- 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
With Practice We Fly, Without It We Falter
The height of preparation is staying in practice1. Some of the main reasons for this are that — no matter how well we find ourselves prepared for what comes our way — we’re always improvising when we perform, when we don’t get better we get worse, and no matter how hard we try, we can ‘fake’ being prepared but we can’t fake having put in the time and effort to become great at what we do. Considering preparation as isolated endeavors leading up to engagements causes us to lose sight of that, and while we’re looking away, we miss the bigger Rhetorical forest because we were too busy staring at the individual trees that are fungible to filling it in.
We All Wing It to Fly
Because ideally the best Rhetorical products and performances come from engaging with everything and everyone creating the context of the moments they occur not in but by virtue of, and the aforementioned dynamic and changing nature of how things affect us, we’re always in part ‘winging’ everything we do in Rhetoric. Things are always in part up in the air, with no clear guides or rules but those we lay down and adopt for ourselves. That means that the most prepared among us are those that take the time to learn how to fly freely in that turbulent and cloudy territory, making it a high priority in our lives to keep on flapping no matter how tough things appear, get help whenever and wherever we need it, and challenging ourselves in private so we can soar higher in public — neither being enough on their own. It also means that we still need to take the time to ready ourselves for how best to navigate to each destination, which is its own set of skills depending on where we’re looking to land and how we’d like it to look like when we get there.
Preparing specifically before an engagement can be helpful in many instances, but there’s only so much we can do there if we’re not in practice, and we won’t have the luxury of being prompted to prepare for the grand majority of them. Nor are we given time to explicitly prepare for the grand majority of Rhetorical blows thrown our way when we engage in adversarial exchanges with other Rhetors. In situations like those, whoever’s in practice will tend to win. Thankfully, even if we’re not all that great with Rhetoric, most of us aren’t in practice, so that’s not all that hard to do if the amount of time we spend preparing ourselves is greater than none.
Our own natural temperaments and talents come into play here too, what approaching preparation as practice looks like for each of us being as similar and different as we are from each other. We all have our limits, but they tend to be further out than we tend to think, and we’re all called upon to perform just the same, our being ready of little concern to the call. When we fail to prepare we prepare to fail as it’s been said2, but preparation proper requires a great deal more than looking something over and last minute cramming before we’re to be reviewed — which as we’ve been over, we’re usually better off without3.
We’re at our Rhetorical best when we’re both extemporaneous and at our best, not anchoring ourselves down and becoming rigid in the moments we need be at our most flexible to fly. Most of the ways we use Rhetoric inherently won’t be formal or planned, as most of our time is spent informally and in unplanned ways. Try as we might, we never proceed clearly from one engagement to the next, and the lines between them are smeared in pencil over layers of loose paper. The way they look is only a temporary perspective that’s valid for the moment, and will typically be blown away to be recollected again the instant we take off.
It’s easy to become paranoid and lose our heads over it, but our casual conversations, communications, emails, texts, demeanor, appearance, posture, and the like all matter and they all count. They also occur more often than our appointments, speeches, stories, assignments, and negotiations. The Rhetorical principles that underlie them are the same, however. Our ability to benefit from knowing these principles only comes from improving ourselves, how well we understand them, and consistently exercising them by applying them. And in doing so, we improve our ability to apply ourselves in those designated engagements we usually reserve our preparatory efforts for as well, often negating the need for special preparatory efforts because we live and breathe the preparation that staying in practice with Rhetoric provides.
Excellence Is Built, Not Born, and Highly Perishable
When we look to people that excel in martial arts, we invariably find they practice martial arts. When we look to gifted improv artists, we invariably find they practice improv. Committed musicians often can’t help but humming and don’t always realize they’re doing it. Skilled illustrators doodle all the time in various forms. My homework assignments as a kid were usually covered in sketches of large angry karate men with pecs as big as the paper, to the point that I got some of them back because the content of the work was no longer visible. Everyone that gets really into something has stories like these. Writing while on the subway, singing while waiting for the bus. The arts and sciences we excel at aren’t compartmentalized in our life, they’re an integral part of them that intertwine with all the rest.
Our knowledge and skills are built by us, not born into us. They’re also perishable, needing consistent tending to or they’ll wilt and wither away. This happens no matter how good we get at something or how long we’ve been at it. Building ourselves back up goes quicker if we’ve built the roots that years of deliberate practice and experience provide, but it doesn’t make us immune to decay. We forget things we don’t come back to often or no longer find relevant, like so much Spanish or French learned in grade school never to be spoken again. We get rusty with things we no longer do and apply, like math or running. Unfortunately, riding a bike is one of the very few things ‘like riding a bike’ in the idiomatic sense. An advantage we have with Rhetorical knowledge and skills is that we find opportunities to test, develop, and apply them all the time, but we still have to take those opportunities, and appreciate them as such. If we don’t stretch and challenges ourselves along with that, however, we tend to slowly decline until we no longer realize what we’ve lost until some bad experience jolts us into remembering and getting back into Rhetorical shape, similar to stepping on a scale during a doctor’s visit and being shocked at how big we’ve blown up.
Insert anything we’d like, and if we’re good at it, or rather great at it, it takes practice. A lot of practice certainly helps, but there’s something to be said for some being better than none, particularly when it’s concerning something like Rhetoric that most of us don’t know enough about to even put it on our list of things to do. We only need to be better than our competitors, which with any manner of Rhetorical training under our belt, isn’t very difficult. It takes more than that to truly master something, however. For those that are truly great at something, their practice is their preparation. Before big events where their knowledge and skills are to be tested, they usually do things like sleep. There isn’t anything for them to do as something approaches that they haven’t already diligently done, resting being the best option because they choose among their best options in the days leading up to an engagement.
Extemporaneous excellence is of the same kind found in sports, and in that way, facetious on a Rhetorical level4. What appears to be effortless is, but only in the moment it occurs, the effort having occurred again and again in the hours, days, and years we’ve put in before performing. Our own natural talents and dispositions come into play in our ability to perform in the same way some of us are born more athletically inclined than others and in different ways, but thankfully with Rhetoric, the most substantive portions of it are all learned. As babies we can be cute, but we aren’t eloquent and persuasive. As we grow, we don’t go through Rhetorical ‘growth spurts’. We don’t stop sounding like idiots when our baby teeth fall out. It takes time and effort, circumstances leading some of us to appreciate or apply what’s involved in Rhetoric more than others, or creating a need that weens us along like narcissists naturally taking to manipulation, but concerted effort is required just the same.
What separates most of us in our Rhetorical abilities is when we start practicing them, why, and how we proceed from there, most of which is entirely under our control.What isn’t learned in Rhetoric through practice, reflection, guidance, and experience usually amounts to minor flourishes in the grand scheme of things, the biggest gifts we can get being along the lines of an inborn desire to challenge and try ourselves in pursuit of growth, and the persistence to stick with it. Even a dropout can beat a genius with hard work. A genius that works hard is god, but when we look around at the heights of Rhetorical success, we don’t find much of that, if any. It’s almost as if those of us that are the most naturally gifted in areas relevant to Rhetoric are the least likely to apply themselves in it to improve, never hitting the Rhetorical gym because they never felt the need press on them as much as they would have if they had started off worse than they are. In that way, there are no free lunches, but there are better deals than others, the best among them when it comes to preparation open only to those of us that devote our time and attention to diligently staying in practice with the Rhetorical things that now make up most of our lives.
The quality we get when we apply ourselves in that way is far beyond what ‘free’ can provide.
We Can’t Fake Greatness
The preparation of practice is the height of what any of us can do to prepare for all things concerning Rhetoric. We can’t fake that, but we can live it, and all without it taking over our lives. A lot of what we can do begins with looking at what we’re already doing in a different way, involving a monumental shift in perspective for most of us, but not a monumental amount of time and effort to go along with it. Whether or not we take the time to appreciate that and keep in practice with Rhetoric, however, it’s going to be a big part of our lives either way. Anything less is rightly considered being unprepared. Plenty of people have asked me over the years what tricks, tweaks, or tactics they can employ to get immediate results — and I surely teach many of those — but there really is no substitute for taking up Rhetoric in the same way we might take up a sport4. The results are real, but the endeavor is no less ludic.
If Rhetoric were a profession, it’d be the business of life. We’re prepared to the extent we get good at that, with all that it entails. And though we carry the results of that effort with us into everything we now do like so much strength and agility, Rhetoric is something that needs to be kept up with, practiced, honed, and a part of our lives if we’re to get better at it, or at least prevent a decline. If we’re not getting better, we’re getting worse, but that’s provided we take the time to start. If we never begin, we never get anywhere, and can’t help but be stuck where we’re presently at in terms of our knowledge, skills, and the results they bring us. If we’re reading this, chances are we’re not satisfied with that, know we can do better, and are only searching for a means to make it all manageable.
Now that we’ve gotten the big picture of preparation behind us, we’ll consider in greater depth specific examples of preparation with an eye to keeping in practice being paramount, watching what that looks like as it plays out before, during, and after our engagements.
Footnotes, References, and Citations
- Preparation 11 — The Best Preparation Is Staying in Practice | Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric ↩
- This is a paraphrase of the Ben Franklin quote “By failing to prepare, you prepare to fail,” likely from one of his many almanacs collecting and composed of similar quips and odd facts about the weather. ↩
- Preparation 6 — Being Over-Prepared — Preparation Costs| Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric ↩
- Preparation 11 — The Best Preparation Is Staying in Practice — We Take up Rhetoric like a Sport| 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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