- Preparation 1 — What to Do When We’re Not Prepared
- Preparation 2 — Learning to Decline When We Can’t Deliver or Delay
- Preparation 3 — Delaying When We Can’t Decline or Deliver
- Preparation 4 — Preparation Defined
- Preparation 5 — What Being Unprepared Looks Like
- Preparation 6 — Being Over-Prepared
- Preparation 7 — We Can and Do Prepare Poorly
- Preparation 8 — Thinking Forward vs Thinking Backward
- Preparation 9 — Our Beliefs about Our Preparation Are Part of Our Preparation
- Preparation 10 — There’s a Rhetoric to Preparation
- Preparation 11 — The Best Preparation Is Staying in Practice
- Preparation 12 — The Big Picture of Preparation
Table of Contents
Beliefs are Affective
Our beliefs are a big deal.
Alongside doing the right things in the wrong ways1, and not doing the wrong things in the right way2, our beliefs about our preparedness can impact our delivery just as much as our actual efforts to prepare. Cultivating our beliefs can rightly be considered a part of our preparation for that reason, and is why I deliberately included our beliefs about our preparedness in what makes us authentically unprepared3.
Our Beliefs Can Bind Us
We can spend all the time and money in the world preparing, but if we don’t believe we’re prepared for something, we still won’t be — whether or not that belief is rational or true.
In most situations, our ideal delivery or execution will be as extemporaneously excellent4 as we can muster, letting all of our past knowledge, skill, and experience flow through us in dynamic engagement with an audience, taking into account their feedback in as close to real time as we can perceive it, and making authentic connections with who we affect — regardless of the scale of people we connect with, or our connection taking the form of a product or performance. This includes things that are in whole or in part scripted in nature, such as plays and political speeches, the main differences there being how that plays out, not whether or not it is playing out.
At its best, public speaking is public thinking5, thinking out loud not only to others, but with them. The larger portion of that is supported by setting ourselves up to be able to do just that6, all while getting everything out of our way of accomplishing it. The biggest obstacles we deal with are often ourselves and our own thinking, which easily become tangled up and pulled in all directions if we don’t make efforts to straighten them out7. There are many things we can do to deal with that, but they all begin and end with cultivating our beliefs, making implicit things explicit, and being ok with how we’ve spent our time and attention given the circumstances we find ourselves in.
Because what we’re doing in any Rhetorical performance involves thinking out loud in ways we’re not used to considering acts of thought8, any additional layers of thinking on our part, including second guessing ourselves and having regrets about our preparatory efforts, act much like kinks in a hose. It’s easy not to notice how tied up our thinking about something is when there’s no pressure running through it, which is something that can be said of most hoses sitting in garages and gardens the world over. But once the need to perform turns the nozzle to the right, the kinks become readily apparent, and actively dangerous. Every misgiving and worry we have ties one more knot into our line, which swells as everything within it tries to flow through us. If we knot ourselves up tightly enough, our potential bursts out at those points of tension we have, squirting in all manner of directions, getting things around us unintentionally wet in typically detrimental ways, and detracts from the full force of what would have come from a focused, unobstructed effort from beginning to end that was under our control. Despite using ample amounts of time and effort, we finally fail to water what plants we’d like, and thereafter never see them fruit or flower.
If we’re tied up tightly enough by believing we’re not prepared — becoming thoroughly disorganized on the mental level because of it — we’ll often ‘burst’ in the moments we attempt to engage, whether we’re out in front of an audience, or sitting down to pen a product. What that looks like can take any number of forms — whether it be freezing, bowing out as we walk on stage, or sitting in silence — but none of it looks like us at our best doing great Rhetorical work. And unfortunately as adults, an audience’s response to us crying in front of them or failing to deliver isn’t met with the same love, care, affection, and understanding reserved for children falling apart onstage. Being unprepared as an adult isn’t cute, and can at times be insulting, which makes it all the more unfortunate when the only thing holding us back — after appropriate efforts to prepare — are our beliefs.
We Perceive What We Believe
This happens precisely because what we do when we’re engaging with an audience in any form is thinking out loud. There’s a finite limit to how much thinking we can do at once, much of that thinking being only indirectly under our control, such as through our beliefs. If we believe we’re unprepared or about to falter in our attempts to perform, a good portion of our mind tries to both realize that state of affairs as if it were a command, as well as fixates on it in ways that waste what scarce mental resources we have available to us when we perform.
Any misdirected thinking we do while performing pulls us in all manner of directions that aren’t giving our best performance or making our best product. Thinking like that in the moments we delivery is both facing in the wrong direction as we’ve gone over, as well as redundant. Once we’re delivering, that’s it. No matter what preparation we may or may not have done, it’s too late to worry about it, and the act of worrying about that colors our perception and taxes our mental faculties when they’re needed most. Focusing with complete clarity of intent and purpose in a moment like that is easier said than done, however, particularly when we’re engaging with an audience in ways that deeply matter to them as well as us. These are also the engagements that we worry the most about in regards to whether or not we’re adequately prepared, making a firm foundation of beliefs in our abilities both difficulty to maintain, as well as all the more vital because of the conditions causing that.
We become more comfortable ‘letting go’ of our worries in situations like that when we’ve thoroughly prepared by staying in practice6, but the more self-aware we are about the time and effort we’ve spent prior to an engagement being inadequate to the Rhetorical challenges we face, the harder it will be to trust ourselves enough to let go. We believe things aren’t going to go well because our preparation has precipitated them going poorly, which spirals us down further into screwing them up for ourselves — assuming we’re watching ourselves fail, then going on to fail more than we otherwise would have because of it.
We can fool an audience with enough Rhetoric into thinking we’re well prepared. And we can even fool ourselves into believing we are or aren’t prepared, whether or not we are. In either case, we need to appreciate and harness the Rhetorical affects our beliefs have on ourselves. That affect is going to occur whether or not we do, so we do well to make use of it. What we perceive will be what we believe here, decided entirely from the perspective we have of preparation. Preparation as a process is in no small part about affecting ourselves into better states to perform9, cultivating our beliefs as a catalyst for all else.
The best way to deliberately guide our beliefs about our preparedness is to thoroughly know what preparing for any Rhetorical endeavor entails, consciously deciding how much we’re willing to put into that before we begin, and following through with it in a way we can be both confident about and proud of. We’ll believe we’re prepared because we will be prepared, having deliberately allocated our resources and followed through with our intentions — even if that means having decided that we’re better off not preparing at all. When we know that we could have prepared better, but it’s too late to do anything about that or get help, the best we can do is believe in ourselves and deliver as confidently as we can. Accepting and embracing our current predicament removes the fear we have of it — if nothing else — and will keep us from falling as hard as we would have if we were shaking on our way down.
It’s the uncertainty and lack of acceptance of situations like these that causes us to tremble. We can’t have any measure of certainty or acceptance of something if we lack perspective on it, or begin with a poor one limited by an impoverished vantage point. Correcting our perspective on preparation is what will give us the most immediate benefits in our preparatory efforts, even before we actively apply it, because it equips us to productively think about preparation, and fruitfully modify any limiting beliefs about it we may have hidden within us that would otherwise tangle us up or turn us around in the moments we need to flow free and forward.
Believing we lack something can at times be as bad as actually lacking it when the psychology of our beliefs is the foundation of our execution. When engaging with an audience either directly or indirectly, our beliefs about how prepared we are to do that aren’t fungible to our results. The confidence that comes from both knowing what preparation is, and being implicitly and explicitly satisfied with our level of preparedness are both needed to be fully prepared. Preparation itself is a process of affecting ourselves just as much as it about improving our ability to affect anyone else, complete with its own best practices, principles, and taboos — all of which our beliefs are inextricably tied to.
Our beliefs running under us with every step we take, our preparation in many endeavors is what constructs our performance. Preparation has a Rhetoric all its own in that way9, our success with it determined by our ability to learn and apply it, no different than the Rhetoric of any other art or science.
Footnotes and Citations
- Preparation 6 — Being Over-Prepared | Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric ↩
- Preparation 7 — We Can and Do Prepare Poorly | Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric ↩
- Preparation 5 — What Being Unprepared Looks Like | Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric ↩
- Preparation 11 — The Best Preparation Is Staying in Practice — Extemporaneous Excellence | Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric ↩
- The 4 Secrets of Becoming Great at Public Speaking | Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric ↩
- Preparation 11 — The Best Preparation Is Staying in Practice | Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric ↩ ↩
- Preparation 8 — Thinking Forward vs Thinking Backward | Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric ↩
- A brief summary of some of what I’ve written elsewhere will be available in my next book, as well as part of the What is Rhetoric? Series adapted from it, which I’ll link once it’s up. ↩
- Preparation 10 — There’s a Rhetoric to Preparation | Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric ↩ ↩
He enjoys learning, making, and teaching things. Though he works internationally, he's based in the Bay Area, trained and operating by the University of California, Berkeley. He's considered a leading authority on the topic of Rhetoric.
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