I recently I took part in the London Adidas City Run. Along with my close friend, Gis, we ran for 60 non-stop minutes around a marked-out circuit by St Paul’s Cathedral, London. This was a culmination of ten month’s training that began with the couch-to-5k programme which helped us develop from two slow moving middle aged men into two fit slow moving middle aged men that can run 7.25 km in an hour.
When in 1970 we were forced during PE lessons to take part in our school’s weekly road-run, we habitually finished in positions 28 and 29 out of 30 boys. We couldn’t run and hated the pain, the humiliation and the bullying PE teachers (in those days the sports teachers were barely qualified to do anything other than wear tracksuits and go bald in their twenties).
By contrast, The Adidas City Run was a fantastic triumph. The feel-good factor kicked in after 40 minutes and I completed the last third of the event with a smile on my face and a literal spring in my step. I felt as though I was in a great new place and fuelled by the optimism of finding an activity I can potentially do until my legs give up I grinned my way to the finishing line.
Three days later I delivered a training session. It was miserable. Regular readers will know that I have been training people at work for many years and I can predict within minutes of starting a session how it’s going to turn out. I arrived on time but the company I was doing it for had not arranged for an up to date Laptop and my memory stick just wouldn’t load properly. By the time it was working the delegates had already settled down and I knew that all they had seen of me was my back. I was immediately on the defensive because normally I like to greet the delegates as they file in because the mutual smiling and eye contact has an immediate atmosphere warming effect.
Eventually the computer worked. I was able to deliver and perform to a good level for a full 16 minutes and 14 seconds, at which point when an embedded video begins, it failed. The screen froze while the projector spewed out white hot light. The only way I could show the video to the delegates was to invite them to gather around the laptop. I attempted to paint the moment as cosy but it was painfully obvious that of the 8 people, 3 of them, possibly because they were from ‘management’, were uncomfortable with rubbing shoulders with the hoi polloi (their thoughts, not mine).
The mechanics of the event were pathetic. The company had organised it poorly and annoyingly this reflected badly on me and affected my performance. I stuttered and stumbled and at one point even forgot a definition I have been explaining for 12 years. What was worse was that this was my own material! The responses from the group were at a low level throughout and to a trainer this is dreadful because whatever the underlying reasons, it means I was not engaging with them and this was my fault. I can usually break through barriers but sometimes the frustration gets a grip and once my mood drops it’s hard to ‘keep the dressing room’.
In the past I have dealt with technology failure by delivering ‘naked’. The results can be much better and the learners, by having no choice but to focus on me rather than a screen, usually respond better. I wish I had thrown the laptop away and done the brave thing on this occasion but I was aware that I was rusty and opted to hold onto the crutch that calls itself Power Point.
The lesson from the week?
My running has grown better and better with practice and attention to detail. By contrast, my training session was below standard because I had not rehearsed it enough and when the little glitches came along, I allowed them to derail me. It’s all very obvious, but sometimes one needs a reminder and this is it.