While it’s more of an adage than it is business principle, it’s a common truth that shouldn’t be taken lightly. That’s because, more often than not, things don’t happen the way we expect. This is particularly true in today’s fast-paced business environment, where there are days when Murphy seems to be running the company. Murphy’s Law seems to be most prevalent when there’s a critical stake in the ground or milestone looming — a potentially huge client commitment that hinges on a successful presentation, for example.
While we can’t eliminate the unexpected from happening in these high stakes situations, we can do things that will lessen the chances that things will go wrong.
Here are three areas that are common feeding grounds for the unexpected to happen, with some suggestions on how you can thwart Mr. Murphy when he threatens to show up.
With the increasing interconnectedness of the World Wide Web, and the growth of the cloud as a business communications platform, there’s no doubt that anything that can go wrong with technology, will go wrong. But oftentimes it’s not the complexity of technology that sparks problems. It’s a lack of preparedness.
Put another way, if you have a PowerPoint presentation to do and don’t have a working knowledge of the software or the basic setup tools on your computer, proceed at your own risk. Case in point: You’ve spent countless hours fine-tuning your presentation for your boss, client or customer. You show up right on time for the meeting, and plug your laptop into the conference room projector. Uh oh. Your laptop won’t connect to the projector for a reason you can’t figure out. So you go to Plan B – copy the PowerPoint to a thumb drive that you can insert into the conference room’s computer. (You did bring a thumb drive, didn’t you? If not, insert additional beads of sweat here, borrow a thumb drive and move to Plan C.) Plan C doesn’t work, because the antivirus software on the conference room computer blocks access to the thumb drive. Now what? You’re 20 minutes into the presentation and haven’t even shown your first slide.
With a little advance preparation, this scenario could have been avoided. In this case, you could have arrived 10 to 15 minutes early to ask someone to help you connect to the projector. Even if you weren’t able to get help, you’d still have time to copy your presentation to a Flash drive (that you brought) and load it on the on-site computer. And, if that didn’t work, you’d hand out hard copies of the presentation that you printed out beforehand.
No matter how much you know, or how prepared you are, technology is going to glitch at some point. Have a contingency plan ready, and you’ll thwart Murphy’s Law of technology just about every time.
I once had a client (a CEO of a large consumer technology company) who’s rule was “If you’re not five minutes early for a meeting, you’re late.”
Too often, we try to be so efficient with our time that we ignore the inevitable snafus: an accident on the Freeway which causes a 20 minute delay; street construction, which causes a re-routing of traffic past the meeting place. We’ve become addicted to — and trusting of — shortcut tools like Google Maps and Waze that give us real time traffic information. These tools promise to route us around congestion, and get us to our destination right on time. And that’s just the type of thinking that will inspire us to book a flight that will get us to our destination just in time to jump in the rental car and make it to the client’s office for the presentation.
However, just like technology, travel has become increasingly complex, and prone to snafus. For example, American Airlines has a 58% on time record for travelers flying from Dallas to Chicago. The average delay is 41 minutes. And, if you’re traveling from Oakland to Los Angeles on Southwest, you’re worse off — this flight boasts a 59% on time record, with an average delay of 29 minutes.
Let’s take that 29 minute delay (Oakland to LAX), add a 20 minute delay for the line at the car rental counter, a 25 minute delay due to construction on the 405 (Los Angeles’ main freeway from LAX), and a 10 minute delay for super tight security check in at the office building where you’re presenting. That’s an hour and 24 minutes of unplanned, but perfectly likely delays. And if it’s really a Murphy’s Law day, you’ll encounter additional delays with the Technology snags mentioned above.
The point? Don’t assume that just because Waze says roads are clear, or the airline posts an On Time departure that you’re going to arrive at your final destination on time. Give yourself a cushion for the inevitable snags that will come up. At best, you’ll arrive early enough to take a deep breath before the presentation, which could make a big difference in how you come across to your client or customer.
The enormous growth in technology communication tools such as email and text messaging has changed the way we conduct business. And this leads us to ask the question — has this change been for the better? Certainly text messaging and email are more efficient when it comes to sending or receiving a communication message. But just because the message has been sent or received doesn’t mean you’ve communicated. What’s missing in these technology communication tools is emotion, and an emotional connection can make a big difference in how things get communicated when Murphy shows up.
Studies show that as much as 50-65% of communication is nonverbal. This means that, when we send a communication via text message or email, there’s a good chance that only half the message has been received. And if most of your communication with a client or customer is done via text or email, you should be concerned that that your relationship is not built on solid ground.
So, in this case when Murphy’s Law kicks in and a mistake happens, or unforeseen event occurs, the chance that the client or customer will forgive it and move on is greatly diminished. Your emotional bank account with that customer or client is either very low, or possibly overdrawn, because few deposits have been made. It’s that emotional connection that only comes through handshakes, meals, attending events together, etc. that can cover a wealth of missteps.
Body language is the secret ingredient in good effective communications. For example, frequent eye contact is interpreted as honesty and forthrightness (try to communicate those emotions with a quick text message). Standing erect with shoulders back when meeting someone shows strength and dominance of character (conversely, a dominant approach in email can create a communication barrier). A handshake is important to convey sincerity — which is very difficult to convey via text or email.
The point? Strong relationships with customers and clients — which come through high touch — can help diminish the impact of trials and tribulations, which are inevitable in today’s complex business environment. There is no way to control unforeseen events from happening, but you can control how they are handled and interpreted, and nothing will smooth over a rough spot in a business snafu like a strong relationship.
Bill Threlkeld is the president of Threlkeld Communications, a marketing communications and public relations firm that helps small businesses develop the right marketing strategies to grow their businesses and meet financial goals. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org