Walked in to teach a class today to discover that the handouts I had requested were not present, two of the notebooks had the wrong cover sheet (and were thus not distributed correctly), and the printed roster was not accurate. A prop I had used the last time I taught in this particular facility was missing and the refreshments usually provided had run out. This clearly wasn’t the Army, and it clearly wasn’t my day.The roster was further compounded when a student hurried through the door 10 minutes late and interrupted by inquiring if he was in the right place. Since I had yet to do introductions and had a host of latecomers (I like to start on time — don’t punish those who are punctual!), I didn’t actually know who was there and who wasn’t. I did know that every seat was full and this student claiming to be in the right place was X+1 for a class of X. Thinking fast and having an extra book, I gave him a chair from the instructor station, tripled him up with an existing group, and moved on. To those in the class already, the disruption was minimal.Today was a perfect example that things can — and will — go wrong. In speaking. In teaching. In executing. In life. I’m amazed at how many speakers — and many seasoned speakers — seem completely unpreprared for what we all know will happen. If you depend on PowerPoint, you better have a Plan B, because the day will come when the comptuer or display will not work. If you’re counting on handouts, you better know how to drive your message from a whiteboard instead. Regardless of the message, when a speaker or trainer is able to roll with the punches and execute the delivery of the message despite a snag, the message is made even more emphatic.A little preparation goes a long way. Have a backup. Have extra handouts. Do your homework and know what could go wrong. In this particular class, I know at one point I’ll be attaching some diagrams (preprinted) to some flipcharts. I do this with tape. Tape is a simple enough thing to operate, and very little can go wrong. But I always pre-tear 11 pieces of tape and have them on the instructor desk before class begins. Why 11? Because I need 10, and if one of them rolls up on itself, I want to know I have a spare ready to go. Why not just use the tape as it comes off the roll? That takes time away from a point at a critical juncture in my message, and the day will come when the tape runs out. Then what? With tape pre-rolled, I know that tape will not be the thing to trip me up, leaving my brain to concentrate on more important matters, like what to do with an extra warm body and what I’ll feed them during the break. The unexpected will happen. Just don’t let something that could be expected appear to be unexpected.
(Over) Prepare for the eventualities and allow for maximum focus on the message at hand.
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