Have you ever had a day when you wish you just hadn’t gotten out of bed? When everything that could go wrong, did go wrong? Those kinds of days are bad enough, but when they happen on a day when you’re off site, out of the country and client facing in a room full of training participants and you’re at the head of the class, those are the days that test your ability as a professional.
I was in Auckland, New Zealand, to run a week-long technical training session with clients from a variety of organisations. I turned up to the training venue on Monday morning, a bit bleary eyed because of the terrors of a two hour time difference, which meant that I had landed at midnight local time, and woken up at 4am according to my biorhythms. I was about 45 minutes early to the session because I had to install fresh sample databases on the CRM software I was going to train, and 45 minutes before training was the earliest the training site was willing to open before my classes.
As I was adding my last sample database, in record time, my contact at the training site popped her head in the door and asked me if it was a problem that my normal shipment of training manuals hadn’t arrived. I don’t train directly from text books, because that is generally a superhighway to being a terrible, lecture-style trainer that works more efficiently than sleeping pills. However, I was doing technical training – eight hours of it that day – which meant that I needed those books and their step-by-step technical activities, with helpful screen shots, so that my training participants could complete their guided practice. There was nothing I could do about the missing books – my office wasn’t opening for another two hours.
At this point my site contact, who I swear moonlights as a guardian angel, remembered that I had left some training manuals there on my last visit because I hadn’t wanted to carry them back across to Australia. Furnished with a couple of manuals, I was ready to go. I dashed into the training room and mocked up some quick activities on PowerPoint, and welcomed the first early-birds to the class.
I had been training for about 30 minutes when my software crashed for the first time that day. I assumed it was my fault for not restarting my computer for a few millennia, I rolled my eyes at my own stupidity and got it up and running again. By break time it had shut down unexpectedly twice more, and three other people in the class had had similar problems. I was getting a sinking feeling.
At break time my Guardian Angel appeared – she had received an email from a company that we’d never heard of who were holding my manuals hostage. They claimed that we owed something like $NZ500 in taxes on manuals that cost around $100 to print. To say I was livid would be an understatement. I called the admin assistant in Sydney – possibly one of the most capable people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with – and asked her to check it out because my coffee(less) break was over. I mentioned to my contact that the computers kept kicking people out of our CRM software, and, like a true guardian angel, she said she’d look into it.
By lunchtime there was no solution to the software glitch that was still rampaging, and I still didn’t have my books, but training was running smoothly and my participants were frustrated, but patient, for no other reason than that they were lovely people, we were all enjoying the training and it was helping them to better understand the system. You see despite the problems, we were progressing on schedule. Their questions were being answered and they were giving me feedback that they were learning new skills that would be helpful in their daily roles. As far as they were concerned, my nightmare was simply an annoyance that wasn’t hindering their learning experience.
Halfway through my lunchless lunch I realised that the reason for the computer crash was that I had used the wrong sample database. I had somehow mixed up my USB keys and had installed a completely corrupt database onto everyone’s computers. As I updated a pristine database to the point we were up to in class and then installed it onto everyone’s computer, I took a call from my incredible Admin Assistant.
Like a true Amazon she had called the fraudsters who were holding my manuals hostage, had put the fear of God into them, and they had promised to deliver the books before COB. To this day I have no idea what she said to them, but I have to say that I was ready to bow down to her clearly superior self.
The afternoon was caffeine fuelled; everyone loved the fact that I had messed up by installing the wrong databases – nothing like the ‘expert’ admitting they were human too to instil camaraderie in a group – and admiration for the Manual Liberator, as she was dubbed, was universal. We had all bonded in the face of adversity, and, despite the setbacks, we were running to schedule.
Despite all the things that went wrong that day, the stress and panic-inducing setbacks, that day is not even on my list of bad days because it made me realise that I can get up in front of a room of people without my precious resources, and I can still impart skills and knowledge. That day, more than any other, gave me confidence in my ability as a trainer, and underscored the importance of grace under pressure. I may have been dying inside at the thought of inexplicable glitches in my always-stable software, and my kidnapped books, but outside I got on with the job, maintained my professionalism, and tried twice as hard to ensure my clients got what they needed from the class.
Have you had a day when it was all going wrong? What did you do to combat ‘that sinking feeling’? How did you rise above the impending disaster?