Carts and Horses

If you just found out you need to give a 15-minute presentation tomorrow, how would you prepare? Would you put the cart before the horse? Most people do. But fear not, the latest episode of the Business Presentation Revolution Podcast is here to help! Take just five minutes to learn about the simple change that will put the horse before the cart, and you in the driver’s seat. Join Rose as she discusses a foolproof process to prepare a presentation with Phil Waknell, Co-Founder and Chief Inspiration Officer at Ideas on Stage.


Rose: [00:00:00] Welcome to The Business Presentation Revolution, your quick coffee break to learn how to shake up and wake up your presentations. [00:00:06][5.8]

Phil: [00:00:07] Today we’ll be looking at one of the smallest but most important changes you can make to make a huge difference in your presentations. And it’s all about putting “the horse” before “the cart”. [00:00:16][9.5]

Rose: [00:00:20] You just mentioned “carts” and “horses”: what does that have to do with presentations? [00:00:24][3.4]

Phil: [00:00:25] Well Rose, you’ve heard the expression ‘putting the cart before the horse’, which is generally something you shouldn’t do. But that’s what we do all the time when we’re preparing presentations. The typical way to prepare a business presentation is: “Oh no, I’ve got to do a presentation. Tomorrow. And it’s 11:30 at night. OK, so I am going to open my computer. I am going to type my PowerPoint slides and 50 slides later, I then think, OK, maybe I need some extra sub-bullets or whatever.” And then what happens is the next day you get into the meeting room, you say hi to everybody, you connect your computer, you start showing your slides, you turn your back on the audience, you read your bullet points, and then you improvise because you haven’t prepared what you’re going to say. You end up with a whole lot of information and it’s boring as hell for the participants. I mean, how do you feel when you’re in that audience? [00:01:15][50.3]

Rose: [00:01:17] Well, unfortunately, I think we’ve all been there before and you’re thinking about the emails you still have to answer. You’re thinking about the groceries you need to buy tonight, and why didn’t this guy prepare? Here I am and where is he? [00:01:29][12.2]

Phil: [00:01:30] Absolutely. So you think you’ve prepared the presentation but actually you’ve not. You’ve just prepared some bullet points, which your audience is going to hate and which they’re going to forget very quickly. So that is not a proper preparation, but it is ‘putting the cart before the horse’. So, if you think about it, ‘putting the cart before the horse’ is going through the process in the wrong direction. What we should be doing is putting the horse before the cart and that means we need to work out what we have to say to our audience, and then afterwards we think: “do I need to illustrate that? And if so, how?” So preparation for a presentation, especially if you’ve got limited time - because people always say to us: “But I don’t have time to prepare my presentation properly, so I just have to prepare my slides.” No. If you’ve got a short time, then what you should do is to be thinking: Who is my audience? What are their needs? What are my objectives? And what are the few things they need to remember a week later for me to achieve those objectives? And then you’ve got your key messages. You understand your objectives, even if you don’t have slides you’re prepared. If you have your slides but you don’t know your key messages, you’re not prepared. [00:02:44][74.2]

Rose: [00:02:45] That’s it. And luckily we face this all the time at Ideas on Stage, so we’ve developed a very simple four step process. One: you ideate. What is this going to be about? What do I need to say? Like Phil mentioned: objectives, key messages. Two: you need to create your presentation. Write it out. Write your storyline. Three: ask yourself: “Do I need illustrations? Do I need slides?” If you do then you make them! If you don’t, fine. Especially in those tight moments when you only have one night to prepare, you might not need the slides. Four: delivery; speaking. That’s when you can start to time yourself and check if you know what you need to say ahead. And your audience will thank you. [00:03:31][46.7]

Phil: [00:03:32] That makes a huge, huge difference. So I will always say rehearsal is necessary. Slides are optional. So if you go into a meeting, if you go into a presentation and you don’t have any PowerPoint slides but you do have clear messages and you’re comfortable in front of your audience because you have rehearsed it two, three, four, five times then your audience will actually enjoy that far more than a whole load of bullet points behind you. [00:04:00][27.7]

Rose: [00:04:00] Yep. So let’s put the ‘horse BEFORE the cart’. Prepare. You’ve got Ideation, Creation, maybe Illustration and then Speaking and you’ll be set. [00:04:09][8.8]

Phil: [00:04:10] As Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." Creating a lot of slides and bullet points without knowing what you want to say is not preparation, that’s an absence of preparation. So if you prepare it properly, if you go into the meeting knowing what you need to say, knowing your objectives, even without slides, you will succeed and your audience will thank you. [00:04:30][20.6]

Rose: [00:04:31] Thanks for joining The Business Presentation Revolution. We have a lot more to share with you so please subscribe to our YouTube channel or anywhere else you get your podcasts and we’ll see you next time. [00:04:31][0.0] [259.2]


  1. Put the Horse (storyline) BEFORE the Cart (slides).
  2. Write out your objective and key messages.
  3. Rehearsal is necessary; slides are not.