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Mustard First

As you may remember from an earlier post, my first real job was at a McDonald’s. Started the day after I turned sixteen. You might also remember that I got into some trouble because I didn’t deal with burning my fingers in way that had approval from corporate headquarters. They were funny about stuff like that.

They were also very, very specific about how every product that crossed the greasy steel counter — the fries, the milkshake, the secretive big mac, even the most humble hamburger —  came into being.

It began with the burger flipper’s tools-of-the-trade. They were to be arranged just so. You always put the spatula in one specific place. The bins with the pickles had to be all the way to the left with bin holding the now reconstituted. formally dehydrated onions were always next. The strange thumb-controlled funnel thingy that deposited exactly the right amount of ketchup was always in exactly in the same place, in it’s holder, on the end of the counter. The mustard funnel thingy was always to its right. At least that’s the way they did it back in the eighties.

In fact, they were even more picky, if you can believe it, with the way you actually put the burgers together. There were videos for God’s sake. Written tests.

The one part of the intricate construction process that’s stuck with me all these years is the importance of putting the mustard on the bun before the ketchup. If I remember correctly, they told us that this kept the mustard from coming into contact with the meat which burned it chemically and gave it a funny taste. Who knew?

And pickle slide placement, don’t get me started on pickle slice placement.

All this formality might seem silly, but being forced to be highly regimented in something as simple as making a hamburger was actually very useful. It was great when you were suddenly in the middle of a huge Saturday afternoon rush and everything was exactly where it was supposed to be and it almost became unnecessary to think about what you had to do next. As things got busier, and the shift ground on and on, and the brain got more tired, it was possible to enter a zone where the entire process flowed effortlessly out of a combination of muscle memory and mental habit.

What the heck does this have to do with presenting?

In the grand scheme of things, providing a good presentation experience is almost always more important than providing a good hamburger. So if someone is willing to put all that time, effort and thought into the process of serving up a Whopper, shouldn’t you be willing to apply a little additional rigor to thinking about how you go about preparing to do what you need to do as a presenter (or as someone helping a presenter)?

Are there parts of your preparation process that you haven’t given any thought to at all?

There’s a crucial file on your laptop, the PowerPoint for Monday’s presentation. Do you know exactly where it is? Is it on your desktop? If it in a folder, which one? Can you instantly and easily distinguish it from any other file that might be in the same folder? Are you absolutely certain you have the most current version?

You’re given a couple hours at most to set up. And the room layout doesn’t come close to matching the diagram they emailed (you didn’t do a site visit?) and you need to put the short throw lens into the projector. Quickly. Do you know exactly which case it’s in? Is it still out in the truck? You’re probably going to need a screw driver. Where is it?

Do you have a documented (or at least habitual) setup routine that will help save your butt when everything else is going completely to hell in a hand basket? Like that time. You remember. The snowstorm? The delayed flight? Getting to the hotel two hours before call time? Stiff necked, sleep deprived and brain dead but the show still had to go on.

Have a plan, have a routine, know how to find exactly what you need exactly when you need to find it. Or be prepared to find yourself going from being under fire to working the deep fryer.

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