Preparation 4 — Preparation Defined

Preparation 4 — Preparation Defined

This is part of a presently ongoing series about Preparation. Each post has been made more or less self-contained, and refers to other portions of the series and elsewhere when helpful. They can be read in any order, though they thematically still build on one another in sequence, and I recommend reading them from the beginning. To be notified when a new entry is released, and to receive instant notifications for any other updates on the site, please head here. Feel free to give me feedback on any of them as well, either in the comments below them, or by contacting me—particularly if there is something specific that should be addressed as the series progresses.

Preparation is a Higher Level Rhetorical Concern

allegory-of-the-caveRhetoric at large is usually neglected because it takes a lot of knowledge and skill to even realize it’s a thing we can think and talk about, let alone the very thing we all apply and practice in various forms to intentionally succeed in most of the things we now do. Most people I teach inevitably–and in ways unprovoked by my mentioning it — compare learning about Rhetoric to seeing The Matrix1 for the first time, then discovering it’s real. In older times, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave2 would have been more appropriate, the core of both being a huge paradigm shift in the way we perceive nearly everything in the world around us, which only grows as time goes on and extends back across our entire lives thus far as we realize how Rhetorically laden we all are.

Even among those relatively knowledgeable regarding Rhetoric — whether that looks like knowing what the word means beyond it’s use in the concept of a ‘Rhetorical Question’ or them having taken the time to invest in developing their own — the practical and strategic elements of Rhetoric remain as neglected as the entire topic is by most. Those elements are all still very much a part of Rhetoric, however, that we’re free to think about and apply once we begin mastering the basics. Knowing when and when not to speak, making decisions to act based on the return of our Rhetorical investments, and other higher level concerns only open up to us to care about when we develop the ability to appreciate and perceive them by building the foundational knowledge and skills they require.

What is Preparation?

calvin-ignorantPreparation is one of those higher level ‘things’ in Rhetoric that many neglect because Rhetoric in general is already over their heads. It’s also one that the most well-meaning and skilled of us tend to screw up alongside everyone else because we all assume we’re experts at it because of how ignorant we really are of it3.

When something’s as transparent as being prepared, it’s no wonder why so many of us assume we’re good at preparation based on being able to give a good performance or make a good product. We don’t prepare well by default when things turn out well, however. Though it’s our natural inclination, we can’t judge the quality of our preparation based entirely on the outcomes of our performances, despite those outcomes at times mattering more than what went into them. When we get really good at Rhetoric, we often do our best when we prepare as little as possible, or decide not to prepare after careful or intuitive consideration — assuming we stay in practice diligently enough to be able to do that4. Things also work out well on rare occasion when we’re unprepared, either by luck or unexpected circumstances, but that’s not something we can viably rely on for continued success any more than a batter can make a career out of a home run that graciously happened to bounce off his bat while I was picking his nose.

It’s similar to the distinction between a sound decision and a good decision — the former is one made in the right way, while the latter refers to the outcome having been good. Even poor decisions will on occasion lead to beneficial outcomes, but we’re better off banking on making right decisions by making sound ones. Over time, enough unorthodox decisions leading to great outcomes can change our methods for deciding, but without that, we’re better off sticking with methods that consistently make great results.

Having already gone over some basic strategies we can take when we’re unprepared — embodied in my phrase “When we can’t deliver, decline5 or delay6” — it’s time we considered being prepared more broadly. This will help make things clearer before going into what it means to be authentically unprepared7 and not needlessly nervous about a Rhetorical engagement:

Preparation includes any actions that can be reasonably taken prior to an engagement that will cultivate a context for beneficial outcomes of future performances.

Simple as it is to state, it’s worth breaking that done into its parts and going over a few examples.

Preparation Includes


Preparation is a process. In Rhetorical realms, it takes various forms depending on what we’re approaching. Accordingly, at times it will necessarily get conceptually nebulous and messy. We can only define things so precisely before we simplify their important elements into obscurity. If we’re not careful, this usually leads to a false confidence in how well we understand them because we get so wrapped up in our models and discussions of them that we lose sight of what we were originally referring to in favor of what’s easier to deal with and far more comforting to think about. It’s something we continually do, and there will rarely be one avenue of approaching it concerning anything of note.

Any Actions

“Any actions” means just that. There is no one specific ‘thing’ we can or should do to prepare for all things Rhetorical that is going to work, though believing there is and acting as if that were true is a sure way to prepare poorly8. Many of the things we can and should do to prepare are often outside the realm of what most of us consider when we prepare as well. We naturally take a narrow focus when preparing, such as making a pre-made version of whatever performance we want to give — like scripting a speech or outlining a presentation–or gathering things together when we’re intending to make a Rhetorical product–like compiling research for a book or dissertation–both of which at times can be useful, or detrimental, depending on what we’re preparing for. But there are a world of things we can and should do to prepare, and they don’t always look like us making practice attempts at our intended victory, whether we are preparing for something in particular, or staying in practice to always be prepared in a more general and useful sense for Rhetorical affairs4.

david-goliathWe prepare by increasing our ability to perform in expected and unexpected circumstances, removing obstacles to our performance before and after it occurs, cultivating our audience’s role in our intentions by removing any friction they may have to being affected, affecting them prior to our intended performance or their exposure to our intended products, building and renewing relationships with those we wish to affect with our Rhetoric, maintaining sound mental and physical health in ourselves, potentially hindering the efforts of others in instances of competition, negotiating with parties relevant to our intended engagement — whether we are speaking to a group or penning our magnum opus, there’s a lot more to preparing than speaking in front of a mirror or making notes.

In Rhetorical engagements, ideally, we’ve already ‘won’ before we enter a room and open our mouths, our audience cracks the spine of our latest book, or someone responds to an ad for our services. The most effective political speeches are those given to an audience that’s already been identified, gathered, and made captive to them before they begin. The bestselling books are those that have already greased the wheels to get onto those lists prior to making it into print9. And the greatest sales pitches start before either party enters into the elevator. Much like an analogy I’ll later make to sports10, Rhetorical games are decided largely based on what we do before we begin, the moment of execution flowing from that. Not that we still can’t win over the hearts and minds of those we’re after extemporaneously if we get good enough with Rhetoric. Being able to do just that is a sign of being good with Rhetoric11. But being narrow minded about what we’re intending when it comes to preparing for it tends to lead to narrow results.

Anything and everything we do or fail to do counts in Rhetoric, the difference only being one of degree.

That can be Reasonably Taken

The first thing to note is that I’ve chosen “can be” reasonably taken, as opposed to “we can” reasonably take, because there’s always more that can be done to prepare than we can do alone. Relying on our efforts alone will almost always hinder our results. Hiring a great editor12 is a good example, whether what we’re preparing for is to be delivered in speech or writing. Writing well requires a perspective we ourselves inherently cannot take13, nor can we ever fake14. We can’t fake feedback on what we’re doing and intending, either, let alone quality and constructive feedback. Even if we could, taking on everything ourselves is a great way to take the quality of our results down a notch, particularly when much of what we now down concerning Rhetoric involves collaborative efforts and complex projects.

No matter what we’re doing, we do well not to do it alone.

reasonably-taken“Reasonably taken” is the other takeaway here worth appreciating. Preparation is an investment. And like all investments, there are opportunity costs to it. We could spend a lifetime and a fortune preparing to give a toast, but if we don’t get a lifetime’s and a fortune’s worth of value out of that in any of various forms–if only everlasting satisfaction–we’re an idiot. Once we know how, when, why, and what to do in order to best prepare for something, higher-level strategic decisions open up to us that call upon us to decide whether and to what extent any of that is at all worth it. All of this is as much a part of Rhetoric as anything else, but it’s experienced by relatively few because most don’t take the time to get to the knowledge and skill levels needed at base to perceive it. Keeping in Rhetorical practice4 as we’ll come to is the best use of our time here because it will have the broadest impact for the smallest investment across all of our Rhetorical endeavors, but trade-offs are still vital when considering how best to martial our resources to prepare.

Sometimes we are better off deciding not to prepare at all, if only because we’re Rhetorically prepared enough in general to be able to do that by choice and not by default or negligence.

Prior to an Engagement

fast-flowing-riverThis would seemingly warrant little explanation, but it is useful to mentally bracket-off as precisely as we can when something begins, occurs, and ends. Sometimes that’s self-evident — like giving a presentation or turning in an assignment before a designated deadline. The structure of those situations themselves guides how we interact with them, and little about them is nebulous or ambiguous. They’re concrete, clear, and easy to think about. Rhetorically, they’re on easy-mode, at least in regards to preparing for them. Whether or not we end up performing well on them, we know the time we have available to ready ourselves and can make use of it in purposeful ways as needed. The challenge rises when things only have as much structure as everyone involved can mentally give them — such as with political debates, complex negotiations, writing books, sales, or marketing most anything. What’s said, done, written or shown within designated spans of time in those situations is a very small sequence of a much larger dance that frequently doesn’t end, but instead turns into other things, and extends far back into the way we conduct many aspects of our lives.

In situations where we’re trying to cultivate and leverage relationships, particularly in an ongoing way, the boundaries of an engagement are typically a mix of fluid and concrete. What can be considered ‘prior’ to murky Rhetorical realms like those can be either terrifying or liberating in how subjective it is, depending on what we’re used to. How the Rhetorical situations of advertising are depicted in Mad Men15 are close enough to reality to be informative and accessible as an example, despite being relatively fantastic in how it presents older advertising practices. Advertising agencies there all compete for clients, often initially earned through leveraging social relationships, and maintained through cultivating those relationships on a very personal level, as well as fighting off the attempts of others trying to do the same, and on rare occasion partnering up with their own competitors when and where it makes sense. They go on to work on project after project to help sell one or more products or services, their marketing campaigns iterating in scope and exposure based on feedback from those buying the products or services they are trying to sell, focus groups made to mimic feedback from the former group, and the people involved on either side of the agreements made to make those ads into more than an idea. Sometimes they’re trying to promote a particular product, other times fighting back against widespread public criticism against a category of products like cigarettes. Personal ambitions of anyone involved also come into play for narrative effect, but on the professional level alone, we can as easily find negotiations beginning before anyone’s in a board room, and continuing on all throughout their working relationships together on whatever the ad agencies are hired to do.


Each specific ad is a malleable but concrete thing, but the overarching intent of the ads — both for advancing the careers of those making them and for fulfilling the sales goals of those funding them — is as fluid as the romantic relationships of the leading character Donald Draper. Towards the end of the series, Don is criticized as being more handsome than talented, but maintaining his personal appearance and using his natural charisma is part of the Rhetoric of his job. Making appearances, networking, and social events that invariably involve alcohol are all a part of what they do. There’s no indentation on a paragraph to start them off, everything they do and everyone involved always begins in the thick of it midstream as it’s rushing along, branching off and flowing into other things which can either be pleasant when handled well, or volatile when things get heated — like so much spilt liquor on an office carpet where everyone smokes all of the time.

In situations like those, we’re always more or less in the Rhetorical fray. Everything we do contributes or hinders us, will affect others, will be read and analyzed, and according to our conduct and circumstances, used for or against us. Politics also falls into that camp16, the colloquial character of which is a fitting way to describe the blurry boundaries of many Rhetorical situations — particularly the valuable ones we will always have the most trouble with — or the most fun once we get good at them and revel in a measure of Rhetorical success.

It’s also helpful to label something as a Rhetorical engagement internally for ourselves to help define it in service to having clearer goals and other mental means to help us think about it. In many cases — particularly in high-stakes relationships like the business and romantic variety — every engagement also paves the way for further engagements, making every specific thing we do in some sense preparation for doing any number of other things thereafter. How we handle each of our opportunities in this way opens up further opportunities, making some of the best opportunities available to us the ones devoted to getting a measure of perspective and control on them all in the grander Rhetorical scheme. Viewing our engagements themselves as preparation in this way helps us take a longer view of what we’re doing, which at times can make us decide certain engagements not only aren’t worth preparing for, but aren’t worth engaging in at all.

That Will Cultivate a Context

network-folksI use the phrase “cultivate a context,” and its direct variation “cultivate the context,” frequently because that’s about as directly as we ever do things when it comes to Rhetoric — particularly in things so impactful that we’d care to prepare for them. Most things in Rhetoric aren’t as simple and tangible as opening a door or pushing a boulder. They’re as complex, interconnected, and varied as the people making up the playing field for them, which any one of us will rarely have the power to directly dictate or control, but all of us can work towards affecting, changing, and working with — provided we take the time to get good at it.

Since what we’re dealing with in Rhetoric are above all ourselves and our relationships through our thoughts, actions, and motivations, everything is connected, and everything counts. There is rarely going to be one best thing that we ‘do’ in service to practicing or preparing in Rhetoric, regardless of what we’re practicing or preparing for. We will do many things. We will try many things. Some of them will help more than others. Some may even hinder us and are best learned from as soon as we can. We won’t always be able to tell the difference as clearly as we’d like, but can avoid needing to reinvent the wheel by turning to others that have been there before and mentoring ourselves in the knowledge of how they conduct themselves17. We’re always winging things in a certain sense once we realize we’re all flying by the seat of our pants18. And we run with that towards whatever it is we’re after, for however long we can.

Words, images, sounds, and sensations passing between us are only the cold tips of the icebergs of much larger, far warmer human things that run beneath everything we think or do.

When we broaden our view from narrowly focusing in on the moment we open our mouths in something like public speaking, or a sale being made in business, we find that most everything else that went into it made it happen in the moment that it occurred. Our preparation is productive of our products and performances19. iceberg-boatBeing well read on the topic at hand. Having done our research on a potential buyer or audience. Having gotten to know them, their family, their friends, or their coworkers beforehand. Keeping in good physical shape to be able to think clearly, and being well rested going into an engagement to be able to leverage all the strength we can muster in our most sober of states. Having put in the necessary hours of practice, reflection, getting expert feedback, and guidance along the way as necessary. Trial runs done again and again before we get out in front of a group, crowd, or a single person we want to persuade, inform, motivate, and everything in between. The food of a restaurant being good while we eat together. The weather being nice that day. And no disasters having occurred also go a long way towards influencing our decisions, more so than any of us would like to admit.

It isn’t hard to see that playing out all around us. Teachers give grades in part based on how much they like us if they’re given any room to evaluate. We buy things from who we like and how we’re feeling at the time of purchase. Most great jobs we haven’t made ourselves go to those we already know and are impressed by. We also see it happening in the entertainment industry. Regardless of what we think of the comedy of Dane Cook20 and Kevin Heart21, and not to necessarily put them in the same category or on the same level, both of them are wonderfully engaging human beings that their fans love. What they say on stage is only a part of a much larger situation that they’ve done well to cultivate to great success. None of that is ‘cheating’, or ‘wrong’, but it is highly Rhetorical, and distinctly human, just as much as the words and deliveries of their actual acts on stage.

All of that and more forms the context of any Rhetorical situation. It would be simplistic to say that the context is solely the setting for Rhetorical things as they occur because it also includes the actors on stage. It’s the foreground as well as the background, extended out in time and space, bracketed off as best we can, but never really ending — outside of our ability to think and talk about it. Depending on what we’re considering, we can frame the context of a situation in any number of distinct ways — that being an act of Rhetoric in and of itself. The context of something is what makes it a ‘thing’ at all, giving isolated words their meaning, and making our Rhetorical efforts not only a product of our environment, but an integral part of it.

tending-soilMuch like a garden, everything grows depending on the groundwork and guidance we’ve tended as the fruits of our efforts flower. There’s certainly an art to execution in all matters Rhetorical, but the biggest bounties are those we take the time to cultivate and grow ourselves by tending their soil with preparation. We don’t usually poke or prod plants in any direct way, and then have things happen in any meaningful sense within short periods of extemporaneous time. My clients and I have been known to pull many a rabbit out of a hat on a moment’s notice, but as we’ll come to shortly, that’s because we live and act in such a way as to be prepared for anything by keeping in practice with Rhetoric itself4.

A choice word or two can go a long way, but no combination of words is ever going to compete with the well-tended soil of human relationships, practice, and foresight. That’s something we necessarily cultivate, laying down tracks for where things will grow and develop, some of it still remaining outside of our control, but doing the best we can, putting in the time and effort, again and again, so that as many fruits as we can muster grow into the largest opportunities they’re capable of becoming, and we’re there to pick them at their ripest.

If execution is picking the fruit, preparation is growing it, safeguarding it, and placing ourselves in the best position to grasp it–whether or not we decide it’s worth it to reach out at the present time.

For Beneficial Outcomes

We don’t always know what’s going to happen in simple situations, let alone complex Rhetorical ones. We don’t always know what we’re after. We don’t always know the depth and breadth of options available to us to be after. And we don’t always know how things have turned out, even as we swim in the sea of their consequences. What we do know, however, is that we want it all to turn out for the best — for ourselves, for our friends, our family, our kids. We want good things for anybody and everybody on our side, now and in the future. Anything we can intend in the moment is merely an instance of that principle, always wanting our actions to be more advantageous than not.

We don't always know where we'll end up

We don’t always know where we’ll end up

Opportunities are made and seeded through preparation, and in the process, where we end up going with it isn’t always where we set out to arrive when we started. But through preparing, we ensure all of our options are good, we’re in the best position we can be in to take them, and we end up somewhere pleasant — even if unexpected.

It helps to be open in this, because as we prepare, our perception changes, as does the world around us, and we often find paths we can take that we’d never have come to without preparing to take other ones. Particularly in fast moving Rhetorical situations like those in business, law, politics, and relationships, doing our best to make something ‘good’ happen, and being flexible about what we’re after just as much as we are about how we go after it, usually leads us to follow better paths than we’d otherwise find. There are always better outcomes available to us than anything we could hope intend before they flower, and our ability to get them depends on being open to meeting them where they’re at, not where we hoped they would be.

Of Future Performances

Though preparation is productive of our products and performances19, we have to draw the line somewhere with what is and is not considered preparation. If we draw the boundaries for that too narrowly, however, we shortchange our efforts by limiting our results.

Narrowing Our Attention Narrows Our Results

One of the biggest mistakes many of us make before we appreciate Rhetoric in a broader sense is focusing our attention in a needlessly narrow fashion on our Rhetorical engagements. Much like the way most people ‘diet’, we naturally limit our attention to achieving some small, time-sensitive goal — like giving a speech or writing a book or making a sale — and marshal all of our preparatory efforts to achieving that in complete isolation of everything else, assuming we do that at all. Then, once our engagement is over, we give up, revert, go back, or otherwise let that momentum fall out of our lives, and along with it, most of our results.

moving-targetBecause what we primarily affect in Rhetorical affairs is each other, we’re always shooting for a moving target that then splinters into many more once we take our shot — whether or not we hit our mark. That’s how relationships work. They grow, change, retract, advance, and lead into others. They extend far beyond any particular product or performance we will ever make, and are the reasons we attempt them at all. They are typically the point of our efforts, not the products or performances themselves — despite those products and performances always being our efforts.

For that reason, in Rhetoric, we always need to keep what’s next in mind. Like a giant web, everything overlaps, plays out, moves upward and onwards. No one performance or product can compare to the campaign of them that necessarily plays out and forms our lives to the extent they’re well lived. Any Rhetorical product or performance we make is a means to an end, even if those ends are flexible and nonspecific. How our efforts in the moment will affect our opportunities in the longer haul is often the key to having those opportunities be available to us in the longer haul.

The best sales we can make are those that lead to further ‘upsales’ with existing customers that are now proven and likable. The best jobs we can land are those that lead to further career opportunities we’re not always in a position to take at the time we get our foot in the door. The best books we can write are those that establish ourselves as an authority on our topic of choice and fund our further exploration into other things. The best dates we can go on are those that lead to fulfilling long term relationships of mutual and symbiotic love.

Writing an essay or giving a presentation for an academic course is a good example. narrow-alleyThe point of our endeavor is the course, not any one assignment. Though there is a poor trend in academia at the moment to see Universities as degree-mills and any assignments given while there as punishment best endured and forgotten, the point is supposed to be learning relevant things that can then be further explored or applied as we see fit — whether that’s to our personal or professional lives, or in service to advancing what we’re learning in academia itself. Every paper or speech we hand in or make only has meaning in that larger context of the course. Being positively evaluated on isolated things like that means little if we’re not going to build the underlying habits, knowledge, and skills to excel overall — all of which are why putting a University education on a resume used to be a big deal, not a prerequisite for employment in an artificially inflated job market full of people whose college education amounted to learning to do laundry while taking high school courses with ample time in between. Many more situations are like this than we tend to realize. And those of us that do realize that are the ones that tend to be the most successful in what we do, everyone acting like we know some magical secret when the truth is closer to our simply not having been lead as far astray.

The same ‘narrowing effect’ happens when we view Rhetorical engagements as isolated from one another, ourselves, and the rest of our lives and relationships that form the context for them. There’s a time and a place for focus, but when we zoom in far enough and for long enough, we lose track of all else, and along with that, we lose touch with the reasons we’re practicing and preparing in Rhetoric at all. All of our preparatory efforts need to be fueled by and follow their grander purpose to have any point, even if that grander purpose is open, flexible, and more principled than concrete.

Our Momentum and Results Are Usually Collaborative

It’s rare that we’re performing for ourselves alone. We often work in groups, having friends, family, and coworkers we’d like to support, or that will otherwise by affected by the wake of the things we do. Any preparatory efforts we make need be mindful of how they’ll help or hinder the rest of those involved, now and in the future. The best time to make considerations like these is before we’re in the moment delivering, because by then — despite being able to deeply influence the impact of what we deliver in the moment when we’ve had more Rhetorical experience — it’s largely too late to change course.

skiddingThat’s both the upside and the downside to the momentum of everything that happens before any engagement. The more of it we build through our preparatory efforts, the harder it becomes to direct it towards anywhere it wasn’t already going. That’s another meaning of preparation is productive19 — our ability to produce results in our products or performances is largely located in the moments leading up to them, not during them. If we took the time and had the patience to direct our preparatory momentum towards somewhere great, it’ll help propel us up and over any obstacles we may face to arriving somewhere we’d like to be. If we didn’t, then our momentum sends us careening into increasingly denser walls with progressively bigger consequences. Taking commitments to ourselves seriously can be seriously hard, but becomes easier when we appreciate how many people we’re affecting when we prepare well, poorly8, or seemingly not at all4.

Sometimes we need to prepare as a team as well, which makes managing our momentum more complicated prior to our performances.

Whether it occurs in a professional, personal, or academic capacity, we’ve all had the experience of being part of a team where one or more of us did all the work. If we’re reading this, we were likely the one doing all the work while everyone else did many a thing, but not prepare, help, or contribute in any substantive way to how things turned out. At times that’s a good opportunity to reevaluate whether everyone’s needed to work on something, and redistribute our resources accordingly — or in unfortunate cases, eliminate some redundancies regarding who and what all is involved with a project. But at other times, that lop-sided imbalance of apparent efforts is inherent to the situations it most frustrates us in.

Poor Rhetoric makes for poor teamwork

Poor Rhetoric makes for poor teamwork

When we work as a team, we don’t neatly divide all of the work involved into tight and tiny boxes that we evenly distribute between everyone assigned something to do. Particularly not with creative and Rhetorical tasks. They’re messy, they change, they’re often ambiguous, and their entire value is derived from their results, not imaginary effort-hours we clock in by adding up our individual participation and dividing by the number of us involved. Someone’s usually going to seem like they’re doing more than anyone else. Someone’s usually going to seem like they’re doing little to nothing. Sometimes who is in either role will switch as things progress. Trying to manage that in too minute a way is a joke when we’re all figuring out what needs to be done to aptly prepare as we go along preparing together.

If working as a team is hard, preparing as a team is harder.

In detail, how we go about preparing as a team is a topic we’ll come to22. But we largely use Rhetoric to help keep everyone on the same page and moving in positive directions, particularly when we’re all gathered together to achieve Rhetorical ends. Having a page to be on together at all is a Rhetorical task. Some key principles to facilitating that in any endeavor are:

  • Making our goals, motivations, and intentions clear and transparent to everyone involved
  • Going through the collective process together of getting as much clarity as we reasonably can on where we’d like to go without being simplistic about what we’re after for the sake of making it easier to turn into bullet points on a list
  • Keeping what we’re all doing as we prepare transparent as we go and open to communication between relevant parties
  • And in general, encouraging the free flow of accountability, feedback, and dialog between everyone involved, all the while removing any friction to that, and potential obstacles to it before and during our process of preparation itself

Rhetoric let's us play the same game

Rhetoric let’s us play the same game

We can’t all be on the same team if we’re not playing the same game, which also requires us to be on the same field. Making the rules and boundaries of our efforts explicit is what accomplishes that, as does making our mutual progress and at times regress readily apparent — much like a score board. This keeps us all in the same stadium as things play out, and is often to best we can do when coordinating our efforts. Designating someone to coordinate that as their contribution isn’t entirely useless, and at times is appropriate for third parties to better evaluate our efforts in service to strategic decisions, but we’re never entirely in control of how creative and collaborative endeavors unfold in either their processes or results. Preparation is never not a little messy. The more people we add into it and the more complex what we are preparing for becomes, the messier it all necessarily gets. Allowing for the best Rhetorical exchanges as we prepare and execute our intentions is often the best we can do to ensure their outcomes are positive — whether or not they turn out entirely as intended. Something going entirely as intended in Rhetorical realms is rare, and often leads to uninteresting results when compared to what comes from extemporaneous excellence11.

When working with others towards Rhetorical ends on messy and frequently creative projects, it’s important to make preparation an explicit ‘thing’ — both that needs to be done, as well as something that’s actively being done as it progresses. Most of the time, we have a team of people, good intentions, and a project. A deadline is pulled out of somewhere unpleasant, or dropped down by someone that doesn’t know any better like a ticking time bomb of arbitrary duration. Then we all flounder around or take a vacation until the day before that date looms close enough for us to see it on our calendars — at which point we worry. Then we all ‘scramble’, ‘hustle’, and other euphemisms for ‘frantically panicked work’ the day before, and no matter how things turn out, they’re rarely as good as they could have been if we had appreciated preparation as an activity we all needed to engage in that was just as vital, if not more vital, then the resulting products or performances our preparation goes into creating. Our preparation is what creates them19.

accusationWorking as a team makes accountability and responsibility easier to pass off to other people, somewhat like the tragedy of the commons23. If it’s everyone’s task to prepare, everyone’s less likely to prepare, unless we make what preparation entails more tangible and transparent to everyone involved. It’s easy to slack off when we’re not entirely sure what we should be doing in the first place and can’t see what everyone else is doing. It’s very hard to accomplish that with the same zeal if we lay out everything that needs to be done and look around to see others preparing alongside of us. Lazy is often a relative term and feeling.

Most of what we’re used to preparing for are performances like presentations, negotiations, and other Rhetorical acts that we are going to have to execute in the moment, whether we’ve prepared or not. It’s particularly easy to screw up preparation here because there ideally will always be an element of improvisation to our performance that’s based entirely on the moment and in dialog with who we’re performing both for and with18. We’re always partially winging it if we want to fly to greater heights than we otherwise could. But unless we have the knowledge and skill to know when and where we should and should not be preparing, and how to go about any of that by ourselves or with others, we’re rolling some hefty dice with our results if we don’t devote the time and attention to consciously deciding on the role preparation will take in them. Broadening our focus when considering preparation to more than just the performance or product we’re intending to produce itself accomplishes just that, both in helping cultivate the grander Rhetorical contexts we’re interested in influencing for better results, and appreciating who all is involved with that when it comes to collaborative efforts, particularly ones involving creative concerns.

Preparation in Practice

Anything that we do before an intended Rhetorical engagement, either in the form of making a product like a book or a performance like a presentation, is our preparation. It isn’t a question of whether we are preparing or not, but whether our preparation is going to help or hinder us when we’re forced to rely on it and see it through in all its creative momentum. How well we want to prepare is up to us, but even if we never take the time to get great at preparing, we can stop being horrible at it and needlessly derailing ourselves in our Rhetorical endeavors. That begins with appreciating how much of an impact our thoughts, actions, and motivations before an event have on how beneficial that event turns out for us. We don’t need to be masters of preparation to benefit from the knowledge of what all it entails. We’re still better off for appreciating what preparation is, whether or not we remain forever horrible at it, in the same way that someone who knows how to play any sport will always tend to do better than someone who doesn’t even know they’re playing a game, let alone the rules of it.

There is no limit to how poorly things can go at a moment's notice

There is no limit to how poorly things can go at a moment’s notice

Because of how messy, nuanced, connected, and ‘human’ the Rhetorical things we do will necessarily be — in direct proportion to how much of an impact they can and will have on ourselves and others — we don’t always have the luxury of being able to consciously prepare for things, despite still being held accountable for them, and deeply affected by them. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do to prepare for the inevitable situations like that as they arise, however — which is a good thing, because they will always outnumber the tasks we can see coming from miles away. For that reason, much like in a sport, the height of preparation is staying in practice24. We can still be unprepared, however, in less lofty ways.

Having a fuller understanding of what preparation is, we’ll now examine what being unprepared often looks like and entails7.

Footnotes, References, and Citations

  1. Wachokski, Andy and Larry. The Matrix. (1999 Film) 
  2. Most of the compelling premises we find in narrative all come from older figures like this one, which Rhetoric and philosophy are both very much wrapped up in seemingly in every instance, which I delve into further in my next book. A quick rundown of the concept in divergent interpretations can be found at Allegory of the Cave – Wikipedia, but for the fuller context of it in Plato’s Republic, I recommend reading this translation: Plato (Author); Bloom, Alan (Translator and Commentator). The Republic Of Plato: Second Edition. (1991 Edition of a 380 BCE Book). 
  3. In sum the Dunning–Kruger Effect as it’s come to be called is the dichotomy of our tending to be either so ignorant and unskilled in some area that we are unaware of what all we’re ignorant of and assume our own superiority despite how bad we really are, or we are so knowledgeable and skilled in something that we’re overcome with the finitude of our knowledge and ability and underestimate ourselves while over estimating others. Developed from: Kruger, Justin; Dunning, David. “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments“. (1999 Article in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 77 (6): 1121–34) 
  4. Preparation 11 — The Best Preparation Is Staying in Practice | Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric 
  5. Preparation 2 — Learning to Decline When We Can’t Deliver or Delay | Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric 
  6. Preparation 3 — Delaying When We Can’t Decline or Deliver | Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric 
  7. Preparation 5 — What Being Unprepared Looks Like | Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric 
  8. Preparation 7 — We Can and Do Prepare Poorly | Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric 
  9. This is in reference to a chapter in my next book which I’m adapting as part of the What is Rhetoric? Series, and will be linked when it’s up and ready. 
  10. Preparation 11 — The Best Preparation Is Staying in Practice — We Take Up Rhetoric like a Sport | Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric 
  11. Preparation 11 — The Best Preparation Is Staying in Practice — Extemporaneous Excellence| Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric 
  12. Editing Manifesto — 21 Urgent Reasons We All Need to Hire an Editor Immediately for Everything We Do | Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric 
  13. Editing Manifesto — 21 Urgent Reasons We All Need to Hire an Editor Immediately for Everything We Do — Writing Well Requires Work We Ourselves Cannot Do | Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric 
  14. Preparation 12 — The Big Picture of Preparation — We Can’t Fake Greatness | Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric 
  15. Weiner, Matthew. Mad Men. (2007-2015 TV Series) 
  16. What is Rhetoric? Part 3 — It’s Politics | Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric 
  17. Preparation 7 — We Can and Do Prepare Poorly — Our Preparation Isn’t Proper When Our Intuition Isn’t Proper | Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric 
  18. Preparation 12 — The Big Picture of Preparation — We All Wing It to Fly | Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric 
  19. Preparation 10 — There’s a Rhetoric to Preparation — Preparation is Productive| Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric 
  20. Cook, Dane. (1972 Born Comedian) 
  21. Hart, Kevin. (1979 Born Comedian) 
  22. This is in reference to a continuation of this series on Preparation, which I’ll have linked once it’s ready and up. Feel free to email me in the meantime with specific examples anyone feels they’d like addressed, however, and I’ll do my best to make sure they make their way into the series. 
  23. The Tragedy of the Commons has come to denote situations when although it’s in our shared best interests to act responsibly towards a person, place, or resource, we will tend not to because we’re compelled to assume that responsibility is dispersed among the group, and not ours alone to act on. When it’s everybody’s problem, we feel like it’s not our problem, and act accordingly. 
  24. Preparation 11 — The Best Preparation Is Staying in Practice | Good Rhetor – All About Rhetoric 
Series Navigation<< Preparation 3 — Delaying When We Can’t Decline or Deliver--|--Preparation 5 — What Being Unprepared Looks Like >>
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Steven Rhyse has spent a great deal of time working in many colorful variations of Maker, Marketer, and Manager on a freelance and consulting basis, doing everything from editing to art on all manner of projects. His clients range from market leading companies and startups to small business owners and individuals. Designing, planning, and implementing new media solutions to business and marketing problems tend to be his primary roles, but he regularly makes use of his strong production and teaching background. Business, Entertainment, and Technology tend to be the industries he frequents most, often finding himself in the realms of Education and Health as well. He's also found great success as a private educator servicing all of the occupations and industries he just mentioned, among many others.

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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