Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Confessions of a Public Speaker

Author:        Scott Berkun
Published:   2009
Publisher:    O'Reilly Media
Paperback:  240  pages

The author Scott Berkun is a techie turned public speaker who lectures on topics like leading teams, managing projects, and creative thinking.  He had earlier  worked at Microsoft as a program manager  for Internet Explorer 1.0 to 5.0. Now he considers himself as a freelance thinker who speaks about what he writes.

In this book he expresses his personal opinion on  the art of public speaking through a string of humorous behind-the-scenes stories and anecdotes based on his decade long personal experience as a public speaker. He also provides guidance on how to develop an appropriate mind-set for public speaking.

I think the most useful part of this book is a chapter on dealing with common problems encountered by public speakers. The author provides lots of tips on preventing these problems as well as how to respond to them should they occur. The problems discussed in this chapters are related to how to deal with situations like  - hecklers who deliberately harass you; audience who keep staring at their laptops; your time slot getting shortened by the organizer; everyone in the room hates you; one person frequently keeps interrupting you with questions; you are asked an impossible question; there is an audio failure; your laptop gives problem; there is a typo on your slide; you are late for your talk;  you feel sick; you are running out of time; you have forgotten to bring the slide deck; your hosts have unreasonable demands; your wardrobe malfunctions; there are very few people in the audience.

Another highlight of the book is a compilation of about 20 odd public speaking horror stories where experienced public speakers narrate share their worst experience. These stories remind a public speaker that worse things have happened to other speakers  and may make her feel better about things going wrong with her.

The author also provides an annotated bibliography where he gives pointers to further references on - how to get over fear and anxiety; how to tell great stories; how to teach; presentation design; studying comedians; how to make living as a public speaker.

It is the easy, honest, witty and conversational style, and the fine art of storytelling which makes this bestselling book an entertaining read even though similar pieces of advice  have been offered in many other books. Therefore even if you know all the tricks in trade this book it is still an enjoyable read.

Recommended for anyone who is connected with public speaking.
 Key Points:

Visit my public speaking blog Toastmaster Speaks for all the key points from each chapter of the book.
Here I provide only a representative selection of these key points under the following heads:

Planning for the talk:
  • Remember that people in the audience have come because they - want to learn / to be inspired/ to be entertained/ have a need / desire to meet other people interested in the subject/ seek a positive experience they can share with others. Plan your talk to satisfy these needs.
  • In a talk mistakes like  - not having an interesting opinion, not thinking clearly about your points, not planning ways to make those points relevant to your audience - matter more than the mistakes made while delivering the lecture.
  • It is quite natural and good  to have some nervousness or anxiety  before one begins speaking before an audience. Fear of failure gives us energy to proactively prevent failures from happening. Speakers should know their  material so well that  they are very confident about it. Confidence comes from rigorously practicing the speech. 
Holding audience attention:
  • The simplest natural way to draw attention of the audience is to tell stories.
  • Speak louder, take stronger positions, and behave more aggressively than you would do in an ordinary conversation but do not appear phony.
  • Transition between the slides are critically important. You have to know what's coming up next and summon the audience's attention at the right time
  • If your talk consists of several problems important to the audience, and you promise to release the tension created by those problems by solving each one, you'll score big.
  • Get the audience involved. Some ways to do so are - asking for the show of hands whenever you need some information or opinion from the audience; asking some trivia questions and let people shout out answers; giving them a problem to solve.
  • Anyone trying to teach must:
    1. Make it active and interesting
    2. Start with an insight that interests the studen
    3. Adapt to how the student responds to #1 and #2  

Handling tough audience
  • However tough  the audience is,  there is always one person who is least  hostile towards you. Identify him and look at him for support whenever needed.
  • Sometimes speaker wrongly presumes that the audience is or will be hostile and behaves unpleasantly. This makes an imagined hostile audience a reality.
  • A hostile crowd gives you more energy to work with than an indifferent one. If you can figure out what it is they're interested in early on, it's possible to connect with them.
  • Audience are generally angriest about speaker's dishonesty. Show some integrity by speaking the truth on the very thing that angers them or even acknowledging it in a heartfelt way. 
Getting audience feedback: 
  • What people want from lectures is different from what they say they want, or what the organizers want them to want.
  • Some of the real feedback speakers need:
    • How did speaker's presentation compare to the others?
    • What one change would have improved speaker's presentation?
    • What questions did you expect speaker to answer that were unanswered?
    • What annoyances did the speaker let get in the way of giving you what you needed?
    • 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?
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