In Praise of Preparation

A Plea for Getting it Right the First Time


Four Tales of Woe

I have had occasion over the last few days to attend two ceremonies and two meetings. Two involved ceremonial candle lightings. One required mounting a plaque The fourth entailed showing slides from a computer.

Four very different activities. All four failed to execute in small but unfortunate ways. The organizers for each were likely a bit embarrassed. This posting is not to embarrass anyone further (some involved in one or more of these events may read this blog).

This is a call for all to take simple steps to get things right, most of the time if not every time. People who come to events and meetings we are responsible for should have a first-rate effort from us. I would like to encourage us to think about how to make that happen.

A mentor of mine many years ago was fond of saying that it was usually prudent to “hope for the best and plan for the worst.” He was also one of those who reminded us that “hope is not a method.” How right he was on both admonitions.

I learned early as a young Army officer the value of rehearsals and checklists to ensure nothing is overlooked. This is true in even the smallest, most mundane things in life. Small things count.

If we don’t prepare and double check, if we don’t plan for possible failure, we will end up letting others down. When everything works well in ceremonies or meetings, the tone is set for all that follows. People remember the content and the purpose, not the mechanics. That makes it worth a small investment of time and energy.

The events I mentioned earlier are good examples of how a little care can help. All four have lessons that could apply to other scenarios. Think about your experiences. Does any of this look familiar?

Let There Be Fire!

Two events required lighting candles. In one, during the ceremony, the participants found that the matches in the box would not light. The matches were wet or there was a worn striker plate. No one had checked the matches before the ceremony nor provided back up matches or a lighter (just in case). If either of these steps had taken place, the ceremony would have gone off without a hitch.

In the other candle event, the moment of lighting revealed that the box of matches was just a box – no matches. Unless one counts the two burned out matches in the box. Again, a simple precheck, a test lighting, and a backup lighting source would have done the job.

I Need a What  to Do This?

Another ceremony required the mounting of a plaque on an outdoor wall. About 10 minutes into the ceremony, it was time to mount the plaque. At that moment, organizers realized they had the wrong type of screwdriver. The plaque could not be mounted. I expect it required a hex driver or some other specialized tool. But this should not have been a surprise. The organization has done this type of ceremony dozens of times. Someone failed to use a checklist for exactly what was needed to do the job.

Electronic Gremlins in the House

The last event required showing slides and videos from a computer. The presenter was a guest who brought his own computer. The presentation began and lo and behold, the audio was too weak to be usable. This very much compromised the ensuing meeting. Such a glitch happens often when electronics from two sources are put together.

Two glitches were in evidence here, both avoidable.

– First, the presenter arrived too late for a good test run before attendees arrive. He knew he had a problem the same time everyone else knew it.

– Second, he did not come with a Plan B. I have to make similar presentations often. I do so with several backups in place.

  • One, have the presentation backed up on a thumb drive in case I need to switch to another computer.
  • Two, have extra cord and blue tooth connections in case systems fail.
  • Three, have a low-cost Bluetooth speaker handy in case audio fails, which happens more often than video.

And have a checklist to ensure you remember all those backups!

So Why Would Any of This Interest You?

Think about it. You see scenarios like these all the time. Sometimes you may be in the audience, sometimes you may be a participant. We all see things go awry that a small bit of care could have resolved.

No one can murphy-proof everything. If you are too young to know about Murphy, ask someone from the WW II era to explain it to you. I have checked electronics 2-3 times on the day of an event, only to have something go wrong at the key moment. Stuff happens.

Here is the key point: be in the moment. Recognize that what we are doing now has value and is worthy of standards. It is also a gift to those whom we serve with events or meetings. We can say, by our actions, “Your time and presence are important. I will do what I can to provide the best possible experience for us all.”

Let’s commit to doing things as well as we can. We can verify things are ready and to have a “What If?” plan to head off trouble. We sometimes tend to excuse ourselves too readily, saying we are “only volunteers.” I think that is exactly the wrong formulation. As volunteers, we are present because we want to be. We are working because we think the work is important. That sounds like a formula for a best effort to me, not an excuse for a poorly executed one. We can expect more of ourselves.

Good luck with your meetings and ceremonies! Do them right the first time.

   Bill Clontz

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3 replies to In Praise of Preparation

  1. Interesting especially because I took a two-day work class this week that was very informative and very disorganized. Everyone meant well and was flexible so no frustration, but my expectations for the presenters was higher. I will heed your detailed tips in case I’m on the other side doing the presentating. Your expertise is always spot on and appreciated.

  2. This is so true. Even if I’m just reading the scriptures aloud at church, I practice a couple of times to identify any scary names and make sure I’ve got the phrasing right. And if it’s anything more complicated than that, several rehearsals and backups. But I did a lot of public speaking and presentations in my pre-retirement life and learned those lessons well.

  3. These suggestions are spot on, and overdue in being acknowledged. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve witnessed a less than perfect presentation (usually for technical reasons) and when criticizing the lack of preparation being told to cut some slack because the presenters are volunteers. Sorry, I can’t. I made many PowerPt presentations over the years and always had extra extension cords and an extra projector bulb with me just in case. In the business world an imperfect presentation for any reason can be a career breaker or loss of a marketing opportunity. This was before thumb drives, so we took a second computer as back-up. Your suggestion to have a presentation check list is the best solution, along with arriving early and making sure everything works..

    My worst experience was coming off a cold and during a presentation at a Fortune 500 marketing department I lost my voice, and none of my team was trained as back-up on the database presentation. My clients just had to suffer through the cracked voice event.

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