During a recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, former women’s tennis champion Billie Jean King discussed how she prepared for her famous “Battle of The Sexes” match with Bobby Riggs:
“The one thing I did do to prepare, is I went to the Astrodome, and I looked at the top of the building … I also wanted to make sure I knew the lay of the land [to] understand how to get around the arena, because nothing’s worse than going to a new place and not finding your way — and you have to keep trying to talk to the guards. I met all the guards. I knew where all the elevators were, where my locker room was, I knew where the car would come and let us off, and where it would pick us up at the end.
I mean, I go through all these logistics, because they’re just as important if you’re not used to an arena — so you don’t get lost or get out of sorts. You don’t want to get out of sorts for those kinds of reasons. That’s the last thing you want on your head … you have to remember, the depth perception was going to be totally different than any tennis court I had played on.”
If you’ve ever wondered, this is why politicians have advance teams.
As a film nerd, the imagery of King wandering around a stadium naturally evokes images of Spinal Tap – and the idea of going to an arena the night before a match is reminiscent of the first Rocky. (The fact that “the lost backstage performer” idea became a trope is probably indicative of its authenticity — at least, in the world of entertainment and performance.)
And though it might sound silly, having won 20 Wimbledon titles, I’m inclined to think King might know what she’s talking about. In fact, I bet we can almost all learn from this.
Consider, for example, what it’s like to be a political commentator who gets booked to appear on HBO’s Real Time. Even if you’ve done a tone of TV, the show is different for a variety of reasons, including:
1.) It’s a comedy show — and you’re going up against a skilled comedian (who has likely spent a week working with his writers to script funny comebacks and lines.)
2. There is a live studio audience. Whether or not they are hostile is almost irrelevant. Political commentators almost never encounter a live audience — almost never hear the roar of applause or the immediate rejection that comes when being booed.
3. They tape at 10 pm EST. If your body clock is used to being asleep at this time — or even if you’re normally just unwinding at this time — it can be a disadvantage.
4. The panel discussion lasts for something like 40 minutes. Most cable TV “hits” last for just 3-5 minutes. If you were an athlete who trained for a 5-minute match, you’d be in big trouble if it lasted ten times as long.
You might dismiss these things as minor, but if you’re a professional — if this is your career and you take it seriously — then you might do well to take a page from King.
They’re obviously not going to let you into the studio the day before to practice your spiel, but there are some things you can do to prepare. Just to name a few, you can: Study, talk to past guests, and/or get out to California a few days early to acclimate yourself to the time change.
Whatever line of work you’re in, preparation is vitally important, no matter your field. If you’re going to give a big presentation tomorrow, it might behoove you to scope out the room today.