A Lesson from Andre Agassi

Andre Agassi Open

I recently finished Open, the autobiography of Andre Agassi. 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. 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.

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.

Andre Agassi

Many speakers put a lot of effort into preparing their presentations. And yet they don’t do nearly as much when it comes to logistics. I used to be that way.

The morning of a presentation, I would scavenge about for whatever I needed for the event. Markers, cables, materials, whatever. It was a haphazard approach and one that occasionally resulted in me forgetting something and having to scramble. Those days are gone.

When you present, you should have the same attitude towards logistical details that Andre 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 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. 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 that comes with knowing that everything is in its place.

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!

Like this article?

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


  1. 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.

    1. 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.

  2. 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!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.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

15 + 11 =


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