Be Prepared – Lessons from the Joe Opp School
I was fortunate enough to share a cab with an old friend (Alan Gonzalez of Warwick Hotels) to the airport after one of the best HEDNA conferences in a long time.
While discussing some of the presentations which didn’t go as smoothly as they could have, we reminisced about a mutual mentor who had such a big impact on our professional lives as well as scores of others. This person made true professionals out of a generation of hospitality executives who now are making it into the highest levels of management at numerous hotel companies around the world.
Joe Opp. He demanded excellence and professionalism from all who worked for him and with him; not only in the workplace but in any social or networking event as well. Forget about getting a little tipsy at a cocktail party – everything you say and do, he reminded us, reflected not only on yourself but on him as our leader and on the company. A proper and professional demeanor was expected at all times. Of course there were times when we thought he was over the top or had finally lost it (anyone who knows Joe knows what I mean!). But looking back, we all now appreciate those years, like a grown child appreciates their parents’ strict upbringing.
Everyone knows the old Boy Scout motto. Whether we all follow it is debatable. For many it is more comfortable to “wing it”, to “fly by the seat of your pants”, to “ad-lib”. Whatever euphemism you use, it means just taking things as they come and reacting to the moment. This may work for some, but in business, it should be, IMHO (in my humble opinion), the exception.
As a rule I recommend following rules from what I call the “Joe Opp School” which is to prepare well, practice as much as possible and try to expect the unexpected. This applies whether you are doing a presentation or launching a new company initiative or marketing plan.
Here are 5 steps I recommend, with specific examples on how they apply when giving a presentation.
1. Define your goal
You must be able to articulate exactly what you are trying to achieve; what message you are trying to get across in your presentation. How many presentations have you sat through when you couldn’t figure out what the message was? Or worse, you may have felt it was a complete waste of your time. What were you supposed to take away from the session? If your audience goes away scratching their heads then you didn’t do your job; there should be some sort of takeaway. It may be actionable or just thought provoking. If your goal is to educate people about new trends, the take-away may be to instill a desire to learn more or to take a closer look at how their company, hotel or business unit is currently addressing the trend (or not) and prompt a review of how they may or may not want to adjust their business plans.
2. Define the plan
This includes laying out the steps needed to achieve the goal. For a presentation, how will you connect with the audience? What medium will you use – video, PowerPoint, panel discussion, some combination? Make sure it is engaging, meaningful, entertaining and culturally sensitive to the audience makeup, especially when addressing an international audience. I was at a global conference in the ‘80’s when a British executive thought it lighten the mood by starting his presentation with a joke about the Falklands war. The Argentinean delegation, and a few other South American delegations, promptly stormed out of the ballroom and huge incident ensued. Everyone was talking about it (and still 30 years later we remember). I couldn’t, for the life of me, tell you what else he talked about.
3. Define roles
If there are others involved in the goal or presentation, make sure everyone knows the role they play in achieving the desired outcome. This will avoid speaking at cross purposes and ensure every contribution supports the overall goal or message and builds on each other’s presentations to paint the whole picture.
4. Practice, Practice, Practice
The old comedian Jack Benny used to joke “How do your get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!”
Starting weeks before any scheduled event, Joe would schedule several practice sessions for all presentations. We would run through everything over and over (and over and over!) and the team would critique and adjust to perfect the delivery, message, flow and preparation. But the rehearsals didn’t stop at the office. Once on-site, we rehearsed again! This ensured that we were comfortable with the venue, tested the connections and equipment to make sure they worked properly. By the time we delivered the presentations, we had each presented them so many times that the deliveries were natural. We knew our stuff. We exuded confidence in the subject matter and usually had a great reception from the audience.
5. Imagine alternate outcomes
One of the most important, but often difficult, aspects of the practice sessions was thinking outside the box. Joe encouraged us to play “devil’s advocate” for each other’s presentations. Try to imagine the questions you’ll get; the arguments the audience may express. How will you respond? How will you counter negative reactions? Whenever I have skipped this step over the years, I have inevitably been caught off guard resulting in a less than ideal performance.
While above examples pertain specifically to presentations, these steps can be easily transferrable to many other activities – system migrations, research, reports, sales pitches, negotiations. For a system migration the steps would be goal >> plan >> roles >> test >> adjust >> test again >> deploy.
I may not have appreciated Joe’s maniacal focus on preparedness at the time, but as my career has progressed I have nonetheless employed everything I learned at the “Joe Opp School”. These foundations have absolutely contributed to my success and those who have worked for me have seen his lessons in action (and hopefully learned from them) on more than one occasion.
I hope Joe knows how pivotal a role he has played in many of our lives and careers. Like children who don’t appreciate their parents until they are adults, I’m sure many graduates of this alma mater likewise look fondly on those years and have some stories to tell as well!!
I hope these steps help. We are always looking for ways to improve our preparedness. So if you have additional steps or techniques that work for you, please share them with us!