A Lesson from Andre Agassi

I recently finished Open, Andre Agassi’s autobiography. It is a terrific book and is one of the best autobiographies that I have ever read. I highly recommend it.


The title of the book could not be more appropriate, both for the tennis reference and for the fact that Agassi truly does open up his life—the good, the bad and the ugly—to the world. It is a well-written page turner that that will have you reflecting on your own life, even if you have never held a tennis racquet.

I ended up reading Open with pencil next to me so that I could mark passages for easy reference later on. One of the passages that caught my attention is of particular relevance for those who give presentations.

Early in the book, Agassi is describing his final preparations before what would become an epic match against Marcos Baghdatis in the 2006 US Open. Agassi describes how he would let his young kids help him mix the powders into his energy drinks. But when it was time to pack his tennis bag, that job was his and his alone.

No one but me … can pack the [water] bottles into my bag, along with my clothes and towels and books and shades and wristbands. (My rackets, as always, go in later.) No one but me touches my tennis bag, and when it’s finally packed, it stands by the door, like an assassin’s kit, a sign that the day has lurched that much closer to the witching hour.

I obsess about my bag. I keep it meticulously organized, and I make no apologies for this anal retentiveness. The bag is my briefcase, suitcase, toolbox, lunchbox, and palette. I need it just right, always. The bag is what I carry onto the court, and what I carry off, two moments when all my senses are extra acute, so I can feel every ounce of its weight. If someone were to slip a pair of argyle socks into my tennis bag, I’d feel it. The tennis bag is a lot like your heart – you have to know what’s in it all times.

Many speakers put a lot of effort into preparing their presentations and yet approach the logistical details of the presentation with much less. I used to be that way. The night before (or morning of) a presentation, I would scavenge about for the things that I thought I would need for the event—markers, cables, materials, whatever. It was a haphazard approach and one that occasionally resulted in something being forgotten and an ensuing scramble at the venue looking for a workaround. Those days are long gone.

When you present, you should have the same attitude towards logistical details that Agassi had towards his tennis bag. You should assume responsibility and leave nothing to chance. Yes, you will  have to rely on people at the speaking venue for some things, but to the extent that you can reduce that reliance to a minimum—and prepare for contingenciesyou will be in a better situation.

One thing that definitely helps is having a good checklist. After years of writing out lists of things that I needed, I decided to create a simple, but comprehensive one-page checklist that I could go through and tick the different items that I needed. It has come in very handy and I have received lots of positive feedback from others who have used it. You can download it for free here. I hope you find it useful.

Beyond the checklist, however, you should develop a routine when it comes to packing up your material the night before your presentation. I always try to pack my materials in the same way, in the same bags or cases. For me, there is a Zen-like rhythm to the process and a Zen-like peace of mind knowing that everything is in its place and that I’ll be able to find it quickly.

So, the next time you have a presentation, give my checklist a try and take a page out of Andre Agassi’s book as you prepare. Game, Set, Match!


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
This entry was posted in Book Review, Preparation and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to A Lesson from Andre Agassi

  1. Thanks John, this is wise advice. I am also obsessive about these preparations to the point that I take two laptops to presentations just in case one falters. Your checklist is great!

  2. Pingback: A Lesson from Andre Agassi | scientific present...

  3. That one’s on my “to-read” list, too, John. I knew him on the court (well, the TV), but had no idea about his story — that his father pushed him into tennis relentlessly. So I’m looking forward to reading it.

    I keep two lists in Apple’s Notes app, so it’s always on my computer, iPad, phone: one is the checklist of things I must take with me, and the other is a list of the things I do once at the venue.

    • John Zimmer says:

      Thanks for the comment, Rob. I too was surprised to learn just how much he was pushed to excel at tennis. You will enjoy the book, I’m sure. Great that you have developed your own lists too.



  4. I’m always looking for a good biography. I also really like reading about successful people and what they do to get there.

  5. Certainly next on my reading list.
    Thank you for the checklist. 🙂

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