Scott Berkun’s “Confessions of a Public Speaker ” a Summary

Posted by & filed under summaries.

Below are my “one liner” notes I took as I worked through the book. They are vague in places and without a lot of context. For more detail.. check out the book Confessions of a Public Speaker . I found the book to very interesting, and it has caused me to think further about most of the topics below, especially teaching, maintaining attention, and rhetoric. Thanks Scott!

Chapter 1: Basics

  • Imagining your audience naked is awful advice.
  • People really just want you to finish.
  • Give up the pursuit of perfection.
  • In speech, mistakes happen every ten words.
  • Growth requires imperfection.
  • Most people speak 2-3 words per second.
  • There are three versions of any talk the one delivered, prepared, reported, and the speaker wishes they’d given.
  • The audience wants to be entertained, to be educated, and you to do well.
  • The mistakes that matter are of not:

1. having an interesting opinion,
2. thinking clearly about your points, and
3. planning ways to make those points relevant to your audience.

Chapter 2: Fear

  • Our brains recognize standing alone out in the open with many eyes looking at us as a threatening thing.
  • It’s best to let your body prepare you for speaking, with energy and adrenaline but practice (iterate) you presentation.
  • Butterflies are caused by blood flow moving way from your digestive system.
  • Release stressful energy by working out before.
  • Familiarize yourself with the space, equipment, and audience before speaking.
  • It could be worse, you could be a professional athlete who has another team trying to destroy your performance.

Chapter 3: Business

  • Judge people by what they do, not by what they say.
  • It’s a question of what the value of a good speaker is.
  • Fame draws crowds and drives revenue, which is usually driven by past entertainment value.
  • Credibility, speaking skill, and availability are the three criteria hosts consider when inviting speakers.

Chapter 4: Management

  • Atmosphere is incredibly important.
  • Many challenges are first created by rooms, not audiences.
  • Round, theater seating, with a stage are ideal criteria for a room.
  • Crowd density, is key, get people to move together if there are too few people in too big of space.
  • Take responsibility to know your audience, space, and other contextual factors.
  • Embody what you want the audience to be, but be something they can relate to.
  • People need reminded of the obvious.
  • Some people can’t be pleased. Don’t disappoint the many in order to placate the few.
  • Sample the crowd for their perspective a head of time and include your findings as context for what you share.

Chapter 5: Value

  • Good speakers must speak and think well.
  • There are only a few reasons people want to listen.

1. education
2. inspiration
3. entertainment
4. need fulfillment
5. social networking
6. story collection
7. they’ve been forced

  • Think about the value of the time that will be spent listening to you, making sure you are prepared.
  • To prepare well:

1. Have a strong position. (know your subject)
2. Know why your audience is there. (know you audience)
3. Make your points concise. (know your points)
4. Make good arguments. (know your counter points)

  • Slice your topic in an interesting and creative way.
  • Think of interesting titles that promises something and which could be used for anything.

Chapter 6: Interest

  • The most attention you will ever have is at the still moment when a talk begins.
  • People can only pay attention for about 10 minutes.
  • Use your power. You have authority in front of people.
  • Set the pace. Start with a beat.
  • Direct attention. What and why
  • Curiosity leads attention. Focus on building curiosity.
  • Play the part, and play it up.
  • Know what happens next.
  • Build tension and release.
  • Get the audience involved. (show of hands, shout outs, pose problems to solve)
  • Be in control.
  • Always end early.

Chapter 7: TV

  • Waiting is a focus killer.
  • Any time you speak you have a goal and are technically preforming.
  • TV is an abstract performance space because there’s not a real audience to get feedback from.

Chapter 8: Feedback

  • What people say usually is not the same as what they mean.
  • Calibrating what people mean by their feedback is hard when you are speaking.
  • To appear to know what you are doing you just have to act the part.
  • Acceptance as a teaching seems to have a lot to do with how entertaining you are.
  • Creditability comes from the host.
  • Superficials count.
  • Enthusiasm matters.
  • Good feedback questions to ask:

• What do/did you want me to achieve by speaking?
• What the organizer want from the speaker.
• What the audience wants from the speaker.
• What the speaker is capable of doing?
• Was this a good use of your time?
• Would you recommend this lecture to others?
• Are you considering doing anything different as a result of this talk?
• Do you know what to do next to continue learning?
• Were you inspired or motivated?
• How likeable did you find the speaker?
• How substantive did you find the speaker’s material?

  • Review yourself.
  • There are no make believes or wiggle room on film.

Chapter 9: Teaching

  • To try to learn creates the possibility to fail.
  • Teachers risk rejection by student who fear failure.
  • The odds of successfully teaching anything are slim.
  • Information and entertainment is possible in mass, but education is difficult without being more personalized.
  • Teachers must:

• Make it active and interesting.
• Start with an insight that interests the student.
• Adapt to how the student responds to #1 and #2.

  • “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” – Confucius
  • Challenge hears to actively make connections.
  • Find way to engage audiences so their brains take the posture of doing.
  • As a speaker you must make your subject accessible and clear to your hearers.
  • Questions to ask while speaking:

• Do they know this fact or lesson already?
• Do they need me to explain this point in a different way?
• Are they saturated with information and need a break or a laugh?
• Are they too cocky and need a challenge?

  • Questions to ask after speaking:

• Do they have any new questions now that they’re back at work?
• Did they use anything you said? What happened?
• Is there a topic that now, since they’re back at work/life, they wish you’d covered?
• Can they suggest ways to make the experience they had with you more active, engaging, or interesting?

Chapter 10: Confessions

  • Much of whats asked or said is repetitious, which can be helpful if done well.
  • Full day seminars are bad for learning.
  • Make sure you are having fun when you speak. The audience will benefit.
  • Humor will surface if you pay attention to what’s going on around you.
  • The easiest way to be interesting is to be honest. Most people are afraid to do so.
  • Make connections, don’t posture with cherry picked information.
  • If you love ideas, speaking and writing are natural consequences.
  • Risking looking like a fool is one of the best ways to learn because it elicits criticism.


  • A monitor in front of the speaker
  • A countdown timer.
  • Use a remove to control slides.
  • Give away stuff to fill the front row.
  • Tuck wires out of sight and wear a collar.
  • Know the difference between the lectern and podium.
  • play to the camera.


  • Points are made via logic, character, and emotion.
  • Shifting away from the subject or attacking the person deflect an argument.
  • Convey energy with how you say what you say, what you emphasis.
  • Filler ‘um’ sounds kill the momentum contrast that helps people pay attention and think.

To Dos

  • Practice, a lot.
  • Have a rhythm and structure.
  • Keep it simple, always.
  • Focus on being interesting from the beginning.
  • Do not start by making slides.
  • Find away to enjoy yourself. Manage fear.
  • Do not use um or uh place holders.
  • Do not use nervous ticks.
  • Do not put your back to the audience.
  • Do not use pet phrases
  • Make eye contact.
  • Be comfortable.
  • Be passionate.
  • Cite references.
  • Know and tailor for you crowd.
  • Make sure you still have the audience’s attention every 10 minutes.
  • Ask for feedback.


  • Hecklers: Set rules for feedback and be in control and kind.
  • Ignorers: Ask for attention.
  • Time cuts & bad vibes: Be proactive before and during the talk.
  • Heavy vague or impossible questioners: Provide alternate channels and ask for clarification.
  • Equipment fails: Ask for tech help. Take surveys or breaks.
  • Typos: Don’t hyper focus.
  • You’re late: plan and over communicate.
  • Illness: Be definitive.
  • Short on time: Focus on creating value for the audience.
  • Lost material: Go Q&A.
  • Finicky hosts: Be upfront regarding what you need.
  • Wardrobe: Take time to check and have a safety sweater.
  • Small numbers: Match the number and make sure to make them comfortable.


  • Toastmasters
  • Story telling
  • Teaching
  • Presentation Design
  • Study Comedians
  • Making Money

Leave a Reply