Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun

4 – If you like to be good at something, the first thing to go out the window is the notion of perfection.

5 – I don’t want to be perfect. I want to be useful. I want to be good, and I want to sound like myself.

8 – (Dale Carnegie) “Good speakers usually find when they finish that there have been four versions of the speech: the one they delivered, the one they prepared, the one the newspapers say was delivered, and the one on the way home they wish they had delivered.”

18 – My intent is simply to know my material so well that I’m comfortable with it. Confidence, not perfection, is the goal.

58 – No matter what kind of speaking you are doing, there are only a few reasons people will be there. As you plan your talk, start with the goal of satisfying the things listed below. People come because they:

  1. Want to learn something

  2. Wish to be inspired

  3. Hope to be entertained

  4. Have a need they hope you will satisfy

  5. Desire to meet other people interested in the subject

  6. Seek a positive experience they can share with others

  7. Are forced to be there by their bosses, parents, professors, or spouses

  8. Have been handcuffed to their chairs and haven’t left the room for days

59 – (eating the microphone)… the moment when the audience’s confidence in having its needs met is lost.

60 – To prepare well, you must do 4 things:
1. Take a strong position in the title
2. Think carefully about your specific audience
3. Make your specific points as concise as possible
4. Know the likely counterarguments from an intelligent, expert audience

91 – The stupidest thing for a speaker to ask his audience is, “Any questions on what I just said?” This sounds threatening, like he’s daring you to challenge his authority, which many people won’t want to take on. Instead, make it positive and interactive. Say, “Is there anything you’d like me to clarify?”

112 – But I don’t have a boss—no performer does.

120 – Here’s some of the real feedback speakers need:

  • How did my presentation compare to the others?
  • What one change would have most improved my presentation?
  • What questions did you expect me to answer that went unanswered?
  • What annoyances did I let get in the way of giving you what you needed?

121 – A savvy speaker must ask the host, “What effect do you want me to have on this audience?”

129 – All successful teachers must consider these four important questions:

  • How many understand?
  • How many will remember later?
  • How many try to apply the lesson in the real world?
  • How many will succeed?

131 – … the best teachers focus on the students’ needs. They strive to create an environment where all the pieces students need—emotional confidence, physical comfort, and intellectual curiosity—are present at the same time.

133 – (Professor Donald Saari’s WGAD “Who Gives A Damm?” principle)

158 – The technical term for what happens when too much information is given to an audience—even if it’s in the form of filler sounds—is called interference.

196 – The best advice on becoming a better storyteller is to dive head first into listening to great stories, which is easier than ever to do today. Start with NPR’s This American Life (, a weekly one-hour show that weaves three or more stories on a theme into captivating, entertaining, and intimate storytelling. Some of these shows completely floor me and make me wonder why this stuff isn’t more popular. You will not hear statistics, data, or any analytical bullshit we pretend to care about, yet somehow these stories move, convince, and emote without them. Why? You’ll have to listen to find out.

If TAL’s format is too long, or you don’t like the host Ira Glass (who I love, but some don’t), check out The Moth (, a series of 10- to 15-minute stories told without notes in front of live audiences. And there is also StoryCorps (, which captures its stories on the streets of American cities. All are available free online and in podcast form. Highly recommended. If This American Life, The Moth, or StoryCorps don’t move you in some way, see a doctor immediately—you might be dead.

The Story Factor, by Annette Simmons (Perseus Books Group), is an exceptional book. It illustrates how we use stories all the time in everyday life and provides clear guidance on how to get better at telling stories and using them more effectively in life and work situations.

199 – Alan Weiss’s Money Talks: How to Make a Million As a Speaker (McGraw-Hill) was the best professional reference I found for how to make a living as a public speaker. It’s the book with the least fluff, and it has the most honest—often brutally so—breakdown on how to find people who will hire you, the value proposition from their point of view, and how to use all this to your advantage.


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