Preparation vs Procrastination

In this blog post from 6 September 2010, Seth Godin raises a question that all public speakers face at one time or another. Am I ready? It’s a fair question. But it can lead to procrastination.


Being prepared is one of the most important things that a speaker can do. It helps a presentation run smoothly and it shows respect for the audience.

But when does preparation become over preparation or worse, procrastination? There is no one answer, of course. Each preparation is different. But there is a line, and as speakers, we should be wary of crossing it.

Preparation will not guarantee perfection. But that’s OK. It is through our mistakes (or hitches) that we learn and improve. And when it comes to public speaking, there is always room for improvement.

Preparation is important and certainly much better than procrastination. But there comes a point when we have to stand and deliver.


Rehearsing is for Cowards

by Seth Godin

Jackson Browne gave us that advice. He would rather have you explore.
Exploring helps you figure out what you can do the next time you present or perform or interact. Rehearsing, on the hand, means figuring out exactly what you’re going to do so you can protect against the downside, the unpredictable and the embarrassing.

I’m not dismissing study, learning, experimenting or getting great at what you do. In fact, I’m arguing in favor of this sort of hard work. No, I’m talking about the repetition of doing it before you do it, again and again. Just drilling it in so you can regurgitate later. Better, I think, as they say, “…let’s do it live.”

A well-rehearsed performance will go without a hitch. An explorer seeks the hitches, because hitches are the fissures and chasms that help us leap forward.

Photo courtesy of Pedro da Silva on Unsplash

Like this article?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Linkdin
Share on Pinterest
Picture of mannerofspeaking


  1. In times when people get busier and busier, there is less and less time to prepare. It does not mean one should not prepare at all. I have to be at least half-prepared before I decide to deliver a speech. I may not deliver it as well as having fully prepared, but at least I get to deliver the speech and move on to my next speech. I get to speed up in my development as a speaker.

    1. It is ironic that one of the possible “benefits” of our busy schedules is that we are forced to get up on stage and deliver that speech, often with less preparation than we would have liked. I am certainly not advocating for a hectic lifestyle, but one has to look for that silver lining in every cloud.

  2. To compare it with cycling: Sometimes you need races to get better or to prepare for the real event; just training will not give you the needed intensity. In my view, you can consider Toastmasters meetings as rehearsal where you train for the real event. Some members of the club lose interest because rehearsal at home is not really fun, so you might end up with boring rehearsing all the time. Hope you get the idea, while I am writing this, I am exploring and not rehearsing or reviewing.

  3. I like the word exploring. In the past, I rehearsed a lot so that I could not enjoy my speech, but lately I only rehearse my opening and closing and explore the body of speech, and I can enjoy myself, and yes, there is always a room for improvement. It works for weekly meetings, but I am very nervous about contests that I practice a lot and only regurgitate the speech on the stage. May I know how you prepare your speech, John? 🙂

    1. Hi Tia,
      Thanks for the comment. “Exploring” is a great word because as speakers we are constantly exploring for different and better ways to connect with our audiences. In so doing, we are also exploring ourselves.
      As for my preparation, it depends. For presentations, or for the courses that I teach on public speaking, I have a definite structure – one which is readily available if I happen to be using a slide show – but I never memorize it. A presentation needs to remain flexible as there is often a degree of audience participation (questions, exercises, etc.) that calls for flexibility. A presentation should, in many ways, be like a conversation. It should not be a rigid recitation of material.
      A speech (particularly one in a contest) is a bit different. Though there is still interaction with the audience, there are no questions or exercises or comments (though there can be laughter, tears, even boos!). But it is much more a case of the speaker delivering a message. I always write my speeches out word for word, especially for speech contests where there are strict time limits. I think it important to do so, so that you can really craft the speech and get as much out of the time as possible. Having said that, I don’t “memorize” the speech word for word and it never comes out the same way twice. I do memorize openings and closings and key sentences in between. For the rest, I have the flow of the speech in my head and use it to guide me from point to point.
      I hope that some of this is helpful.

  4. Hi John,
    I have to respectfully disagree somewhat with Seth, with whom I’m usually in complete agreement. I think his advice to be an explorer and seek the hitches is fine IF [and it’s a big if] you already have a good foundation of presentation skills and can adequately think on your feet and react appropriately in the moment. But if you can’t, if you’re an inexperienced or extremely nervous presenter, then that approach is essentially “practicing” on the audience. Yes, you may learn from your mistakes and eventually improve, but at the cost of providing the audience with a sub-par experience.
    I think we owe it to our audiences to be the best we can possibly be when they give us their time to hear our message.

    1. Hi Kathy,
      Thanks for the thoughtful message. In fact, I had the same exchange with other speakers in Nick Morgan’s “Public Words”. You might find it interesting to have a look and comment over there too:
      As I said in that forum, what I took away from Seth’s post is that there comes a time when the preparation has to stop and we must deliver. We can prepare and rehearse all we want – and preparation is important, to be sure – but until we get up and do it, we will never truly know what it is like. How many of us learned to ride a bike from a manual?
      Don’t get me wrong, I am a staunch advocate for the importance of thorough preparation. It is essential for the speaker and respectful for the audience. (As I tell my students, if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.) However, I took a somewhat different message away from Seth’s post: Prepare properly and then do it, and in the doing, be prepared to learn more.

  5. John,
    Thanks for pointing me to Nick’s blog and discussion. I weighed in there too!
    I love your last sentence… “Prepare properly and then do it, and in the doing, be prepared to learn more.” That I can definitely sign up for!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

eleven + eleven =


John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International