Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Is your speech ready for takeoff? Are you sure?

Lack of attention to details can cause a speech to crash. Checklists are one good way to avoid catastrophes, like forgetting to bring or do something critical beforehand. Checklists are broader than packing lists that only describe what to bring.

Long ago I was a student glider pilot, so I knew that pilots routinely go through a preflight checklist before takeoff. Until I began reading Atul Gawande’s recent book, The Checklist Manifesto, I didn’t know when or how preflight lists began to be used.

Back in 1935 a very experienced Army Air Corps pilot evaluating a Boeing prototype that became the B-17 Flying Fortress bomber stalled and crashed it just after takeoff. The plane burned, and he died. What went wrong?

Investigation revealed he had forgotten a crucial detail - removing the gust lock that prevented the control surfaces from moving while the plane was parked. You can read reviews of Gawande’s book here and here. He learned about checklists from Boeing.

The solution for flying the B-17 was having a written checklist covering what needed to be done before takeoff. Otherwise the pilot might get so wrapped up in getting four engines running smoothly that he skipped another crucial detail.

Many speakers have discussed the use of checklists. Scott Berkun just blogged about one. Last year Fred E. Miller had one, and John Zimmer had one with an addendumIn 2009 Nick Morgan and Denise Graveline posted theirs. Even earlier Tom Antion and Dave Paradi published theirs. There is a Checklist for Checklists that can be used to develop one of your own.

Consumables like batteries for a presentation remote and a laser pointer are important items to check before you head out. Those items and their batteries live in the plastic file box that holds my projector. So does the VGA cable for connecting the laptop, and an extension cord with a three-plug adapter for the projector and laptop. There also is a small piece of 2x4” lumber for tilting the projector upwards. (You can’t depend on finding a handy ashtray anymore!) If I had a Mac laptop rather than a PC, then I also would carry an adapter cable for VGA. Similarly, if I was headed for a historical building (like an old church) I would be sure to carry a 2-prong adapter so I could plug my extension cord into a vintage electrical outlet.   

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