Comedian Martin Short on a talk show couch

Martin Short (Marty to his friends) is regarded as one of the best talk show interviews ever. He’s guaranteed to bring playful engagement, rich banter, and pure joy to each and every appearance.

What’s his secret?

Well, it’s simple. Preparation.

Apparently, he sends the show’s producers dozens of “pages”. These are full of topics, ideas, anecdotes, and possible directions for the conversation to go. This behind-the-scenes arrangement is common practice but—according to producers—this level of meticulous preparation is basically unheard of.

However, when the “ON AIR” light flicks on and Marty sits down on the couch, he doesn’t think about any of that stuff. He leans on his preparation, trusts his process, and just focuses on having fun in the moment. And that is the key.

Applying this to our own life

… You and I may not be getting booked on a late-night show anytime soon. But the lesson applies to any presentation you may have coming up:

Prepare thoroughly beforehand so you can thrive when you’re live.

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Note: I picked this up from listening to Marty (yes, I’m calling him Marty now) on the Last Laugh podcast. Unsurprisingly, it’s a great episode.

Second note: If you want to know more about how to deliver a great presentation with some swagger and fun, my book The Confident Presenter is available now on Amazon. (Link takes you to Amazon US. If you’re in another country, go to your country’s Amazon to avoid exceptionally high delivery fees).

Learning about preparation in my own life

A few years ago I got hired to deliver a speech on public speaking at a company retreat. Something of a dream gig. However, when I got into the process of preparing the hour-long (!) keynote I realized the client was extremely demanding (or at least that’s what it felt like).

There were what seemed like endless rounds of input on the structure, content, slides and my talk itself. It was exhausting and stressful. Besides, I’m an improviser and thus it’s better for me to just be freewheeling. That was my thinking. But, in an effort to make sure the clients were happy, I went through the endless rounds of corrections, ran the presentation dozens of times, making small tweaks as I went. Prior to this experience, I never used speaker notes, but for this session I had extensive speaker notes.

And on the day itself, I crushed. I was completely present in the room, interacting with the audience and rolling through my 100+ slides, delivering wisdom and getting laughs and all in all, having a great time.

“Ah ha,” I thought afterward. “So that’s why they were so exacting about the preparation. They wanted the Martin Short experience.” And ever since then, I’ve leaned a lot harder into the preparation part of my presentations, online and in-person.