Onboarding is made up of a series of moments of truth – both ways. Just as new employees must fit into the organizations they join, they get to decide how much they care about fitting in. Opinions and relationships are built through a series of interactions.
There will be some whose opinion of Sarah Palin will be influenced for the worse by her describing Paul Revere's midnight ride as a warning to "the British that they weren't going to be taking away our arms, by ringing those bells and by making sure that as he's riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be secure and we were going to be free … and we were going to be armed."
This is not a case of someone ambushed by a surprise question. Palin went to Paul Revere's house on purpose. She wanted to highlight her appreciation for American history. But she wasn't prepared. She didn't do her homework. With that she turned a potentially positive impression into a poor impression.
You won't get all your moments of truth right. That's okay. Just make sure you don't get the ones that really matter really wrong. A couple of suggestions:
1) Figure out what matters most to your stakeholders.
Ask them what's important to them. Ask others what's important to them. No one expects you to know everything about people you're getting to know. They do expect you to care enough to find out.
2) Get your general and specific messages right.
You can't wait until you know everything to craft your message. Start early with a hypothetical general message and evolve it as you go. Then refine that general message for the specific circumstances you face. Prepare. Do your homework. Anticipate the most easily anticipated questions so you know who Paul Revere was trying to warn.
3) Be yourself in the moment.
A big part of why preparation is so important is because it allows you to be yourself in the moment. You don't have to know everything. Doing the work to figure out what matters most to your stakeholders and get your message right for them are signs of respect. You need them to appreciate the work you did as a sign of respect and you want them to respect you for who you are. So let them see it.
What matters most in onboarding are the personal relationships formed