When you read the word preparation does it conjure up images of sitting over your computer planning, head in your hands thinking this is a complete waste of time? Or do you have visions of standing in front of a mirror practicing the presentation you have to give? Or is it something else all together? Everyone has to prepare, whether you are in sales, leadership, or a staff member, no one can completely avoid this necessary step during their career.
Yet I consistently have clients who want to avoid preparation and simply go. Even when I attempt to show them why lack of preparation can impact the results they want, they will often ignore me. I find myself wondering why, even when I present logical business rationale for the value of preparation, people continue to dismiss this idea as unnecessary. Frankly, I find this especially true with sales people, and yet I can show you statistics from those sales people I have trained who prepared versus those that didn’t prepare the enormous difference in their results.
I’ve been on this planet long enough and worked with enough people, I know talking logic will not convince anyone to do something they are resistant to doing. In thinking about this topic, though, what have I seen as the obstacles to preparation? Certainly, the lack of desire to want to plan, prepare, or do the groundwork is a biggie. But the lack of desire stems from something, so what is that?
In my opinion, one of the biggest obstacles to preparation is our belief system that it’s unnecessary, takes too much time, or won’t matter to the overall outcome so why bother. As it has been said many times, whatever you think is true because we, as human beings, will find the evidence to support what we believe. I can’t tell you how many sales people have told me that planning is a complete waste of time. They get on the phone and call people or send emails…what’s the big deal? What do you need to plan for when making sales calls they ask. And, besides, they have great sales skills (so they tell me) and can zig and zag as necessary during those sales conversations. Since this article isn’t about what to plan for or how to prepare, it’s about obstacles to the process, I won’t get into details about what sales people might plan for, just know there are a number of things that go way beyond just determining who they are going to make contact with today.
Another obstacle to preparation is our definition of the word. People often interpret preparation as planning, and to them planning seems like an arduous task that will require hours and hours. We are all busy people with way more to do than can realistically be accomplished in a single day or week, and the thought of adding time for planning just doesn’t fit into the schedule. What if we redefined the word preparation from planning to groundwork or research or homework? Would that change your view of preparation as less demanding and time consuming?
Many people don’t really know how to plan or prepare so they simply don’t do it. If no one ever taught you planning how would you know what to do, what to include, or how to evaluate the ROI of time spent planning versus results. The first time I was delivering a workshop I had to figure out on my own how much preparation I needed. Of course, there was the preparation of the actual workshop and workbook that went to the attendees, and the PowerPoint I was going to use. But when I sat down to go over my notes and decide if I needed to memorize what I was going to do or put information on notecards as backup, or simply wing it since I wasn’t sure what the needs of the group might be, I had no idea what made sense. What did I do…a combination of memorizing part of it, note cards to use as a reference point, and winging it? It turned out ok, but I suspect not as well as it could have had I spent more time in preparation. Thinking back, part of what I missed was thinking about the questions they may ask. If you don’t know how to prepare, avoiding preparing is reasonable thinking.
Often people association preparation/planning with the idea that it is about controlling variables. Yes, of course, there is some of that included in the preparation process and there are many variables we can’t control, let alone plan around. Since we can’t plan around these variables then the thinking becomes why bother planning? A significant part of preparing is considering what might happen that we can’t control and looking at possible work around solutions. For example, I recently spoke at a meeting. The other presenter had a PowerPoint deck she wanted to use and brought it with her on a thumb drive. The problem was the computer provided by the hotel wouldn’t work with her thumb drive and no one was available to help her with technology issues. She was in a panic as her presentation required the PowerPoint deck. Preparation for her might have included considering ‘what if my thumb drive doesn’t work on their computer’ or they don’t have a computer or there is no one to help me set up, etc. Maybe she wouldn’t have done anything differently had she thought through this, and maybe she would have, which might have saved her a lot of time, stress, and frustration. Additionally, they had to change the sequence of the presenters while she worked through her technology problems. Not a big deal for me, but what if it had been a problem for me?
Preparation is time consuming, there is no way around that. As you become more seasoned you may have to do less preparation assuming you are doing the same activity. For example, I have delivered the same workshop titled Chaos Averted at least a half dozen times. It has small tweaks for the specific audience, but it basically the same content. Because I know the content I don’t spend as much time practicing the delivery of the content. I still spend time thinking about the audience and what they might need from me, questions they will ask, their challenges that may be different than another organization’s challenges, etc. However, when I am going to deliver a new workshop or speech for the first time, I spend a lot of time in preparation.
Spending the necessary time doing the research, laying the groundwork, practicing your presentation, considering what objections may come up, and what variables might occur that may require adjustments from you is not wasted time, it’s just smart. Can you be successful without preparation? Yes, of course! I want you to consider, though, if you are successful without spending time planning or preparing, how much more successful would you be with a little time spent in preparation?
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