“Measure Twice, Cut Once” (or lessons I learned recently when I only measured once and paid the price!) Sunday’s “Coffee with Colm”

“Measure Twice, Cut Once” is, I believe, an old carpentry saying.

Wiktionary says: Proverb

measure twice and cut once

  1. (carpentry, literally) One should double-check one’s measurements for accuracy before cutting a piece of wood; otherwise it may be necessary to cut again, wasting time and material.
  2. (figuratively, by extension) Plan and prepare in a careful, thorough manner before taking action.

Think about it; you’re going to be cutting the wood – if you cut it and your measurements are off, the piece is wasted.

Recently I figured this age-old proverb applies to all of life, but only after it bit me.

Allow me tell you the story:

I recently was asked to make an important speech, not usually a problem. It was to be an important speech, again not an issue. To a discerning audience; no biggie typically. It was to be short – now I had a problem!

I remember thinking “Three minutes? You want me to get an important message across in three minutes? This is going to take some serious work!” as I was given my instructions regarding the few words I was to utter.

“No problem. Looking forward to it.” I heard myself say.

So I set to work.

The objective of this particular speech was to ensure our assembled group was having a great time, thank them for attending, gain their support for future similar events and finally introduce a very special guest. So and prepared and prepared and prepared and got my thoughts together.

I whittled my original draft from about seven minutes down to the required three through a lot of caredul editing, rethinking and reshaping and finally I knew what I was going to say.

I rehearsed it over and over and began to visualize my three minutes, how they would flow, what it would feel like. I envisaged the room, rapt attention, people hanging on my every word, appropriate giggles and nodding of approval as my words elicited warm fuzzy feelings in the assembled throng. Mine would be the penultimate speech of a wonderful evening and I would pass the microphone seamlessly to our special guest and finally sip a glass of wine; this was going to be great!

I was prepared. I had my notes, but I knew I wouldn’t need them. I had measured my work.

And then I spoke.

To find out more, watch the Video, listen to the Podcast (both 7 mins teaching) or read on below…

Prefer Podcast? Listen here.

And for two of my allotted minutes, everything went swimmingly. I had them in the palm of my hand; they giggled and nodded in time and I felt their approval; everything suggested they were having a wonderful evening as I segued into the final sixty seconds.

I had decided as part of my introduction of our guest I would remind the audience of some facts about him and that is when it all went wrong. My first ‘fact’ was wrong!

In my preparation I had mistaken a ‘fact’ and assumed it (my version) was gospel. And so I blurted it out, confident as you like.

In that moment however, the audience let me know in no uncertain terms – they actually as a group corrected me – that I had messed up.

I was mortified.

But, I’m a professional and so I rolled with the punch, bounced off it with some quip but I had lost them and I knew it – I could hear murmurings at the back of the room as chatter started up – whether they were talking about my faux pas or not, I’ll never know, but something had changed in that moment.

I continued, as any professional would do and concluded my few words with an introduction of the special guest for the night, the man about whom I had gotten the most basic fact wrong (as he waited to take the mic) and stepped aside, suitably mortified.

He alluded to my mistake in his opening words in a pleasant, humorous way (he’s a professional too) and proceeded to reengage the room brilliantly and then it was all over; the bualadh bos (clapping of hands in Irish), clinking of glasses and happy chatter returned to the room and the entertainment started.

The rest of night was fantastic but I could not shake what had just happened. How could I have been so sloppy in my preparation? It was nowhere near good enough. My guest deserved better, the audience deserved better, I was (am) better than that.

But it was when as I was saying goodnight and apologizing to the individual in question once again that he dropped the bombshell – I had gotten a second ‘fact’ wrong.

I could not believe it. Hours of preparation, three minutes speaking and I showed myself up by getting two simple facts wrong!

I could have died with embarrassment. He told me not to worry about it but I did. I deserved to worry about it – not from my perspective, but from the apparent shoddy research I had done that led me to present incorrect information as fact. Donald Trump wouldn’t have done it!


I made contact a few days later and put the issue to rest (however I will carry it forever).

The point is; when you are about to do something – especially live – measure twice and cut once. Do your research – get your facts straight — corroborate your facts – this was my mistake – I had any amount of people I could check the data with but I didn’t because it was too simple – I had flicked through Google for the first one and mistaken the info and I used a faulty personal memory for the second.

Not good enough. Nowhere approaching good enough.

I had the great pleasure of meeting one of the world’s best interviewers, Sir Michael Parkinson some years back and heard him tell an assembled group that preparation was his ‘secret’. He never went into an interview without knowing more about the interviewee than the interviewee knew about themselves. Never. That is why Sir Michael is world-class.

If I want to be world-class I must up my game. If you want to be world-class you likely do too.

Preparing for an interview, measure twice, cut once. Taking your business plan to the bank, measure twice and cut once. Making a sales pitch to a prospective client, measure twice and cut once. Sending an important email, measure twice and cut once.

Whatever you are doing, fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.

Folks, sometimes you win and sometimes you learn. I did NOT win that night. This is simple stuff, Success 101 and I am embarrassed to say I got it wrong.

In this coming week, whatever you do, “Measure Twice and Cut Once”.


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MORE. Did you enjoy that? Fancy a sniff at some of my other “Coffee with Colm” Blog posts:

  • Last week’s “Coffee with Colm”. Click here
  • Sometimes you Win and Sometimes you Learn. Click here.
  • Making sure you are on the right track. Click here

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Thanks for thinking with me.

Yours truly,


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