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How to Keep at Least One Step Ahead of Murphy's Law

Sometimes we lose sight of Murphy's Law: "Whatever can happen, will." And then, the unexpected and unwelcome happens. What prompted me to write this article is that yesterday Murphy struck me and a large group that I lead as president. Being prepared, however, saved the day. In this article, I will explain how my bout with Murphy was overcome and will list other means we can take to make sure that when Murphy strikes, he won't be able to destroy us and/or our presentations.

A True Story of Murphy at Work
Yesterday morning, our computer users group was scheduled to hold its monthly membership meeting at a local college. As president, I always arrive at least an hour ahead of meeting start time to make sure that everything - tables, sound system, etc. - are in place. When I arrived at the building the door I usually enter was locked, so I went to another entrance. Also locked. At the third entrance, I found a guard who informed me that the power in the building had been attacked by the storm the night before and that the meeting was canceled.

I told her that was impossible. We had about 100 people arriving in 30 to 45 minutes along with an out-of-town speaker. Did they have space in another auditorium that I knew was in the neighboring building? We called the Conference Center, and when I spoke to the young man I discovered that nothing was scheduled for the room, so asked him (with authority) to open it up while I put up notices on all of the doors telling people where the meeting would be held.

With the early member arrivals' and staff's help, we got a sound system up, needed tables brought into the room, more directional signs and the speaker set up with projector and lights. We started right on time, and the meeting proceeded smoothly. How did we foil Murphy? First of all, I had arrived with plenty of time to spare for a change of plans. Secondly, in a flexible, authoritative, yet polite, manner, I wouldn't take "no" for an answer - I told them, "The show must go on!" Thirdly, I enlisted the help of everyone involved which made them feel important and necessary. What could have turned into a cancelled meeting turned into an excellent presentation. Note: I have already sent a letter to the college praising the staff members for their quick and efficient help.

Here are my suggestions for keeping ahead of Murphy:

  • Always arrive early. Even though in most situations, I have extra time after setting up, as in the example above, having plenty of time to spare has always served me well. I have been able to rearrange a poorly set up room, test the sound system, and check to make sure that my computer works with the projector. With the extra time, I also have the advantage of talking with attendees and form relationships with them. The more friends we have when we present, the better.
  • Always confirm, never assume. I know that I have mentioned this before. When asked to present, be sure to confirm as many of the details as possible, so Murphy can't easily cause surprises. I know speakers who send a sheet to be filled out by the meeting planner. I prefer asking the questions when we are setting up the program. How long should I speak? Do you plan for me to include Q & A? What type of room and seating will we have? What kind of sound system will be available - can I have the microphone of my choice (a "handheld" or "lavaliere")? Are there other speakers on the program? Are there people with whom I should speak prior to the presentation? What do you want to accomplish by having me speak? Then closer to the date (within the week) always re-confirm the time, date and location. I once was hired for a presentation by one person who gave me the incorrect time. I showed up in the afternoon to discover they had expected me in the morning.
  • When Murphy strikes, be ready to take over in a calm and courteous fashion. Yes, you will need to speak with authority, yet be sure to remember that whatever disaster is taking place wasn't caused on purpose or even by the people with whom you are dealing. In my sample story, I could have become angry that no one had contacted us, but that wouldn't have helped the situation. By respecting the staff members who were there (and on a Saturday, no less) I was able to enlist their help, even though I did have to be assertive (not antagonistic or volatile, however).
  • Consider all of the Murphy-like situations you may have to face and create solutions. The more often we present and/or are called upon to play a part in organizational meetings, the more prevalent will be our interactions with Murphy. As you know by now, I am a strong proponent of preparation. We never like to imagine the negative, but in this case, I suggest thinking of all of the inconvenient and negative disasters that could happen. Then, take a deep breath, and think of all of the possible solutions. What would you do if someone in the audience became ill? What if you became ill (I know a speaker who suffered a heart attack part way through presenting a workshop)? What if all of the electricity failed and the room was in total darkness (I know another speaker who had this happen). What about a fire drill? What would you do if none of the equipment worked? Could you still go on like the professional you are?

My hope is that Murphy will never strike you and/or your presentation. But, if he does, you will be ready to be the hero/heroine who wins the battle. Do let me know the stories of your bouts with Murphy. I love to receive your feedback.


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