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.Andre Agassi
“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 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 contingencies—you 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!