Being prepared is just about the most audience-centric thing you can do. It confers a sense of importance and value on your listeners. It shows respect for their time and is arguably the least you can do in exchange for their attentiveness to you as a speaker. Plus, it ensures that what you deliver is actually received. Preparation shows—as does a lack of preparation.

All too often, though, people resist preparing for a talk or a media interview. Clients have told me it feels egotistical or self- important to them, and they feel—or want to appear—more humble than that. In their minds, preparing a “speech”—whether that means welcoming remarks at an event, a thank-you for an award, or even an introduction for a speaker—feels bloated and unnecessary. Still, the principle from the first chapter of this book applies: “It’s all about them—it’s not about you!” You have a responsibility to deliver something of value to your audience, and the best way to do that is to be prepared.

When a speaker or presenter is prepared, the audience notices. The speaker is on point, and the message is clear and relevant to the audience. The prepared speaker doesn’t open with, “Well, I didn’t have time to prepare anything, so I hope you’ll bear with me.” Instead, the prepared speaker opens with an anecdote or an attention-grabbing factoid specific to that particular audience. Or the prepared speaker knows his or her desired outcome and puts it out there right up front.

There are many who speak or present in front of groups often enough that they feel it’s okay—and in fact, for some it feels more comfortable—to just “wing it.” Wingers are gamblers. Sometimes they win, but other times they lose. Since the outcome can go either way, you have to ask yourself if you can afford a loss. Or can you afford even to risk it? If speech prep were short enough and simple enough, would you devote just a few seconds to being prepared? I think anyone would.

[Excerpted from Jock Talk: 5 Communication Principles for Leaders as Exemplified by Legends of the Sports World,]

Beth Levine