I hardly ever get a chance to quote Hitchhiker’s Guide, so whenever and opportunity presents itself, I take it (no matter how tangential it may seem):
The Book: It is important to note that suddenly, and against all probability, a Sperm Whale had been called into existence, several miles above the surface of an alien planet and since this is not a naturally tenable position for a whale, this innocent creature had very little time to come to terms with its identity. This is what it thought, as it fell:
The Whale: Ahhh! Woooh! What’s happening? Who am I? Why am I here? What’s my purpose in life? What do I mean by who am I? Okay okay, calm down calm down get a grip now. Ooh, this is an interesting sensation. What is it? Its a sort of tingling in my… well I suppose I better start finding names for things. Lets call it a… tail! Yeah! Tail! And hey, what’s this roaring sound, whooshing past what I’m suddenly gonna call my head? Wind! Is that a good name? It’ll do. Yeah, this is really exciting. I’m dizzy with anticipation! Or is it the wind? There’s an awful lot of that now isn’t it? And what’s this thing coming toward me very fast? So big and flat and round, it needs a big wide sounding name like ‘Ow’, ‘Ownge’, ‘Round’, ‘Ground’! That’s it! Ground! Ha! I wonder if it’ll be friends with me? Hello Ground!
The Book: Curiously the only thing that went through the mind of the bowl of petunias, as it fell, was, ‘Oh no, not again.’ Many people have speculated that if we knew exactly *why* the bowl of petunias had thought that we would know a lot more about the nature of the universe than we do now.
“Oh no, not again.”
It’s bad enough crash and burn once, it’s even worse if you let the same exact thing happen all over again. Let’s face it, the problems you’ve already had should be the easiest to avoid. You know, “fool me once…” and all that.
You never, ever want the presenter to be standing at the lectern thinking, “Oh no, not again.”
One of the best ways I’ve found to avoid this situation is to be rigorous about holding a postmortem after each and every presentation (if you prefer a less pejorative term, call it a “debrief”). Autopsy the experience. Carefully pull it apart. Cut deep and really find out what went wrong.
Some random thoughts and suggestions:
- You should do the postmortem as soon as you’re back in the office but better late than never.
- Formalize the process. Everybody on your team should come to expect the postmortem meeting to be on their calendar the day every one is back. Better yet, schedule it before the trip. Always allow time for open discussion, but also be sure to address a standard set questions every time.
- Take some time to go through your calendar, files and emails to jog your memory. I find that just reviewing the email generated by a big project is almost always good for at least three or four things to discuss at the debrief.
- Depending on the team you are working with and the environment in which you’re working, it might not be a bad idea to have two debrief meetings — one that includes the big cheeses and one that doesn’t. Believe it or not, the presence of a bunch of bosses, though usually required, can sometimes have a chilling effect on the free and open exchange of information.
- Always have a mechanism that makes it easy to share additional items after the meeting has ended. Sometimes folks prefer to comment anonymously, and sometimes the best stuff doesn’t come to mind until you’re in the car on the way home.
- Most importantly: make sure someone is taking good notes and that these notes are tidied up and distributed to everyone involved. Take a few minutes to review the notes from the last few debriefs as part of your preparations for a new presentation project.