Speaking is one of those activities where there is always something to tweak or improve. Whether you've just finished your first talk or your thousandth, after you're done I guarantee you'll look back and find at least a couple of things that you'll wish went better. Changes you can make for the next time will always be on your mind. As a speaker, part of your job is to realize that no talk is going to be perfect, but with work you can make your talks better and better, with fewer modifications required each time.
Making things trend upward, at least for me, involves two components: lots of practice, and reading up on how others do a great job. As part of that second component--reading--I've purchased a number of books on the topic of speaking. While some of them contain useful tidbits, the majority of them--even the great ones--are painfully boring. And most of them have nothing very useful to share; some of the advice even borders on counter-productive.
With all of that said, I'm happy to report that a new book published by O'Reilly and Associates bucks these trends and delivers what I've been looking for. "Confessions of a Public Speaker", by Scott Bercun, is highly entertaining and packed with great tips that apply equally well to both new and experienced speakers. Bercun does a great job of debunking a number of speaking myths (should you really consider what the audience would look like naked?) and teaches both what to do and what not to do by sharing many humorous anecdotes from his own and others' speaking experiences.
At around 200 pages, the book is a breeze to get through, and if you're anything like me you will not want to put it down. Upon receiving the book in the mail I ripped open the package planning to skim the first few pages... and ended up reading half of the book in the first sitting. This has never happened to me with a speaking book before, and that alone is testament to the greatness that has been achieved here.
Bercun focuses on conference and other public-venue speaking, so this book is perfect for just about anyone reading this blog post. Whether you're speaking at a user group, SQL Saturday, Code Camp, or major conference, the advice in the book will apply to your situation. Especially interesting is a chapter in which a number of disaster scenarios are outlined, with advice on both how to react in the best possible way and how to avoid them to begin with (note to self: don't go out drinking the night before doing a big talk).
The book is easy to digest, the content is top-notch, and the text is just as long as it needs to be to make its point--just like a great talk, and just like a good blog post, so I'll stop here. If you want to improve your public speaking, pick up a copy of this book right away.