Mastering Future Questions
Practicing So You Can Be Prepared
Years ago in high school, we had a mock debate in one of my history classes. On one side was the team in favor of universal public education. On the other side was the group against universal public education. The goal was to set ourselves back in time and argue from the perspective of those who were grappling with the issues early in American history.
I was on the pro-public education side. It seemed like a slam dunk, since arguing in favor of public education in the setting of a public education institution in a country filled with public education seems easy enough.
But being an over-achiever, I wasn’t satisfied with an easy win. So I listed out all the arguments against public education I could think of and find. I also wrote all the potential questions that we could be asked in order to address issues from all sides and ensure that our position not only was the strongest, but there were no surprises and we had an answer for every argument or question.
Having done so much preparation and research, I remember as a high-schooler being shocked (shocked!) that the other side didn’t argue even a fraction of the counterarguments that I had come up with.
But with the amount of preparation we put in, we handily won the debate in our history class, which ultimately amounted to an immense feeling of pride and a useful anecdote for a future newsletter.
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Answering Future Questions
In a recent podcast, Brenden from MasterTalk and I explored this idea—preparing for future questions—along with many others. Check out the full episode below:
One of Brenden’s “easy three” tips for becoming a better communicator is practicing a question each day. To do this, you simply pick a question you want to be able to answer and spend five minutes practicing your answer. If you do this each day, in a year you’d have 365 answers to questions ready to go.
We can use this idea to prepare for various meetings, such as our product meetings. Ask yourself, what are the questions you expect to get in your product meetings?
They may involve questions about your product, your customers, your metrics, or ongoing work. Write them out. And then research and practice the answers to them.
This was a strategy I used in an early role I had. We used to get grilled on our product roadmaps by executives. All the product managers would watch as, one-by-one, we’d sit in the hot seat and get peppered with questions from around the room. Most were incredibly difficult to answer and left everyone stuttering or guessing.
I quickly realized that I didn’t want to be in that type of situation, so I began listing out every potential question someone might have about my products. If I didn’t have an answer, I researched it or noted where I could find it. If I did have an answer, I began practicing my responses.
These meetings went from incredibly high stress for me, to opportunities to practice my communication and public speaking skills. I went from feelings of absolute dread to much more confidence.
Another area we discussed in the podcast above is interviews.
I use this approach for interviews as well. I have a running list of questions that come up frequently as well as questions that come up in interviews that catch me off-guard. I then rehearse these questions so that I am prepared with answers and stories for all of these questions and practice them periodically.
If you look at any advice on interviewing, it will tell you to be ready for the questions you know you’ll get. You should definitely practice those questions and get comfortable answering the questions that will always come up.
But it can be difficult and stressful to get questions that you’re not prepared for. So prepare for them! Don’t get caught by surprise. Don’t wait until you’re actively interviewing to prepare responses and practice. Start practicing now so you’re ready when opportunities arise.
The final area we discussed is podcasts. Not everyone does podcast interview, but it is still relevant and a useful skill to discuss because much like meetings or job interviews, we could expand this to other facets of life like casual conversations.
For those of us who do podcast interviews, or simply have lots of conversations with various people, being able to answer a wide range of questions thoughtfully and concisely is a very useful skill.
Often you will even need to reframe the question or shift it as well. Just because an interviewer asks you one question, that doesn’t mean you have to limit your answer to that when you may have a better way to answer it or frame it based on your experience. This takes practice. So reviewing questions and practicing answers to them is useful for podcasts, but also for general conversation.
The more thought we put in ahead of time, the more thoughtful and prepared we can be. I’ve long been of the opinion that no one is great at “thinking on their feet” as we like to say. Rather, some people have simply put more thought in ahead of time and can draw on that preparation more than others.
So put in the preparation now.