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Zen and the Art of Public Speaking

By John Zimmer, ACB, ALB


Robert Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was published in 1974. The book has sold more than 5 million copies and is widely considered a modern philosophical classic. In Zen, Pirsig discusses the metaphysics of quality. He explores the subject over the course of a 17-day motorcycle journey across the western United States with his son.

I first picked up Zen years ago when I was still a teenager. I have picked it up again recently and while reading, I came across an extended passage in which Pirsig bemoans the shoddy workmanship by some mechanics on his motorcycle and the shoddy workmanship by too many people in general. (The mechanics did such poor work that Pirsig made them stop and did the job himself.)

After fixing the motorcycle, Pirsig reflected on why the mechanics had done such poor work. He wrote, “When you want to hurry something, that means you no longer care about it and want to get on to other things.”

Based on my experience, many people prepare their presentations with the same attitude as the mechanics in Pirsig’s book. They do the work, but not in a meaningful way. And thus, they do a disservice to themselves and, more importantly, their audiences.

You have to care about your audience and, by extension, your presentation. When you care about your presentation you will prepare it carefully and thoughtfully, with the audience in mind. If you don’t care, you are more likely to do a poor job and, as a result, waste people’s time.

The next time you have a presentation to deliver, show some care for your audience as you prepare. Your presentation will hum along like a well-tuned motorcycle.