Book Review: Confessions Of A Public Speaker

I’ve been catching up on some long-overdue reading lately, and finally read a book that’s been sitting near the top of Amazon’s Public Speaking Bestsellers list since its 2009 release.

It’s easy to see why Confessions Of A Public Speaker by Scott Berkun has gotten so much buzz. It’s the single funniest book about public speaking I’ve ever read. Even pages usually reserved for boilerplate language (such as the typically dull text about the book’s typeface) provoke a few genuine laughs.

But behind Berkun’s humor is the wisdom of an experienced public speaker whose insights into the craft can help all readers improve their presentations.

Confessions of a Public Speaker

First, it’s important to note that Confessions isn’t a “public speaking book,” at least not in the traditional sense. It’s not particularly granular or tactical—you won’t find much here about proper posture, slide design, or ways to begin a speech, for example. But there are already plenty of other books about those topics, and Berkun has set his sights a little higher.

Instead, he focuses on some of the bigger issues speakers get wrong, such as failing to maintain the audience’s attention, work a tough room, or manage their own fear.

Berkun offers knowledge you won’t find in other books. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “the public speaking circuit” without knowing what it referred to (I didn’t), his brief history will teach you something new. He also explains why bad rooms are responsible for a lot of bad speeches—he holds particular disdain for the tacky chandeliers found in most hotel ballrooms—and why the ancient Greeks had it right. That information may not offer you a whole lot of actionable advice, but it makes for compelling reading nonetheless.

My favorite four pages focused on developing a compelling speech structure. He used “How eating cheese will save your life” as an example, and it showed off his wicked creativity. More than that, though, this section offers several easy-to-use suggestions for your own speech. They’re worth the price of the book on their own.

Although this book focuses heavily on tech and TED-type talks, readers will easily be able to apply Berkun’s lessons to their everyday business presentations.

The only off-note for me was Berkun’s third chapter, in which he spent 12 pages justifying/apologizing for his $5,000 speaker’s fee. That section reads too much like an examination into Berkun’s internal conflict about his income to me. As a professional trainer, I’ve never had such a conflict. Clients decide what you’re worth to them, and will pay you that amount if they think you’re worth it.

That small nit aside, this is a wonderfully content-rich and entertaining book. My copy is marked up with highlighted pages and notes in the margin—always the sign of a good book. And because it reads like a novel, you can read it either at your office or during your next vacation.

This book is as good as its reviews. Highly recommended.

Scott Berkun’s Confessions of a Public Speaker is available in softcover here and for the Kindle here.