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VINE VOICEon November 27, 2009
After grinding through far too many books on "how-to-present-better" books, I've finally found one that exceeds the promise. Scott Berkun, a former Microsoft executive who turned writer and professional speaker, practices what he preaches in his book.

* This book is written for anyone who has to give presentations (public speakers, managers, teachers) - it will benefit novices to veterans - and readers in all for-profit and not-for profit industries.

* This is a quick read - can be read in 1 or 2 sittings

* This is a page turning "how to" book

* It is written in a conversational tone packaged with excellent stories, persuasive tips, good research and "rhythmic" pace

* Author is informed via real world experiences - he is honest, humble and straightforward.

* He shares many usable tips and Do's and Don'ts that will stick (e.g. ask smaller than expected crowd to move up and dense-up; lose your content, ask audience for 10 topics they would like you to address; grab them early with a meaningful title for your presentation)

* Finally, a readable how-to book that delivers as promised...highly recommended.

* Some of my favorite excerpts include:

"...when 100 people are listening to you for an hour, that's 100 hours of people's time devoted to what you have to say. If you can't spend 5 or 10 hours preparing for them, thinking about them, and refining your points to best suit their needs, what does that say about your respect for your audience's time? It says that your 5 hours are more important than 100 of theirs, which requires an ego larger than the entire solar system. And there is no doubt this disrespect will be obvious once you are on the stage."

"Our bodies, sitting around doing little, go into rest mode--and where our bodies go, our minds will follow...with this distressing fact, it's easy to understand why most lectures are slow one-way trips into sedation...If you can stop boredom from happening, and stop doing things that bore people, you're well on your way to having an attentive crowd..."

"A common mistake people make is to shrink onstage. They become overly polite and cautious. They speak softly, don't tell stories, and never smile. They become completely, devastatingly neutral. As safe as this seems, it is an attention graveyard."

"By being enthusiastic and caring deeply about what you say, you may provide more value than a low-energy, dispassionate speaker who knows 10 times more than you do. You are more likely to keep the audience's attention, which makes everything else possible."

" The easiest way to be interesting is to be honest. People rarely say what they truly feel, yet this is what audiences desire most. If you can speak a truth most people are afraid to say, you're a hero. If you're honest, even if people disagree, they will find you interesting and keep listening. Making connections with people starts by either getting them interested in your ideas or showing how interested you are in theirs. Both happen faster the more honest everyone is. The feedback most speakers need is "Be more honest." Stop hiding and posturing, and just tell the truth."
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on March 23, 2010
I'll preface this review by saying I read this as part of a book group. I was told that although it was a public speaking aid, it was in itself a piece of entertainment. This review is based on the Kindle version.

Scott Berkun launches into Confessions of a Public Speaker at great speed with a hugely entertaining chapter on why public speaking really isn't as scary as we say it is. Using stats and surveys to prove that you really wouldn't "rather die than speak in public". Multiple times I was given strange glances by my significant other due to my laughing out loud.

By Chapter 4 I found I was no longer laughing. The entertainment factor had gone. It was no longer the advertised "... unique, entertaining, and instructional romp through the embarrassments and triumphs Scott has experienced over 15 years of speaking...". It was at this point that I felt `Confessions of a Public Speaker' may be an incorrect title, it had become a run-of-the-mill public speaking how-to guide. The advice was practical and I did take away many hints I can use, but much of it was common sense, strung out as far a possible to fill out an entire book.

One third of the book is made up of appendicies. These appendices are generally just repeats of the main segment. Ironically Scott teaches you to not waste your audience's time. Treat them with respect and keep them interested with important information they want to know. So to have one appendix focus on how many m&m's he ate while writing the book made me wonder if he practiced what he preached. The actual section containing real confessions of public speakers is also relegated to an appendix, again making me wonder if this is the correct title.

If you are looking to improve your public speaking I could only recommend this book as an accompaniment to a book on constructing and delivering an argument.

There were also a few errors in the kindle version entered by the publisher. At one point Scott refers to a chapter title, but instead of writing the chapter title it read `chapter x' and a hyperlink. Another section a footnote mentioned a chapter from another book but hyperlinked to the same numbered chapter within this. Only a couple of small errors but something O'Reilly Media need to check for.
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on December 7, 2009
While there is a plethora of books such as Public Speaking for Dummies, and many similar titles; Confessions of a Public Speaker is unique in that it takes a holistic approach to the art and science of public speaking. The books doesn't just provide helpful hints, it attempts to make the speaker, and their associated presentation, compelling and necessary. Confessions is Scott Berkun's first-hand account of his many years of public speaking, teaching and television appearances. In the book, he shares his successes, failures, and many frustrating experiences, in the hope that the reader will be a better speaker for it.

An issue with many books on public speaking is that they focus on the mechanics of public speaking. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with that approach, Confessions takes a much deeper and analytical look at public speaking. The book demonstrates that the best public speakers are not simply people with fancy PowerPoint's; rather they are excellent communicators with a strong message.

While other books focus and stress the importance of creating good PowerPoint's, Confessions shows how one can rise above the PowerPoint and be a presenter of ideas to the audience. Such an approach can take a dry presentation and turn it into a compelling one.

Berkun notes that while many people perceive public speaking to be a terrifying experience, the reality is that it does not have to be so petrifying. With fundamental preparations, even the most timid person can be a public speaker. While such a person will never be a speaker at the caliber of a Steve Jobs, there is no reason they can't present an enjoyable and educating presentation.

The book is loaded with chapter after chapter of practical advice. Berkun also shows what to do when things go terribly wrong; from how to work a tough room, when technology fails, microphones that go bad and more.

The book also provides effective techniques on how to deal with a participant, who in the course of asking a question, turns it into a monologue or diatribe. His suggestion is to throw the question back at the audience. Ask the audience "how many people are interested in this question?" If only a fraction of the audience raise their hands, tell the questioner to come up afterwards and that you will answer them. Berkun concludes that just because a question is raised, does not mean that the speaker is obligated to answer it.

Some of the advice in the book is obvious, but only after you read it, such as not turning your back on the audience, and more. One of the better suggestions is rather than ending a talk with "are there any questions", use "what questions did you think I would answer but didn't?

As an effective communicator, one would have thought that Berkun could have gotten his message across with less profanity. While the book is not necessarily profanity laden; it is there in numerous places. That will preclude the book from being purchased in many organizations sensitive to that.

Chapter 6 - the Science of not boring people - is perhaps the best chapter in the book, where Berkun takes a look at a fundamental problem with many public presentations, they are simply boring. The chapter describes an experiment in which heart-rate monitors were strapped to listening students during lectures. Their heart rate peaked at the start of the lectures and then steadily declined. Berkun notes that with this depressing fact, it's easy to understand why most lectures are slow one-way trips into sedation. Our bodies, sitting around doing little, go into rest mode, and where our bodies go, our minds will follow."

Berkun also writes of perhaps what is the biggest bane of having to listen to a speaker, death by PowerPoint. Far too many speakers lack relevant content and try to make up for that with fancy PowerPoint presentations. Berkun notes that far too few people create their content first. Rather they put their ideas immediately into a PowerPoint, with the hope that good content will magically emerge. The message Berkun says repeatedly and which speakers should take to heart, is that content is what matters, and not the sacred PowerPoint.

The reason for so much death by PowerPoint is that many speakers are seduced by the style of the presentation and get caught up in the fonts, videos, graphics, and more, and lose all context of the points that they want to make. Berkun concludes that the problem with most bad presentations is not the slides, the visuals or any of the things that most people obsess about; rather it is the lack of thinking.

The book also stresses the importance of good feedback for the speaker to grow into a better speaker. The challenge is that most attendees are reticent to give effective rebuke to the speaker. Berkun says the best way to overcome this is for a speaker to videotape themselves, and be merciless with themselves, extracting what their mistakes are.

The last chapter is "You Can't Do Worse Than This", is made up of stories of disastrous experiences from various public speakers. The chapter is exceptionally insightful and entertaining. Perhaps the funniest story was when Larry Lessig was invited to be a guest at a conference in Georgia (as in Eastern Europe) and after the introduction, was unexpectedly told that he was to give a one-hour talk comparing the German, French and American constitutions, with special insights for Georgia.

Overall, Confessions of a Public Speaker is a very well-written, entertaining and engaging overview of the art of public speaking. For those that are contemplating public speaking, or want to improve their current aptitude, it is impossible that after reading the book, that they won't be a better speaker. For those that simply want to know what goes into, and what makes a really good presentation, Confessions of a Public Speaker is also a worthwhile book to read.
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on October 31, 2010
I read this book to help improve my teaching. While it was generally entertaining, there was not much within it I could use to transform the way that I present information. There is a chapter on Scott's experience appearing on TV, which should be titled "Look guys, I was on TV." This chapter is exemplary of my problems with the book, which is that it seems to have been written late at night more for his benefit than that of the reader. Scott recommends you practice each speech 4 times, which is certainly good advice, but impractical for an instructor.

I do think he really enjoyed writing the book, and this transmits to make it a fun read. However, it lacks the thought and organization to convey what makes a good presentation and how to do it. From watching Scott's speech at Carnegie Mellon on innovation, I can see that Scott does know how to present ideas effectively, and to make the audience care about them. Perhaps his references can help me learn how to do this myself.
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on November 8, 2009
I read this book online through Safari Books (a paid subscription service), so it was quite convenient to flip between the book and the author's "Latest Videos and Podcasts" (a link to his site is above, in the "About the Author" section). But you can get the same multi-media experience with the book in hand, by taking breaks between chapters so you can compare the book's advice to the author's actual public speaking performance.

The speeches are interesting in their own right, covering topics of innovation and software development. It's immediately apparent that Berkun uses conversational poise and timing to keep his audience's attention. But combining the book with Berkun's online talks leads to at least two rewards. First, you can evaluate how well the speaker follows his own advice. To my eye and ear, Berkun succeeds quite well here. Secondly, the book gives you an understanding of the huge amount of work that goes into an effective talk. After reading about the importance of mastering your topic, practicing your material, and respecting your audience's investment of time and attention, you can witness the tangible benefits.

You might not have the opportunity to watch Berkun's talks, or you just might find it hard to put the book down -- it is that well written. That's OK, because the book itself has plenty of good advice for public -- and private -- speakers. Blending humor with persuasion, and explanation with story-telling, Berkun describes how the speaker can manage their own emotions, keep the audience's attention, and appreciate the processes of learning & teaching. The book shows how to avoid mistakes, and how to survive them. This is done particularly well in the chapter, "You can't do worse than this". That very entertaining chapter tells the public-speaking horror stories that will help you keep your own personal catastrophes in perspective.

There are only a few, very minor, annoyances: I thought the book's occasional use of profanity was distracting, and the 3-page Colophon could have been just as amusing in one page. Of course, no book (or talk) can please everyone all the time.

The book gives plenty of practical advice: how to stop using verbal placeholders such "Umm"; tips on dealing with microphones, remote controls and even conference badges; what to look for in audience surveys and feedback; how to manage the audience's behavior. Whether you absorb this advice from the book alone, or from the book along with Berkun's online talks, it's a worthwhile learning experience.
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on January 30, 2010
Entertaining book that helps demystify public speaking. Berkun shares useful tips from his personal experience as a public speaker that I found helpful in terms of psychologically preparing myself for public speaking engagements. It is a fun and easy read but if you are looking for a book that has lots of content on how to construct a talk, etc. then this probably is not the best resource. However, it is a good overview text that provides some additional suggested readings in some areas, such as presentation content. Overall, if you are looking for a fresh take on a way to postivitely reframe the endeavor of public speaking, this book is great. If you are looking for more of the nuts and bolts of public speaking then you may be disappointed.
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on December 22, 2011
50% useful, helpful information. 50% fluff to make the book thicker. The content shared is good, but there's notable filler.
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on November 21, 2014
Having seen this book recommended on a blog by a young professor, I started out with high hopes. The many good reviews set my hopes even higher. Alas, this book lacks a clear message and suffers from poor organization, goes off topic very often and quite early on. Not much to learn here. Look elsewhere. I rarely say this for a book but I wish I could return it. I have read about half of it, I will only finish it as a formality.
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on February 9, 2010
I have found the Confessions to be very informative and to the point. In this book, Scott Berkun is somehow doing a complicated exercise : sharing his own experience of public speaking requires something that can be compared, somehow, to a kind of "mental strip tease". Most of the book is build around some episodes of Scott Berkun's life. Sharing very personal story about his life could have produced a boring and uninteresting book (aka me, myself and I) but this is not the case.

Because the book is very grounded, the experiences that are shared are always interesting and completely integrated into the story. Also, the book includes a lot of experiences from other famous (or not!) public speakers in order to illustrate certain points.

Several key points are covered in a nice chapter per chapter approach. Each of the point somehow resonate with my own (limited) experience as a public speaker and because of this connexion, It is very easy to understand and benefit from the book.

Occidental people in general and north american in particular tend to confuse theoretical knowledge and practical experience : after reading a book or two and after having watched a video or two, we tend to become very quickly a martial art master or a buddhist Yogi. Scott Berkun is very careful to destroy this myth in every bit of advice that he shares and I really think that this is a key point here.

Like Malcom Gladwell in Outliers (10 000 hours of practice of any activity will make you a world class performer) training and practice are at the center of the book. Exactly like a professional athlete, you have to practice and practice again, using camera or Webcam, until you are confident and the story you are going to tell, in public, flow naturally. Once you are comfortable with your talk/storyline (your performance but also your supporting material : slides, video, handouts, etc.) then you have a chance to perform well in front of a crowd. And back to practice again : the more you will talk to a crowd, the better you will be...

No silver bullet here : work work and work again.

I have found a lot of very interesting experience, hints and advice : how to repeat, practical advices on how to be yourself (somehow!) on stage, test the room where you will perform, what to do if ... the room is empty, you forgot your slides, the crowd is angry, etc.

All in all a very honest and practical book that will benefit anyone that has to publicly speak. In my mind and in no particular order : scientists/students that have to present they research (especially M.Sc., Ph.D. : practice your show !), teachers of any level (how to engage your students), managers of any level (how to engage your employee), salesman that present during show/conventions/conferences (how to engage your prospects/future customers).
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on September 3, 2012
Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun is a great resource for public speakers. I just finished the Kindle edition and am sorry that I put off reading the book for so long. The book combines practical public speaking tips with some great storytelling of the author's personal experiences. It's the combination that keeps the book entertaining. It also drives home the author's point that great storytelling is a key ingredient of a great presentation, regardless of its topic. I'm an experienced public speaker, but still found many take-aways that I hope will improve my delivery as I put them into practice. If you're a public speaker, I highly recommend that you download the Kindle edition and read it on the flight to your next speaking engagement or conference.
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