Book review: Confessions of a Public Speaker

I was prepared both to like and to loathe Scott Berkun's newest book, Confessions of a Public Speaker.

"Like" because I've enjoyed reading his blog off and on for a while now. Berkun is a forthright and engaging writer who not only shares a ton of good, practical information, but does it with stylish essays on the kinds of topics, like how to detect bullshit, that make me fall in love with the web all over again every time I find one. And hey, he's successfully made the transition from corporate gig to self-employment at something he loves, right there, that's something to like.

"Loathe" because, well, between the title that hinted at dig-me grandstanding and the godawful horrorshow that pretty much everything I've read on the topic has been thus far, my hopes weren't high.

What I hadn't expected is that I'd neither like nor loathe Confessions of a Public Speaker, but absolutely love it.

The book is every bit as smart and fun (and at times, outright funny) as Berkun is when he calls bullsh*t on the social media echo chamber on his blog or gives an Ignite talk about how to give an Ignite talk. It's generous and comprehensive and most importantly, it's both of these things while remaining page-turning-ly readable, if that's a thing. (And if it isn't, it should be.)

Because while Berkun shares valuable information like the importance of feedback (and of asking for it properly), the secrets to vanquishing stage fright and the mechanics of making the room work for you, he does it from the context of his own considerable experience, using stories and examples from his successes and flop-sweat failures to illustrate what works and what doesn't, and how to do the one while (mostly) avoiding the other. In this, his method is much like Gretchen Rubin's recent The Happiness Project, which I similarly loved for its humble-but-useful first-person narrative.

High signal-to-noise ratio isn't much use to me if the content is dull, dry and plodding. This is a rich and richly researched book that reads like a house afire because Berkun has done with the book exactly what he exhorts us to in the book: put the hard work into the prep, so the user experience is enjoyable without compromising on content. His meticulous care is there at every turn, if you care to look, the mix of lists and photos, of scientific and anecdotal evidence, but you won't notice it at first glance, because he's there to do the opposite of making himself look good: he's there for us, serving up the material we need in the best possible way for us to learn it. Like great skaters or dancers, you don't see the work that goes into the work; you just enjoy the well-crafted end result. (Well, until you get to the beyond-due-diligence, double-bibliography at the end. No, really: one is a list, and the other a weighted list. Ingenious and humbling.)

If you're a speaker on the path or just someone who wants to get better at relaying information out loud, you cannot do better than this wonderful book. But you will have to get your own copy: this is one I'm keeping, decluttering project or not...


Image by Scott Schram via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.