often give sessions on different technical subjects. The one thing that I have found extremely valuable is giving live demo or showing how exactly a particular thing works. Switching slides and then explaining the stuff has not been that effective on the other hand.

    The other valuable and effective thing that I have observed is keeping the content of the powerpoint slide to bare minimum. That way rather than reading the slide people remain focused on the subject.

  27. Chua says:

    I used to have a lot of mental replays prior the speak, and they are usually on auto-run and on negative stuff. My technique is first of all be aware of those “auto-replays” in your head; breathe; and just ignore. Resist the temmptations to investigate those thoughts such as “What if I forgot my lines; what if the audience don’t laugh at the punchlines.” I learned to just remember to breathe and enjoy giving your speech-even if those background noises are running.

  28. Clint says:

    I save my PowerPoint presentation in different formats in case there is a problem with the software. I’ll save it as PowerPoint 2007 (XML), 2003 (binary), and as an Adobe PDF (use something like CuteWriter or PrimoPDF to print to PDF for free).

    I also keep my presentation accessible in different ways in case I have problems accessing it. I use CD, USB stick, my email, and a web site.

    These two suggestions may seem overkill, but after spending so much time on making my slides not suck, I really want to use them!

  29. Swami says:

    1. What speaking lesson did you learn the hard way?

    No matter how informative/inspiring the content of your speech is, it has no absolutely no impact, if its not delivered right.

    2. What was your most embarrassing speaking experience?

    Knowing your content was far better than other speakers but continue getting average reviews because of inherently poor voice quality (something I continue to work on).

    3. What secret speaking techniques do you use?

    Prepare, prepare and ….prepare. Nothing secret about it.

  30. Sandrina says:

    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.

  31. Jonna E Ritchie says:

    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. Embarrasing!!!

  32. Kevin Wortman says:

    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.

  33. Beth Bridges says:

    I have a lesson learned and an embarrassing moment.

    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 ebarrassing 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!

  34. Brian Langston says:

    I was asked to speak to a group of underprivileged kids at a school in Slough, Berkshire. I engaged well with the audience and drew hearty applause from them when I told them that although they may have started off on the lower rungs of life’s ladder, they were infinitely richer in character and much more authentic than the snooty rich kids from Eton College down the road. Imagine my embarrassment when at the end of the speech the headmaster introduced me to the Bursar of Eton College who had been sitting impressively restrained on the front row as part of Eton College’s engagement programme with the local community.
    The moral of the story? Know your audience!

  35. frank andrassy says:

    When I joined Toastmasters I never got my family involved. Which means I never practiced my speeches in front of my wife or children for their input as well as just practicing with a live audience. I entered my first speech contest and won by club contest. I went to the Area speech contest and I just nailed that speech and won that contest. I then went to the Division contest and my wife wanted to go and support me. I was nervous enough being at the Division contest but giving my speech for the first time in front of my wife made me even more nervous. I had practiced my speech at my Toastmaster club meeting and got some feedback. The night of the Division contest I also changed my speech and brought a prop to better emphasize one area of my speech. Well this was all a disaster. I stuttered and stammered and could never calm my nerves down and to make matters worse the changes I added to my speech I forgot and then I went over the time. I learned 3 very important items at the Division contest. One, never change your speech right before a contest or giving it to a new group of people go with what have without the new changes. There will always be time to update and change your speech later. Two, this goes with the first point do not introduce or change the speech in anyway. This will create timing issue and heighten the nervousness to the speech especially to a new crowd of people. Three, this is the most important point. Involve your family. whether it is Toastmasters which is a Family driven organization or in your speeches and speaking career. If I would have practices in front of my family and tried the changes and the new prop maybe, just maybe the outcome would have been different. This was the biggest change that I changed in my Toastmaster speeches and other speeches that I give. I engage my family, my wife and children and get their opinions. First as a written speech then as a delivered speech. I have found out that by practicing in front of my family and my family is given permission to be very critical as it is all in the family. This is one recommendation that I share with those I mentor or coach. Engage your family for they are your best and worst critics. I found out that my family does not want me to fail in front of a crowd people and they are always willing to listen to me give a practice speech.

  36. Aynesh Goorah says:

    I’m a quite young public speaker. I noticed that the exuberance and dynamism of the speaker counts a lot. The audience wonders why is he so excited..and then listens to find the source of your already draws a lot of attention from ypur audience. Secondly voice projection s very important: as soon as someone hears a loud voice..he is bound to listen whether he wnts it or not..I try to also play with voice variations to avoid monotony in my’s just like singing. Above all, the public speaker must always remeber one thing: he is here to please his audience and that should be his prority. Lastly, to be an effective public speaker…you must enjoy yourself but also give the most of your energy…you must feel exhausted after speaking. Have fun…and make the mostof your situaution….an entire audience’s attention only on you!!!!!!!

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