What Great Presenters And Great Decorators Have In Common

I was talking to a friend the other day about the number of presentations I’ve got coming up. I’ve got to give 5 talks over the next few weeks and I said that this meant I was really busy because, typically, a new presentation of, say, an hour will take me about 4 – 5 full days to put together. That doesn’t necessarily include rehearsal time either.

My friend was surprised. He said, “I thought, by now, you would have got a lot quicker at preparing talks, since you’ve been doing them for so long.” (Yes, thanks for pointing that out.)

I thought about this and I realised that, if anything, it’s taking me longer these days to prepare than it used to. And, at first, I thought, “Maybe he’s right, maybe I should be getting quicker.” But then I realised that taking so long to prepare isn’t really a bad thing.

In fact, it reminded me of the decorator we hired to do some painting when we moved into our house a couple of years ago. He did a brilliant job – but it took him a very long time to get around to painting anything.

I work from home but I tried to keep out of his way while he was working. Occasionally, though, I would peek in to see how things were going. And I was a bit concerned to find that, for several days, there was no sign of a paintbrush. I started to think, “When is he actually going to start painting?”

Of course, I should have realised – what was he doing all this time?


He was meticulous. He carefully stripped off every trace of old paint. He filled in every tiny hole or crack. He sanded all the surfaces, not once but several times. Even when it looked perfect to me, he wasn’t satisfied. He gave it one more rub down just to make sure.

Then, when he finally came to put the paint on, it looked fabulous!

I realised that what made him such a great decorator was not the way he painted. It was the way he prepared. The preparation was what made the painting so outstanding.

And the preparation is exactly what separated him from me in terms of decorating.

If I had done that job myself, I would never have done half the preparation he did. I wouldn’t have had the patience. I would have done the minimum of preparation and rushed into getting the paint on. And it would have shown!

And the same is true of presentations. It’s not just about the delivery, standing up and speaking. It’s about the preparation. It’s all the work that goes into being clear about the purpose of the presentation, finding out about the audience and their needs, then choosing exactly the right content, organising it, refining it, ruthlessly throwing out anything that doesn’t fit in, designing really powerful visuals to support the message, editing and perfecting it and not being satisfied with the first attempt, in fact being prepared to ditch it all and start again if you’re not happy with it.

A lot of speakers won’t do that level of preparation. They’re like me with decorating, they’ll do a bit of preparation but then they’ll get impatient and they’ll want to just get on and deliver the presentation.

And some will think that their delivery will make up for the lack of preparation. It won’t. Like my painting won’t make up for not sanding down the woodwork properly.

My decorator is a perfectionist. To be honest, he’s bordering on the obsessive. But that’s what makes him special. It’s what makes him a professional.

And, if I can bring that level of perfectionism (or obsessiveness) to my own presentations, then I’m not going to apologise, or complain, about how long it takes me to do the preparation.