Are you the type of person who likes to design every detail in advance? Do you take pleasure in anticipating potential challenges and preparing contingencies for each one?
Or perhaps you’re more of a free spirit – someone who’s comfortable watching things unfold and responding in the moment.
When we apply this to training and facilitation, it’s called the preparation spectrum.
Like any continuum, you can locate extremes. At one far end, those who plan right down to the minute. At the other end, the people who show up to lead a workshop and say, “Remind me, what’s our topic today?”
When it comes to preparation, where do you stand?
Several years ago, while working with a team of facilitators, I described the continuum above, then asked everyone to physically stand where they felt most comfortable – at one end, the other end, or anywhere in the middle.
Not surprisingly, my colleagues were all over the map – literally. We were organizing a big job together, and this exercise made visible a lot of our tension and conflict. Some people wanted to design everything minute by minute, while others were more comfortable with a broad outline minus many details.
For the fundraising version of this continuum exercise, (click here.)
Is it possible to over-prepare?
Preparation is good. You need an agenda. You need materials. You need to set up the space. You need a plan.
However, I’ve seen too many colleagues invest too much time in preparing simple tasks – in some cases, tasks they’ve done dozens of times.
Here’s my disclaimer. I am a comfortable improviser, so you will find me toward that end of the scale. You can chalk this up to personality, or perhaps 20 years of doing this work, but that’s my bias. Reader beware.
What are the risks of too much prep?
1. You may stifle the spark. When you meticulously prepare an agenda, timing everything to the minute, it leaves less space for the group to decide what it needs to learn while it is learning.
Saying this differently – the more time you invest in prep, the harder it is to let go of your work so the group can do its work. Some of my favorite experiences as a trainer involved unplanned turns, and those turns led us to the good stuff.
2. Your stress may be contagious. People who do a lot of prep really, really want to get it right. This is admirable. When everything is fully prepared, they can relax…or not.
More often, I’ve observed the opposite. They bring their stress with them, and participants pick up on that.
3. You don’t have enough time, and even if you do… Do you really have the time to make things perfect, when really, really good is … well, really, really good?
Regardless, what seems perfect to you may fell less than perfect to the people you’re training.
Your goal: Let your students do the work
Among consultants, there’s an old saying: If you’re working harder than your client, something is wrong.
As trainers, we should think the same way.
Here’s the evidence. When you’re leading a workshop, people remember 20-30% of what you say, but 90% of what they do. Most of the time you spend polishing your presentation is literally lost.
If you’re inclined to do a lot of advance preparation, focus that effort on designing exercises and activities that will engage the participants. Give them stuff to do, then get out of the way.
I guarantee they’ll take your exercises in some unexpected – and fruitful – directions.