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Failing to prepare…

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...doesn't always mean preparing to fail. I'm all in favour of goals and targets but sometimes making it up as you go along can be a good thing, too.

I recently had to deliver two one-day workshops back to back: two different workshops for two different clients on two different subjects in two different places on two different days - the only common denominator was me.  The first of those workshops, I prepared for meticulously; I took days to prepare it, possibly even weeks.  I normally prepare extensively anyway but for this one I went above and beyond my normal routines.  The second workshop, for reasons that aren’t really relevant to this post, I did no prep for at all.  In fact, for the second workshop, I walked into the room with no clear idea even of what I was going to do.

That experience, I have to say, was extremely stressful for me and violated one of my cardinal rules - I think it’s deeply unprofessional for a trainer to start a workshop without being prepared.  However, in these circumstances it wasn’t possible and I was forced, effectively, to make it up as I was going along.  I did so, and both workshops turned out fine.  In fact, the feedback on both of the workshops was indistinguishable - it was as identical as the two workshops were different and, in case you’re wondering, it was very good in both instances.

This has happened once before - I got a call from a local training company at 8 o’clock one morning asking me to run a workshop (which I’d never even seen before) starting at 9 o’clock that day.  I walked to the office reading the facilitator manual and spent the whole day about thirty minutes ahead of the group; as they were doing an exercise, I was prepping the next session, frantically reading the notes and sorting out what I was going to say.  Nobody noticed and the feedback was great. 

I tell you this not to blow my own trumpet and tell you how good I am - call me up or email me, try a free taster session and you’ll find out.  I don’t tell you this story as an excuse to complain about the efficacy of feedback forms - although I could, and I have done so previously on this blog.  No, the reason I tell this story is because it started me wondering why I bother preparing in the first place.

Whenever I run a workshop, I get nervous and I think that’s fine - it’s how I know I take my job seriously.  It shows I think it matters and I want to do a good job and my excessive preparation is how I ensure I do that good job.  But what if I don’t need to do all this prep?  What if there’s a level above which the additional preparation adds nothing to the quality of the workshop?  That would certainly seem to be the lesson I could take from the instances I’ve outlined above.

The title of this blog is a reference to the old cliche that failing to prepare is preparing to fail.  But I have to wonder whether so much preparation is necessary or even whether, sometimes, it’s possible to prepare too much.  Perhaps we could all benefit from a little spontaneity and a bit of making it up as we go along once in a while.

2 Responses

  1. Failing to Prepare….

    Excellent thought provoker – thank you and I agree with the sentiments. Someone once said to me all you need to  "walk ready"and be careful as there is a danger in over-preparing. This is in no way to minimise or trivialise our professionalism. I think this also raises another issue of the value of evaluations/happy sheets call them what you will – how do we use and interpret the information. I know I am guilty of wanting to read them as quick as I can after delivering and yes….the lower scores/criticisms (not constructive) are the ones that usually stick in my mind. Like to know about other peoples’ views….

     Ian
    http://www.brcpartnership.com

     

  2. Happy Sheets

     Hi Ian

    Thanks for your comment.  I’m unconvinced about happy sheets, as I think I’ve blogged about previously, but I do take them to heart.  Depending on how "difficult" the workshop has been, how much energy it’s taken and so on, I’ll have to leave it for a day or so before I look through them.  The poor ones are the ones that tend to stick in my mind, too!

    Steve

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