You Can Never Be Too Prepared


Early in my advertising career, I was trained by some of the best people in the business. A premium was placed not only on being smart but also being prepared and anticipating the unforeseen. In the days before computers and powerpoint we presented business plans using acetate slides and an overhead projector. Given the importance of our client meetings we had to prepare a set of acetate slides as well as printed copies – just in case. This meant long evenings the night before a meeting to complete the presentation, without any errors or misspellings, and have acetates and copies made, neatly packed and ready to go.

This created an incredible amount of pressure for a young person, as these were important meetings with senior level client and agency folks. But if that wasn’t enough, we were constantly reminded to bring a spare bulb for the overhead projector, even for meetings at the client’s office. “Do you have the spare bulb? Who’s bringing the spare bulb?” could be heard echoing through the halls late into the evening. It was not unrealistic for someone to have a back up bulb for the back up. Us underlings would snicker at the need for such extreme contingency planning.

That all changed during an annual planning presentation to the client’s senior team that included the CEO. The projector’s light bulb burned out halfway through the meeting. Disaster was averted because we had not one but two bulbs. The agency to the rescue and we looked like rock stars. This planning and attention to detail was part of our training and left an indelible mark on my career development. I gladly passed this on to my teams knowing they were snickering at me but at some point realizing it would save the day and they would look like heroes.

Fast forward to present. I recently ran a leadership workshop for 35 people in New York City. The workshop presentation heavily relied on powerpoint to share back survey results and insights. As with all my client presentations, my back up plan is to have the presentation on a flash drive and to ensure my client contact has a laptop available – just in case. Feeling the importance of this presentation, I had a back up to the back up. I emailed the presentation to myself in the event of a flash drive malfunction. Paranoid? Maybe, but I didn’t want to take chances.

On the flight to New York I was reviewing the presentation and noticed one typo that I decided to fix while on the plane. I fired up my new MacBook and made the change but the computer froze. I quit out and restarted. Still frozen. Knowing I have two back up plans, I shut down my computer and closed my eyes for a Zen moment. Once at the hotel, the computer was still frozen, so I emailed the presentation to the client (from my phone) and asked them to bring their laptop. The morning of the workshop, my laptop miraculously unfroze so I decided to use it, however, during the run through it froze again. I swapped it out with the client’s laptop. Crisis averted well before the rest of the attendees arrived. Another part of contingency planning, arrive early and get set-up before the meeting is scheduled to start in order to iron out any glitches.

I also learned another lesson. When you buy any electronic that has new technology be mindful of unforeseen glitches. My new MacBook has the retina screen that can be unstable with powerpoint if you don’t have the most current application software updates, which I didn’t. That’s why my Mac was freezing. One trip to the Apple store and 30 minutes later, computer and owner were happy. My back up plan for my computer, keep old MacBook until new one has been fully vetted.

While contingency planning adds extra time and generates snickers, it works. In case you are wondering, the workshop was very well received and went off without a hitch.