Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Being prepared is the best insurance

Jeff Haden's offers a lesson on how to succeed in uncertain situations

  1. Build the basic skill. If being asked a question during a meeting instantly makes you anxious, your problem isn’t a fear of public speaking.  Your problem is you don’t know what to say — so you freeze.  Start by never walking into a meeting unprepared.  You know the meeting agenda, so always prepare for possible discussions.  Then think about two or three ways you can constructively contribute, take the plunge, and jump in.  When you’re prepared and confident about what you want to say the act of speaking is be a lot easier.  If it helps, write down what you want to say, and practice.  Then make it a point to contribute at every meeting.  In time speaking up will get easier.
  2. Rework the basic skill. But don’t stop there.  Ask to lead a meeting.  Ask to present an idea.  Ask people if they have questions about a project or task.  Go to a Toastmasters meeting and speak.  Step outside your comfort zone; see comfort as a base to build on, never as an end result.
  3. Practice for “What if?” Once you build decent speaking skills, the next step is to eliminate unexpected reasons that could cause you to choke.  What if your PowerPoint presentation locks up?  Figure out what you’ll do.  What if you get questions you can’t answer?  Think about how you will respond.  What if your 45-minute presentation is suddenly cut to 10 minutes?  Think about how you’ll shorten it to ensure your main points are delivered.  Then…
  4. Visualize. You may never be faced with a power outage during a presentation, much less practice an outage, but you can think about what you would do.  And you can imagine someone tries to hijack your meeting, and mentally prepare how you’ll respond.  And as you visualize…
  5. Create a mental solution pegboard. What will you do if you present an idea and it bombs?  What will you do if an employee challenges you in front of others?  What happens if you forget your place during a presentation?  Stick the answers in a mental solution bag and reach for the solution when the no-longer-unexpected happens.  While everyone will assume you thought quickly on your feet, you’ll know preparation was the key.
  6. Benefit from close calls. If an employee almost touches on a sensitive subject, especially one you aren’t ready to address during a group meeting, don’t just walk away thinking, “Wow, am I glad I didn’t have to deal with that.”  What would you have done?  What would the best response have been?  Think through your options, mentally rehearse, and create a new solution bag for your peg board.  If something almost happens this time… guaranteed it will happen someday.  Be ready.