Robert Scanlon * Colete Pty Ltd * August 10, 2015 * 194 Pages
I’d Rather Die: Public Speaking Survival Skills is probably one of the best books on public speaking I’ve read–and I have read quite a few of them (intense introvert and fearer of public speaking that I am). What makes this book so good is that it is fresh, unique. This isn’t the same old regurgitated information that you’ve heard a million times. There is plenty in here that was completely new to me, and, more importantly, most of it is genuinely and incredibly helpful.
The book is divided into seven chapters, and each of those chapters is divided into several sections. At the end of each chapter there are drills you can do to help solidify Scanlon’s points. The book is very relaxed and conversational in tone, and it flows nicely from one point to the next. Also, there are a ton of external links and cross references (that actually work!), so it is easy to move around within the book as well as visit outside sites.
Scanlon offers so much helpful information and advice. One of my favorite parts comes right at the beginning when Scanlon talks about “extending your attention bubble.” Which probably means nothing to anyone who hasn’t read this book, but, wow, that one exercise has changed my life. I walk around “expanding my bubble” constantly now, and I still find it incredible how this one visualization exercise changes the way I walk, the way I carry myself, and the level of confidence I feel. It’s crazy. (Even thinking about it now, I find myself sitting up straighter and breathing more deeply. The power of the mind, sheesh.)
Other points I found helpful:
- Get into a presenter state before you present: get up, move your arms and legs, talk loudly, and walk around the room.
- People are inclined to remember interrupted tasks or anything incomplete. Use this to your advantage when speaking. Don’t be afraid to shake things up by interrupting your usual rhythm.
- Use verbal frames to let the audience know how your presentation will go. For example, “My talk runs for about 30 minutes.” Or “I’ll take about 10 minutes to share my story, and then I’ll be happy to answer questions.”
- If your mind freezes during your presentation, move around. And don’t present from one spot on stage or else your mind will be more likely to get “stuck.”
- Focus on where you want your voice to “land” and you will naturally enunciate more and project your voice more powerfully.
- Instead of asking the audience, “Any questions?” at the end of your presentation (a very closed yes-or-no question that puts people on the spot), flesh it out a bit while gently reminding people of what they heard. Maybe say, “So shortly we will pause for questions. I’ve covered this topic in depth, but some people may want to know more about our software or employee perks or new company goals. We have about 10-15 minutes, so let’s open this up. What questions do you have?”
I also hadn’t heard of using 4MAT or “chunking” to more effectively structure a presentation, but those were eye-opening concepts for me.
I only have two minor complaints. First, I would have preferred that the drills following each chapter had been placed after each chapter SECTION, while the information from that section was still fresh in my mind.
Second, while I liked all the links in the book, the cross-referencing WITHIN the book could be overwhelming. There is a lot of “Oh, that reminds me of X, but we will cover that in Chapter 4, so we won’t go there yet. But if you want to know more about Y, you might want to check out Chapter 6.” In later chapters, I appreciated when Scanlon referred back to concepts from earlier chapters (and provided links to those particular concepts). But when he linked to concepts that I hadn’t learned about (but would learn about later), I felt overwhelmed. At some point, I remember thinking, wait, am I supposed to be reading this book out of order? It was disorienting.
Still, what a resource! I have learned so much from this short book, and I feel like Scanlon’s advice will help me in everyday life, not just when I’m giving a presentation. This is truly a wonderful book packed with plenty of effective and practical advice. If you really are terrified of speaking in front of groups, I promise you: this book offers hope.