In the latest issue of A List Apart, Chair Liz Danzico interviews Scott Berkun, author and fall semester guest lecturer of Confessions of a Public Speaker, on the fear of public speaking, and how to overcome it. Below is an excerpt:
Liz Danzico: Public speaking is thought of as one of the worst human fears, right up there with sickness, death, and fear of heights. What’s to be scared of?
Scott Berkun: The bar is very low for public speaking. It’s a tragedy here in 2010 that people still regularly fight to stay awake in meetings and conferences all over the world. Technology has not saved us from boring people. Or, perhaps more accurately, from interesting people who become boring when standing in front of a group.
Part of the problem is people worry about the wrong things. They fear they’ll be laughed at or they’ll say something embarrassing, but as I explain in the book those things rarely happen. The most common mistake is not preparing wisely. Most speakers bore their audiences to death by rambling and stumbling through their lazy thinking, problems easy to avoid if you frame the challenges correctly, which was the goal of the book. It’s not that hard to speak well if you think about the challenges in the right way.
Liz Danzico: When you watch other people give talks, what’s your biggest pet peeve about others’ public speaking baggage?
Scott Berkun: I’m extremely sensitive to having my time wasted. If I feel I’d be better served reading their blog, or their book, I’ll get up and leave. If I feel the speaker hasn’t thought hard about their topic, and hasn’t practiced their material at least once, I will get up and leave. People who “ummm” every sentence, use jargon (or invent their own), cowardly hide behind complexity, talk about themselves and their accomplishments endlessly, or who seem to have no idea why the audience is there, also piss me off. Anyone who earnestly shows they care and has clearly put the effort in to be useful keeps my ass in my seat. The surprise is nearly everyone can do this, but few do. Again, the bar is really quite low.