Thursday, March 22, 2012

Book Review - Confessions of a Public Speaker

Last month I happened to read the book Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun. 
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.
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 from this Book:

Chapter 1: I Can't See You Naked
  • Best speakers make tons of mistakes. As long as message comes through, audience  overlook many things. People with clear ideas and strong points are the ones we remember.
  • Mistakes will happen - what matters is how you frame your mistakes. Two ways to do it -
  1. Avoid the mistake of trying to make no mistakes.
  2. Know that your response to a mistake defines the audience's response.
    •  Many of the mistakes you make while performing do not prevent  you from keeping the audience entertained and providing a learning experience. It's the mistakes you make even before you say a word that matter more for e.g., not having an interesting opinion, not thinking clearly about your points, not planning ways to make those points relevant to your audience. 

      Chapter 2: The Attack of the Butterflies
      • 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.
      • Know your  material so well that  you are very confident about it.
      • Confidence comes from practicing and it makes it possible to improvise and respond to unexpected things - like hecklers, tough questions, bored audiences, or equipment failures - that might occur during the talk. 
      • No matter how prepared you are your body will be somewhat stressed. That's OK. There are many ways to reduce such stress for e.g. getting to venue early, walking around the stage, sitting and/or talking with the audience before your speech etc.
      •  If you can talk comfortably to people you know, then you posses the skills needed to speak to groups of people you don't know. 
      Chapter 3: $30,000 an Hour
      • There is some economic value to what good speakers on right topics do for people. It depends on how valuable the people in the room are to whoever is footing the bill.
      • It's more likely that people will come to an event featuring a famous person - even one they suspect is boring to listen to - than hear the best public speaker in the world (if that's his only claim to fame)
      • Speaking fees not only takes into account the time spent on delivering the talk. It also compensates for the time and effort the speakers spend in - gaining the expertise in their field,  preparing  and practicing for their talk and logistical issues.
      Chapter 4: How to Work a Tough Room
      • Most venues for speaking and lecturing in the modern world are dull, grey, uninspiring, poorly lit, generic cubes of space. Such venues can change lukewarm audience into tough ones.
      • Lecture rooms should be like theaters - semicircular rooms, not a square; stage a few feet higher than the front row, both to make the speaker on the stage easier to see and also to help them feel powerful; every row of seats higher off the ground before it to give everyone a clear line of sight; free of poles and blind spots; good lighting; soundproofed from the  noise outside.
      • Density Theory of Public Speaking: The size of the room or the crowd becomes irrelevant as long as the people there are sitting together in a tight pack (however small), experiencing and sharing the same thing at the same time.
      • 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 tough crowd has to be interested in you to hate you. 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.
      • Great speakers are connection-makers, sharing an authentic part of themselves to create a positive experience for the audience.
      • An audience of just 5 interested people looks bad, yet it is better than having 50 uninterested people who want to leave the room but won't.
      • If you are truly afraid that you will be speaking to an hostile crowd, prepare yourself by asking the host how large the crowd is likely to be and what common questions might get asked. Make a request to speak beforehand to three people who are representative of the crowd. This will clarify whether your fears are real or imagined. During the speech mention the names of the people whom you talked to and what you heard from them.
      Chapter 5: Do Not Eat the Microphone

      • The problem with most bad presentations is - lack of good private thinking by the presenter and  not the speaking, the slides, the visuals or any of the things the presenter obsesses about.
      • As you plan your talk remember that the people in the audience have come because they - want to learn / wish to be inspired/ hope to be entertained/ have a need they hope you will satisfy/ desire to meet other people interested in the subject/ seek a positive experience they can share with others. Start with the goal of satisfying these needs.
      • The term "eating the microphone" is used in the speaking trade for speakers who are unprepared and wander away from anything the audience cares about in their talk. Avoid this situation by use your preparation time to strongly think through your speech beforehand  so that most audiences are satisfied  despite some minor mistakes during the delivery.
      • To prepare well:
        • Take a strong position in your title.Such a title should highlight what you would tell if you had only one single point.
        • Think carefully about your specific audience. 
        • Make your specific points as concise as possible.
        • Know the likely counterarguments from an intelligent, expert audience.
      • Create an outline of your presentation which is a narration in sequence of points that effectively support the title of your talk.
      Chapter 6: The Science of Not Boring People
      • A speaker must set the pace for the audience if he wants to keep their attention. For e.g. he can say "I have 30 minutes to talk to you, and five points to make. I will spend five minutes on each point and save the remaining time for any questions."
      • Start with a beat. Think of your opening minute as a movie preview: fill it with drama, excitement, and highlights for why people should keep listening.
      • Practice your material in front of a clock until you get the timing right. Remember if you're too lazy to practice, expect your audience to be too lazy to follow.
      • The simplest natural way to draw attention of the audience is to tell stories.
      • If people give an hour of their time to talk to them, they expect you to be confident in what you say and do.
      • Speak louder, take stronger positions, and behave more aggressively than you would do in an ordinary conversation but do not appear phony. Instead be a passionate, interested, fully present version of yourself. That's who your audience came to hear.
      • 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 to make sure they are all looking at or listening to you when the next thing you are going to say is funny, important, or powerful.
      • 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:
        • Ask for a show of hands whenever you need some information or opinion from the audience.
        • Ask some trivia questions and let people shout out answers.
        • Give them a problem to solve.
      •  Always plan and practice to end early.
      Chapter 7: Lessons from my 15 minutes of fame
      • We are always performing. Most people say they're afraid of performing for an audience, but this is bullshit. You have an audience every time you open your mouth. It's just the question of doing it at the right level for the environment you're in.
      • Success often stems from the ability to make whatever medium (TV/ radio/ theater etc.) you're in feel like something simpler and often less formal. It's the art of making the unnatural seem natural.
      • Any time you are videotaped or recorded live without an audience, whether it's for TV or the Web, it's far worse being in an empty room than a tough room.  The secret to speaking to an audience without one actually present is to forget the studio and ignore the cameras. Go to a place in your mind where you remember the last time you spoke to a live, friendly, interested group, and match that style of behavior and enthusiasm. Speak as if the same audience is listening, and you'll be fine.
      Chapter 8: The things people say
      • Things people say often mean something other than what you think they mean.
      • Feedback from the audience is a one-shot deal - either you make sense of it or you can't.
      • Any attention at all means you did something of value. But sorting out the value is not easy to do.
      • Most often people give mixed messages. You're on your own to sort out which bits of feedback matter, and more importantly, the differences between how you feel about how you did and how the audience seems to feel.
      • When talking to a speaker after his talk, most people will say nice, simple, positive things. As a result, there are thousands of bad public speakers running around under the impression that they're doing OK.
      • Considering how much we talk, we suck at both being honest with others and at listening openly and non-defensively when others are honest with us.
      • What people want from lectures is different from what they say they want, or what the organizers want them to want. 
      • While listening to a lecture, most people are quite happy to just be entertained. A speaker can satisfy many audiences without providing much substance, provided he keeps them entertained and interested. The best teachers use entertainment as a way to fuel teaching, not simply to make their students laugh.
      • People are willing to assume credibility based on how and by whom the speaker was introduced.
      • Your appearance, manner, posture, and attitude matter. Every audience expects certain superficial things, and if you deliver them, the rest of your job is easier.
      • Enthusiasm matters. By being enthusiastic and caring deeply about what you say, you may provide more value than a low-energy, dispassionate speaker who knows many times more than you do. 
      • Some of the real feedback speakers need:
        • How did my presentation compare to the others?
        • What one change would have improved my presentation?
        • What questions did you expect me to answer that were unanswered?
        • What annoyances did I let get in the way of giving you what you needed?
      • Speakers can be set up to fail if they are asked to speak to people who hate them, or on a topic they do not care about.
      • A savvy speaker must ask the host,"What effect do you want me to have on this audience?"
      • The organizer must be clear about:
        • What they want from the speaker.
        • What the audience wants from the speaker.
        • What the speaker is capable of doing.
      • Everyone - the speaker, the audience, and the organizer - should know how the speaker is going to be evaluated.
      • Some questions to ask the attendees after the talk:
        • 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?
      • Don't ask people to listen to something you haven't listened to yourself.

      Chapter 9: The clutch is your friend
      • 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?
      • Anyone can teach anyone anything if you have two dedicated, reasonably intelligent people, one interested in teaching and the other wanting to learn.
      • Anyone trying to teach must:
        1. Make it active and interesting:
        2. Start with an insight that interests the student
        3. Adapt to how the student responds to #1 and #2
      •  Making  it active and interesting:
        • The teacher can achieve this through exercises, games, and challenges where he plays a supporting role rather than a primary role.
        • If your goal is to keep people interested, give them permission to let you know when they're having trouble following and are about to tune out. A speaker who wants to teach should see this kind of questions not as a sign of failure, but as an opportunity.
        • Keep the audiences' minds feel active by telling them  relevant stories or showing them short and relevant movie clips 
      • Starting with an insight of interest:
        • There is always a way - if one is as much as expert as he thinks he is - to forge a path for anyone to follow into a subject or skill. If he can't make that path, he doesn't understand his topic as much as he thinks he does.
        • Keep your hard-earned knowledge in mind, but simultaneously remember how it felt to be a complete novice. It's rare to achieve this balance, but it's what makes a teacher great.
      • Adapting to how students respond
        • You should build your lecture so it is possible to ask yourself, at different points during the presentation:
          • 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?
        • A few days after the lecture you can contact the audience again to find out:
          • 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?
        • Good teachers listen as much as they talk, improving their material based on what they hear and studying to see if it had the positive effects they hoped. A bored teacher is merely someone who's forgotten he must keep finding ways to learn from his students, even if it's simply to learn where he has failed them as a teacher.
      • If you want to learn the secrets of any performer, see his show twice. Then you'll notice how much of what seems improvised truly is.
      • There is value in something that's been said before being said again in a different way, or by someone new who can get away by saying truths insiders can't.
      • Someone has to leave the lecture, go back to his everyday world, and take the risk of doing something different with what he has learned. No speaker can ensure this happen.
      • Most of the research points to 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., high-volume, short-break, full-day seminars as a bad learning environment.
      • There will always be a shortage of good public speakers in the world, no matter how many great books there are on the subject.
      • Humor and insight come from paying attention, not from special talents.
      • Making connections is everything. It starts by either getting people interested in your ideas or showing how interested you are in theirs. The easiest and fastest way to do so is to be honest.
      • Expressing ideas is often the only way to fully understand what ideas are, and to know what it is you really think. Expression makes learning from the criticism of others possible.
      The little things pros do
      • The confidence monitor - a device put on the front of the stage to show the speaker what slides are being projected on the screen behind his back. Helps in maintaining continuous eye contact.
      • The countdown timer - to check the time and calculate how much time is remaining for you to conclude your talk.
      • The remote control -to give complete freedom to move around the stage.
      • Give away stuff - to fill the front row
      • Microphone - best when clipped on to a shirt and the wire run under the shirt.
      • Badges - not needed for speakers
      • Work the camera - strike a rapport with the cameramen; while preparing, craft your material and slides with the web audience in mind.
      How to make a point
      • The basic time-tested toolkit for making a point - Logos (Logic), Ethos (Character), Pathos (Emotion)
      • You can change the point you are making simply by changing which word you emphasize. Good speakers have a range of emphasis methods.
      • Being overly dramatic often kills the goal of connecting with an audience.
      • Sometimes when a room is silent, people pay more attention than when you are speaking.

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      1 comment:

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