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What’s the worst that can happen? Imagine it & have a Plan B, C, D & E (review)

frankWhat To Do When Things Go Wrong

By Frank Supovitz

McGraw Hill

$34.78

This review first ran in the June 22 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

There are 80,000 souls in the stands.

More than a billion people are watching worldwide.

You’re doing a media interview.

And suddenly the lights go out.

This was the crisis facing Frank Supovitz just over a minute into the second half of the 2013 Superbowl in New Orleans. Supovitz was the senior vice president of events for the National Football League and ringleader of the planet’s biggest sporting event.

“It was not a time for guesswork,” says Armen Keteyian who was interviewing Supovitz for 60 Minutes Sports when the partial power failure hit. “What our crew witnessed (and captured on video) was a cool, collected leader assessing information. As the delay stretched into what would become 34 of the most surreal minutes in NFL history, Frank made one clear-eyed decision after another.”

Supovitz, an award-winning event producer, applied five principles during the “Blackout Bowl” that he’s outlined in his book What To Do When Things Go Wrong.

“I guarantee that if nothing has gone seriously wrong for you at least once so far, something is going to go terribly, horribly and spectacularly wrong sometime, somewhere and somehow despite your very best intentions, your painstaking and expert planning, and your unfailingly optimistic worldview,” says Supovitz.

“And when you get past the first thing that goes terribly, horribly and spectacularly wrong, guess what? There’s another crisis coming, and when it arrives things will look dark all over again, and very possibly worse. And I’m an optimist.”

Here’s how Supovitz mitigated risk and expertly managed crises during his 30-plus years leading major sports and entertainment events.

blackout bowl1.     Imagine how your event or project will play out in a perfect world and then picture everything that can go wrong. “Apply a dark and fertile imagination to visualize as many potential threats to our success as possible. Then we can spend the time, money and energy to keep all those monsters securely under the bed.”

2.     Prepare by building solutions to potential crises into your work plan. Hope is not a strategy, says Supovitz. Instead, you need a plan b, c and d. “Effective project leaders invest time and talent developing contingency plans that they truly hope, like an insurance policy, will turn out to be a colossal waste of time. But, having these plans can prove invaluable if something goes wrong and you need to work quickly to activate one or more of the plans.”

3.     Execute your plan and stay vigilant for all contingencies.

4.     Respond effectively when things go off the rails. “Try to resist the temptation to act too quickly, without regard to how your response may affect the outcome in other areas. That doesn’t mean don’t act fact. Just act fast enough to keep things from getting worse, but not so fast you end up making things worse.”

5.     Evaluate what happened and how you responded. Postmortems are key, as Supovitz points out that we learn more from things that go wrong than from those that go right. Of course, it’s always preferable to learn from the mistakes of others.

So when things go terribly, horribly and spectacularly wrong with your next project or event, remember Frank Supovitz and the 2013 Superbowl. Together with a quick-thinking team of well-prepared professionals, Supovitz kept calm, carried on and saved the Superbowl from a premature end.

No one was injured when the Superdome went dark. Play resumed after a 34-minute delay. Oreo put out a dunk in the dark tweet that ranks among the all-time great real-time marketing moves and cost nowhere near a Superbowl ad. And the NFL set a Superbowl record for concession stand beer sales during the blackout.

Jay Robb serves as manager of communications for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999. Reviews are archived at jayrobb.me.

How to speak with more confidence and less fear (review)

public speakingThis review first ran in the June 15th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Your Guide to Public Speaking: Build Your Confidence, Find Your Voice and Inspire Your Audience

By Amanda Hennessey

Adams Media

$21.99

You have five minutes to prepare an impromptu talk on a topic you’ve just been assigned.

You’ll then give your talk without notes, a script or PowerPoint slides.

Welcome to the Christopher Leadership Course in Effective Speaking.

I wandered way outside my comfort zone to wrestle with my fear of public speaking. If this been our first assignment, I would’ve bolted for the door or sweated it out and seized up when I took the floor.

But this was week six and we’d received great coaching and votes of confidence from our volunteer instructors. We had a fool-proof four-step formula to structure our talks*. And we’d put in our reps thanks to lots of solo and group warm-ups and practice presentations.

You won’t find my impromptu talk in the annals of the world’s greatest speeches. But I survived and inflicted minimal pain and suffering on my classmates.

And then I was blown away. I was voluntold to go first so I heard everyone’s impromptu talk. I’ve worked with many senior leaders over the years. I can count on one hand the number of executives who could speak with the same authenticity, confidence and enthusiasm as my classmates. Practice doesn’t make perfect but it goes a long way in making us much more effective speakers.

Not enough of us get that opportunity, says Amanda Hennessey, founder of Boston Public Speaking and author of Your Guide to Public Speaking.

“No matter what you are asked to present or who’s asking you to speak, you want to be able to engage the task with confidence and enthusiasm,” says Hennessey. “If you’ve never received any kind of training on how to approach public speaking or how to dynamically share your message with an audience, you’re not alone.”

Public speaking is about conveying your thoughts to a group. “If the phrase public speaking freaks you out, then substitute the phrases sharing ideas or having a conversation or think of it like talking with people – authentically, from the heart, soul and brain – for a specific purpose.”

While you’re the one at the front of the room, it’s not actually about you. You aren’t the star of the show. It’s all about your audience. What’s at stake for them? What do they have to gain or lose based on what you have to say? Serving your audience, rather than receiving their praise and admiration, should be your sole focus. It’s the best way to keep your fear and anxiety in check, says Hennessey.

“When you step back and think deeply about why you are speaking to a group about a particular topic, you will be less stressed if you do not make it all about you, your status, your image, and your reputation. If you get fired up about the impact you can make, your passion will be your fuel.

“Rather than trying to get something from your audience, be concerned with creating a compelling experience for them. After all, you are there to give a talk or presentation, not to get one. Be generous as you give.”

To give a great and generous talk, think about who it’s for and why you’re giving it. Define the problem and the solution for your audience and figure out how best to explain both using stories, examples, ideas, facts and figures. And then decide what you want your audience to do. What’s your call to action?

Hennessey offers confidence-building tools to make you a more effective speaker. You’ll learn what to do with your hands, how to stand, breath, strip out vocal tics, prepare and rehearse and a whole lot more.

If you’re like the majority of us who’d rather receive than give a eulogy, read Hennessey’s book and then face your fears by registering for the Christopher Leadership Course in Effective Speaking. You’ll be in good hands and practicing before the most supportive audience you’ll ever get to talk with.

Here’s a four-step fool-proof structure for your next presentation:

  1. Lead off with an attention-grabbing opening statement.
  2. State the point of your talk and deliver your main message.
  3. Provide 3-4 examples and proof points that reinforce your main message.
  4. Close by reiterating your main message and leaving the audience with a call to action.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999. 

The Great Dying – the business case for addressing climate change now (review of The Uninhabitable Earth)

uninhabitable earthThis review first ran in the June 1 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming

By David Wallace-Wells

Tim Duggan Books

$36

If we’re slapping carbon tax stickers on gas pumps, let’s also put posters up in daycare centres and kindergarten classrooms.

We can use the posters to start apologizing in advance for saddling our kids and grandkids with the unholy mess of an increasingly uninhabitable home.

Sure, some of our kids may become the Henry Ford, John Rockefeller, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg of the green economy. They’ll make a fortune scrubbing carbon from the skies, geoengineering oceans and moving whole coastal cities to higher and drier ground.

But whatever money they make, it won’t be nearly enough.

It’s estimated that 3.7 degrees of global warming will trigger more than $550 trillion in environmental damages. To put that repair and relocation bill in perspective, we currently have $280 trillion in worldwide wealth.

During the Great Recession, global gross domestic product fell two per cent. During the Great Depression, GDP dropped 15 per cent. By the close of the 21st century, economists warn that climate change could cut GDP anywhere from 20 to 50 per cent.

“We have gotten used to setbacks on our erratic march along the arc of economic history but we know them as setbacks and expect elastic recoveries,” says David Wallace-Wells, author of The Uninhabitable Earth, national fellow at the New America foundation and columnist with New York magazine. “What climate change has in store is not that kind of thing – not a Great Recession or a Great Depression, but in economic terms, a Great Dying.

“The global halving of economic resources would be permanent. We would soon not even know it as deprivation, only as a brutally cruel normal against which we might measure tiny burps of decimal-point growth as the breath of a new prosperity.”

earth

Maybe you think we’ll ride out the storm because we’re far from a coast and nowhere near the equator. Our part of the world will be wetter but not underwater, scorching hot or uninhabitable. Yet the United Nations is conservatively projecting 200 million climate refugees by 2050. The actual number could be considerably higher, at over a billion vulnerable poor people with only two choices – fight or flee. Will we open our borders or build higher and thicker walls?

Future generations need today’s business leaders to lean hard on politicians and start doing it now. Wallace-Wells says we can stall disaster by introducing carbon and gas taxes, aggressively phasing out dirty energy and ending subsidies for fossil fuels, revolutionizing agricultural practices, shifting away from beef and dairy and making major public investments in green energy and carbon capture.

“Now we all share the responsibility to write the next act. We found a way to engineer devastation, and we can find a way to engineer our way out of it – or, rather, engineer our way toward a degraded muddle, but one that nevertheless extends forward the promise of new generations finding their own way forward, perhaps toward some brighter environmental future.”

Wallace-Wells opens his book by telling us “it is worse, much worse, than you think. The slowness of climate change is a fairy tale, perhaps as pernicious as the one that says it isn’t happening at all.”

He makes a convincing argument that we’re grossly underestimating the cascade of compounding ecological catastrophes headed our way and wildly overestimating our capacity to come up with innovative solutions that’ll sustain business as usual in a hothouse Earth.

While we talk about saving the planet, Earth will continue spinning around the sun. Whether we’re along for the ride is an open question.

“If we allow global warming to proceed, and to punish us with all the ferocity we have fed it, it will because we have chosen that punishment – collectively walking down a path of suicide. If we avert it, it will be because we have chosen to walk a different path, and endure.”

And it’s worth remembering we’re choosing that path on behalf of our kids, their children and grandchildren.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.