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Note about Scott Berkun and Confessions of a Public Speaker

June 24, 2010

I just finished Scott Berkun‘s book, Confessions of a Public Speaker. I started it because I read a good review of it on the Six Minutes: Public Speaking and Presentation Skills Blog. I also started it because I teach a communication class that involves public speaking, and I never took a public speaking class.

He emphasizes the importance of preparation and feels free to reveal many of the things he has learned about public speaking from experience because he knows people reading the book will not put in the time to prepare. In the book, he has a very good chapter on learning and teaching, The Clutch is Your Friend, which starts with his brother teaching him how to drive a standard transmission vehicle. He writes that this phrase

“reminds me that there is always a way – if I’m as much of an expert as I think I am – to forge a path for anyone to follow into a subject or skill. If I can’t make that path, I don’t understand my topic as much as my ego thinks I do” (134).

This statement gets to guts of being a good communicator as a teacher. It certainly doesn’t cover everything about teaching, but it presents the primary challenge of understanding whatever we are going to teach. It is why I keep trying to learn more about the grammar and language I teach in my ESL classes. 30 years of this and I am still trying to find better ways to teach topics like subject-verb agreement.

I keep striving to find the way to make these very complex operations understandable and meaningful for my students for I strongly agree with his statement on the next page:

“Teaching is a compassionate act. It transforms the confusing into the clear, the bad into the good. When it’s done well, and the insights are experienced not just by the teacher but by the students as well, everyone should feel good about what’s happened” (135).

On his site, he posts essays that I find engaging and challenging. His most recent one is “How to Be a Free Thinker“. The challenge he puts is to understand ourselves and what pushes us to think in a certain way. He offers advice on how to free ourselves of some constraints to our thinking. He offers good ideas that will strength of will and honesty. But then, as they say, “whoever said it was going to be easy?”

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