When people are asking us questions — during an interview, sales pitch, presentation, or anything else — there are lots of ways to think about and prepare for those questions. Let’s think about this on several levels.
The lowest, and worst level, is when we don’t think about the Q&A at all. We don’t anticipate what the questions might be. We don’t prepare at all. We simply think about what we want to say at the audience, but don’t spend any time or effort preparing for what the communication might be in the other direction, from the audience towards us. People who prepare this way, by not preparing nearly enough, are almost guaranteed to lose control of the meeting or interview during the Q&A. This is far from a best practice… this is, in fact, a worst practice.
The next level up is when we do in fact think about the Q&A, and all the opportunities it will present for us to reinforce our message. If they ask us about pricing, let’s remind them of how much of a discount we are already giving off our normal price, and how many years in a row we held their price steady without an increase. When we prepare this way, we are taking our message prep to an entirely different level. We are thinking about not only what we will say, but how we will reinforce our message, and how we will redirect the questions back towards the things that help us the most. We are also factoring in some level of audience prep alongside our message prep. If we prepare in this way, we are doing really well. Nice job.
The highest level of Q&A mindset, however, is when we take this whole thing a big step further, and not only prepare for what the questions might be, and how we can reinforce our message. But, in addition to that, we use the questions that are posed to us to think about what those questions tell us about the audience and what they are about the most. The vast majority of people ask questions that are entirely transparent, and are a large window into what they care about the most.
If there are a number questions about how busy you are with your other clients, you know they might be worried about whether you have the capacity to fulfill your commitments.
Or if they ask you about who your other clients are, they might be worried about your credibility and experience.
Or in the interview you have for that manager job, if there are questions about how you would manage conflict over roles and responsibilities, chances are pretty high the company recently had an issue in this area.
We could go on and on and on with more examples. Now, some people hide their true intentions better than others. (And those are the people you don’t want to play poker with…) But most people go into a meeting or negotiation or an interview with a certain something they are looking for or solving for. And their questions almost always will give you a big window directly into what is most important to them.
This all means that we have to both prepare as much as possible ahead of time for what the questions might be, but also listen closely in the meeting or interview to see if we can pick up the trend.
The bottom line here is that true preparation is about more than just thinking through what we want to say. We also need to be thinking about what we might hear and be asked. Think about how you will respond, AND how the questions you hear can give a crystal clear picture into what really matters to the person you are speaking to.
Good luck, have a great day, and stay healthy and safe.
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– Take too long to make decision?
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– Make things too complicated?
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