When it all goes wrong

When it all goes wrong

It’s been said before that failing to plan is planning to fail. But, what do you do when it all goes wrong? We’ve all been there. You can plan and prepare as much as possible, and yet sometimes, in crunch time, everything falls apart. It sucks, its normal, it happens.

Some things are impossible to plan for.

Use failure to plan

There’s a lot of talk about failure being a backhanded gift; a learning opportunity in disguise. This is true, but only if you take advantage of it. Want to maximize the learning? Use failure to plan.

Exercise physiologists have proven that there is an optimal window for refuelling your body after an intense workout. After about 2 hours, you can still get the nutrition into your body – but the effects won’t be as good. Failure’s kind of like that.

Imagine you’ve just taken the stage to give a presentation, and something goes wrong. Think about the rush of emotion, adrenaline, and chaos that starts to play out in your body. As you walk off the stage, the adrenaline gives way to a blur of thoughts. Sentences resembling why didn’t I…., I can’t believe I…., and If only I had… own the moment.

This is your window. This is the magic hour for doing better next time. This is where you grow.

Your mind will protect you from dangerous things

If you’ve ever experienced a traumatic event, if enough time has passed, you will recognize the mind’s ability to make things go away. Ironically, it’s not the actual event that goes away, it’s often the tiny details. As time passes, we protect ourselves from the anguish, emotions and corrective self-talk. We build walls so that we don’t feel the adrenaline anymore.

Failure is a traumatic event. So, once the post-failure window passes – damage control sets in. We unconsciously start to forget.

It wasn’t so bad. I survived. Whatever. .

Build your action plan now

Nothing ever goes exactly as planned. There’s always room for improvement; so for a minute, let’s be pessimistic and say that everything we do contains some element of failure. Optimistically, this means everything we do contains some potential for learning. Take advantage of it.

Here are some things that have helped me:

  • Build and rehearse a procedure now (before you’re full of adrenaline and emotions), that you will use every time you have a post-event learning moment. Whether its a notebook, a voice recorder or a trusted friend that you talk to – make sure you know where you’re going to catch those corrective thoughts when they start to fly.
  • Schedule it – Book the time now, so you won’t run away and hide from the moment. I often take 30 minutes to jot down notes about a presentation within an hour of it being over.
  • Structure it. Use a template or a common format to force yourself to put down positives and negatives. This way you don’t gloss over the bad parts, and you force yourself to find good things.
  • Let it go – Once you’ve documented all of the what-if’s, you can park them on paper. Once they’re out of your mind – the danger is gone, things are taken care of, you’ll be able to sleep at night. And when you wake up, you can start taking action.

A perfect example? I was supposed to moderate an important webinar today. The technology completely fell apart. After 15 minutes of struggle, we threw in the towel and rescheduled.

In the moment, it sucked; a lot.

In the aftermath, my mind was flooded with if only we had…. But now after a structured time to reflect, we’ve circled the wagons, made the strategy more bulletproof and we’re ready to go again.

This strategy works well for me – how about you?

Photo Credit: Realworldracingphotog

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  • Anonymous

    Neil, Thanks for this.

    Perfect timing for me, as I also had a techFAIL this week for a live event that was carefully scheduled, totally disintegrated, and after 15 minutes of struggle, had to be rescheduled.

    Like you, I wondered, could I have planned better? In hindsight, yes for sure. I thought I’d tested enough, but it was a new tech toy for me, and I guess I didn’t even know HOW to thoroughly test.

    Which makes me wonder: were you also using an unfamiliar tool/platform?

    I am a compulsive planner/piloter. I test test test my media and tech gear. It takes an enormous time investment to do that. But I think my process is not far from what you’re describing above: build and rehearse. Make the time to design a strategy and test it, refine it, retest it.

    I think this post of yours sheds light on the fact that doing a very dynamic, professional, innovative, rich-media and tech-enabled and/or online presentation is a truly time-consuming process that requires serious planning and an amazing commitment to detail.

    I’ve seen you present and it has always “all gone right” so I get it that the one time it “all goes wrong” really stings. It does for me too. And like you, I reflect, connect (sometimes with you, thank you) and restart. Thanks for articulating that process so clearly here.

    BTW your presentations are truly excellent and it’s obvious to all who leave your talks inspired and impressed that you deeply care about getting it right.

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  • http://corinnehutchinson.tumblr.com/ Corinne Hutchinson

    This is wonderful. Thank you.