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"Confidence, not perfection, is the goal" and other insights from Scott Berkun on public speaking

Every time I have a talk (or presentation) coming up, I review Derek Sivers’s notes on “Confessions of a Public Speaker”. It always calms my nerves, reminds me that fear comes with the territory, and that the audience wants to you to do well. They are on your side!

Here are my top 7 takeaways:

1/ On Perfection: I don’t want to be perfect, I want to be useful. If you’d like to be good at something, the first thing to go out the window is the notion of perfection.

2/ On Fear: All the fun, interesting things in life come with fears. All good things come with the possibility of failure.

3/ On Thinking: The problem with most bad presentations I see is not the speaking, the slides, the visuals, or any of the things people obsess about. Instead, it’s the lack of thinking.

All good public speaking is based on good private thinking. Transform a rough set of ideas into clear points.

The mistakes you make before you even say a word matter more. These include the mistakes of:

  • not having an interesting opinion
  • not thinking clearly about your points
  • not planning ways to make those points relevant to your audience

4/ On what the audience cares about: The things speakers obsess about are the opposite of what the audience cares about. They want to be entertained. They want to learn. And most of all, they want you to do well.

5/ What is practice for? But I don’t practice to make perfect, and I don’t memorize. My intent is simply to know my material so well that I’m very comfortable with it. Confidence, not perfection, is the goal.

6/ Insight, not a comprehensive overview. Good lectures are never comprehensive because it’s the wrong format to do so. And why would the audience care to know everything? That would be boring and take forever. People really want insight. They want an angle. A good speaker or teacher finds it for them.

7/ Prepare an index card with 5-6 points. Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, and Franklin Roosevelt all used a short outline of five or six points - often with just a few words per point - to help them recall their hour-long speeches while giving them.