The connection between perception and preparation

Fail to prepare…

We all know the end of that one. As this article is appearing in the middle of an election campaign in the UK it would be a missed opportunity not to cast an eye over to the world of politics to examine how those who seek to lead us are attempting to persuade and influence us with their slogans and their speeches and their levels of preparation.

The Prime Minister managed to surprise pretty much everyone with her decision to call an election (no mean feat in itself) but if any opposition party has been twiddling its thumbs and waiting for her to make her mind up rather than putting in the preparation for that possibility then they don’t deserve to be close to power, let alone holding its reins.

But even with this level of background preparation, there are already some startling examples of politicians failing to prepare.

I have blogged about a couple of cases already, namely in the guise of Dawn Butler and Diane Abbott both of whom delivered fairly spectacular illustrations of what happens when you don’t prepare for an interview. Will their blunders directly affect the outcome of the election? Directly probably not, but indirectly these slipups give their opponents the vital ammunition they need to portray yet more instances of the ‘chaos’ that they seek to attribute to them.

It is all about perception. We know very well that politicians of all persuasions will make plenty of rash promises when seeking a mandate and yet when they have that mandate many of those promises will be broken, changed due to ‘unforeseen circumstances’ or simply ignored. So what really matters is who we perceive is the best (or least worst in some cases) person or group of people to keep us ‘strong and stable’(!) Failing to prepare sufficiently for an interview does nothing to add to the perception of credibility.

This is equally true in our professional lives. Many readers will have been through or are due to go through a promotion process of some sort or another and a significant part of that is perception. If you are up for a new role you need to give the perception that you are not only ready for that role but also that you are demonstrating the behaviours relevant to that level already, and much of that derives from your level of preparation.

Part of that preparation is thinking about the way in which you are seen. How do you want others to see you; are there any behaviours you might wish to change; does it look like you have put in the hours? May is the month when many firms announce new partners and having spoken at length to managing partners from a number of firms on the topic of preparation and perception, it is very clear that those who are made up are the ones who put in the hours of preparation needed not just for the essentials such as the business case but also for the questions of what being a senior associate, legal director or partner means to them, how they will develop the firm if promoted and what behaviours might be different?

One managing partner said: “It amazes me that some of the candidates I saw gave very little evidence of proper preparation.” The truism at the top of this article, attributed to Benjamin Franklin, is so obvious that it can be taken for granted even by very able people but you do so at your peril.

Luan de Burgh of the de Burgh Group is a professional public speaker and presentation coach. More of his articles can be read here.