For over 3 years, I am a member of the Toastmasters community, a forum for public speaking, a platform where we grow and encourage others to grow in working with our stage fear and leadership skills. For this particular year, I am also the Area Director in the world of Toastmasters. What it means is that till June next year, I will be looking after and helping five Toastmasters clubs as part of my Area in achieving their goals.
As the Area Director, one of my things to do is to organize two contests within the year for the clubs I am serving. In the contests, the participants from different clubs come and compete and the winners move on to the next levels of contests. Yesterday was my first Area contest and also the first time I was conducting an Area contest.
Among other things and the good parts of the event, as is often the case, there are certain goof-ups (or mistakes as we call them) that happened too. As unpleasant as they may be, the goof-ups teach a valuable lesson every single time they happen.
Since this particular event happened very recently, I wish to put down some of those goof-ups and lessons I learnt from those so as not to repeat them on the next times. (For the sake of discretion, I shall not reveal all the information).
Let’s call them the 5 things to keep in mind while conducting an event:
1. Don’t assume, ask: In almost every area of the contest where I had made an assumption, the assumption proved out to be false. For example there were 6-8 different sets of printed documents which were required as part of the event. I assumed after a preliminary inspection that the sets that I had taken were enough. Only later I realized that an important piece of the puzzle was still missing.
2. Detailed checklist goes a long way: It is commonly said that a checklist is an essential tool for any significant project you want to take up. The Checklist Manifesto is a famous book highlighting the importance of checklists in multiple industries and how mere presence of a checklist helped save disasters. Learning from the book and my personal experience, I did create a checklist. What I missed was creating what can only be called a detailed checklist. The first step for me was to create a checklist of the things that I could imagine. The second, equally important step was also to think further and create another detailed checklist of the things I could not imagine during the first time.
This brings us to the next important point.
3. ‘The thought before’ is a tragedy prevented: All the thoughts that happened before the contest in my mind and in the minds of the fellow organizers and people who helped us in organizing ensured the event go well and prevented everything wrong from happening to that extent. Thoughts such as arranging the venue, communicating the event schedule, ordering and getting the refreshments from the vendor, informing the role players and similar others which were thought before and acted upon accordingly led to those actions being successful.
At the same time, every thought that was missed, the detailed checklist that wasn’t prepared as a result, led to those very aspects of the event slip from the mind.
A clichéd and over-used word for this phenomenon of thinking thoroughly beforehand is popularly known as ‘planning’.
4. It’s all about communication: Any barrier or gap in communication leads to assumption and every assumption leads to a scope for a possible goof-up. Similar thing happened when there was an assumption on my side that there will be enough people who will play various roles during the event. I missed out on the communication at the right time and things got missed and came out late. Late communication, almost always, is equivalent to no communication.
5. The clear picture, a visualization exercise: Before the event, it is best to have in the mind a clear picture of the sequence of events in the order that they will take place. It’s like watching a movie of the entire event in the mind, one night before it actually takes place. This is something I missed and I believe that this picture can add a lot of value. Had I created a clear picture, a lot of loopholes could be filled beforehand. The picture, if watched diligently will ensure that the gaps and loopholes are identified and filled accordingly.
The above is a short list of items to keep in mind before conducting an event. A checklist of checklists if you may!
Think-it-over: Have you ever conducted an event for the first time where you also made seemingly obvious mistakes? How many times did you think after the first conduct of the event that now if given another chance I can do it perfectly?!
The second chance is always a good thing to have. There is experiential learning of the body and the mind of all the goods and the bads that happened during the first try.
The key, of course, is to get things right the first time, when we are forced to ask for help from people who have done it before, when despite of sounding and looking like a novice, we have to ensure that even before stepping foot in the room, the picture of the entire show is clear in the mind. That is a challenge worth embracing!