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.


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