September 20, 2018

Books for Speakers: Bird by Bird

Public Speaking , Alumni , Resources , Speaker's Bookshelf

A favorite question in every class we lead is this: What are the best public speaking books? What do you suggest we read? Our shelves are loaded with choices. Every month we'll be featuring a pick from new books we've come across and old favorites we go back to again and again.


"Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft--you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft--you fix it up."

– Anne Lamott in "Bird by Bird"

Bird by Bird

by Anne Lamott

This month’s book recommendation comes from a Buckley alum, writer Reba Campbell. Commenting on one of our Instagram posts, she shared a link to a collection of books she’s found helpful.

Among those books is Bird by Bird from Anne Lamott. Here’s what Reba says about it: 

Anyone who writes or wants to write must own a copy of this book. It’s not only a great primer on writing, but it’s also brimming with life lessons Lamott so humorously and authentically shares with her readers. I’m on my third copy of this book having given my first two to friends.

Joy just oozes from this book no matter how many times I’ve read it. Lamott’s central theme about writing – and life in general - is always “just get something started.” The title of the book comes from advice from her father to her brother when he was overwhelmed by writing a report on birds. “Just take it bird by bird,” her dad advised.

Of course, she makes good book recommendations! We love this photo of Reba with her new pup Flo, an evacuee dog she adopted during Hurricane Florence.

At just over 200 pages, Bird by Bird is a short and entertaining read—and it’s a great example of a writer who’s managed to sound as natural on the page as you imagine she would in conversation. That’s another reason to check out this book--to pay attention to how she pulls that off. So often, when people write presentations and speeches, they default to a formal, corporate, or academic style. They stop sounding like themselves.

As Reba points out, Bird by Bird will also inspire you to get started. Some of us need the reassurance that a first draft can be bad and that’s okay. And others of us need to be reminded that it usually takes more than one draft to get it right. 

Helpful advice for speakers as well as writers in the distinctive voice of Anne Lamott

And this, from Lamott, is another great reason that speakers should consider writing their messages, whether they plan to use a script or not:

Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. The thing you had to force yourself to do—the actual act of writing—turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward. 

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