Confidence Is A Function Of Preparation

Ian Mathews
Jan 24 · 3 min read

My daughter landed the lead role in “Piggy Can Fly.”

It was a big moment for us. The Mathews family had arrived. Then the enormity of the moment hit her.

“What if I screw up in front of everyone, daddy?”

Not everyone is built for the pressure of playing Piggy in a first-grade play. This is a role that requires an elite acting range.

I asked her how she might build up her confidence.

“Practice my lines?”


Anxiety Is Linked To Readiness

Public speaking has been a regular part of my job for twenty years.

When I am nervous, I haven’t prepared enough. If I put in the work and rehearse, I don’t feel anxiety.

If I am asked to present on a topic I am not well-versed on, and with short notice, I feel anxious.

When someone tells me that they have anxiety about delivering a speech or presentation, my advice is simple.

Rehearse it ten more times from start to finish.

It is that simple. There are no tricks to calming yourself down if you are not ready to take the stage.

I learned this lesson in college. If I was stressed out on the day of an exam, it meant that I hadn’t put in the work.

On the other hand, I felt relaxed to take a test when I started studying early and put in the work to learn the material.

When I was stressed, the odds were good that I was about to test poorly.

Success In Business Also Comes From Preparation

If you are starting a company and too nervous to ship your product, listen to that anxiety. Your stress is a warning that you are not ready.

Your nerves are reminding you that you have not paid the price for confidence reserved for those who put in the work.

Imagine a sales rep driving to a customer’s office for an important presentation. What circumstances would create high anxiety?

  • Not having researched the customer in-depth.
  • An incomplete understanding of their company’s value offering.
  • Zero pre-call planning, scripting or thought was given to strategy.

In that situation, the sales rep has every reason to be nervous. They are heading into a long and fruitless meeting, with no one to blame but themself.

If an engineer is overly anxious about a product launch, how much testing did they do? How much time did they put into the product’s design and how many scenarios did they run?

An engineer who put in the work will be excited for the launch, just as a baseball player is excited for an at-bat after a long offseason of training.

A manager of a help desk is not going to worry about the first day that her team goes live, as long as she invested heavily in training her team.

Let Anxiety Guide Your Work Ethic

Anxiety is a powerful tool.

It is your body’s way of telling you that you are not ready.

You will encounter times where your anxiety was overblown. In those cases, imagine how rattled you would be had you not rehearsed.

My daughter practiced with me every night for two weeks until she knew her lines (and mine.)

She killed that role of Piggy and learned a small lesson about hard work and success.

Confidence and anxiety are functions of preparation.

Listen, then put in the work.

The Startup

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Ian Mathews

Written by

Owner of 5on4 Group | Senior executive for two Fortune 500 companies | Regular contributor for | Author of the 5on4 blog (

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +610K people. Follow to join our community.

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