Why You Should Do the Worst First

using-laptop-in-dark“My dad taught me an important lesson. If you rehearse every maneuver ahead of time, people don’t panic when things get really intense.” So says, Peter Hancock, CEO of AIG when discussing how competitive sailing led to his management philosophy.

The worst is likely the last thing you want to think about when you are preparing for a job interview or new business meeting. It’s the last thing you want to imagine before going on camera or leading a presentation. And, it certainly isn’t how you visualize each day at work, when it seems everything is going all right.

But, on any given day in any given circumstance, it pays to be prepared. Not simply ready. Prepared for everything around you to fail.

I recently graduated a group of young managers from my Global Marketing course on campus at UCLA. Thirty presentations in three hours, including switching out presenters, finding PPTs and making sure the technology stayed up. We almost made it. Then, the last presenter came up at 9:50 PM. It was Umut, the gentleman from Turkey who graciously had taken the final spot because he had my permission to go a bit longer than the others. In the middle of this stellar visual display of a new product introduction into a foreign market: bam. Lights out.

Are you prepared for things to go all wrong on your big day?

That day could be a big job interview. Your pitch meeting with producers. The ship date for your trade show exhibit.

Imagine your big day. Gone terribly wrong. Are you ready?

Do you have a back-up plan? Do you have a back-up plan to your back-up plan? Have you rehearsed exactly what you will do?

Our presenter did. Umut took his laptop and his index cards. He faced the laptop toward us, sat on the table with it and used the light to see his cue cards. Turns out it just lit up his face, because his eyes stayed focused on us.

He smiled. Of course, he did. Umut had given that presentation in the dark for the last seven days. Right before he went to sleep, he rehearsed. He practiced during the day, while he was driving. In those rehearsals, no visuals supported his narrative.

Whatever matters to you: first rehearse for the worst. Prepare as if no one else could help you, support you or save you. Rehearse for the intense times, when someone else might panic.

As I watched Umut present I could only think how lucky we were to listen to him, and how lucky his future employers will be.

Luck might be the meeting of preparation and opportunity. That’s the opportunity to succeed when others might fail. What display of mastery, confidence and calm should you be rehearsing for right now?

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