Early in my career, I learned it’s crucial to do more than  ask the right questions.  We also need to ask the right people in the right way. There is no pre-determined list of the right people. They share only one characteristic: they truly will answer, or at least help answer your questions.

I was doing some research for an energy company interested in getting a better handle on whether federal government programs designed to reduce VMT (vehicle miles traveled) actually would work, at least in the relatively near term. Instead of going to the policymakers on the top floors, I went to the basement and asked the people actually implementing the programs. We’ll just say I got some candid assessments about the initial implementation challenges. There was a big difference between what should happen and what would happen.

Homework Before Questions

“Experts prefer
interesting and
challenging
interviews
progress"

I also learned how important it is to do a lot of homework before asking questions. That’s why Compelling Meetings does so much secondary research before it begins interviewing potential speakers, panelists, collaboration partners, sponsors and others.  Experts talk more when the questions are interesting and challenging. They talk more when they realize how much you respect them and their time because you’ve already learned at least the basics. Conversations are more productive than lists of questions, but discussion comes more easily if your experts feel they are talking to someone who’s really prepared.

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