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Failing to prepare…


...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….



  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!


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