I was recently invited to be interviewed on a great podcast that I listen to a lot. It is a fairly niche show that caters to a very specific audience. I had been sent the questions beforehand so I could prepare.
It was nice to have chance to think about my responses before I was put in the position to answer the questions.
A day or so before the interview I sat down to prepare; I started making notes. Firstly in bullet points, which quickly turned into sentences, which in turn bound together into paragraphs.
Before I knew it I had written a series of short essays. They were pretty good. I had developed some decent points and articulated some ideas that I liked. So I pursued it, practicing my answers out loud and tweaking bits to make them sound more natural when verbalised.
I was happy because I could just read my answers in a way that didn’t sound like I was reading, and I could absolutely nail the interview. For once I knew what I was going to say.
Performance without Thought
I got on the call and the presented started asking the questions. I proceeded to reel off my answers. What I had compeltely failed to account for however was the many more questions that my responses would stimulate. ‘What do you mean by…? I find it interesting you talk about (?) how does that affect you when it comes to (?)?’
It didn’t take long for things to go off piste and for me to find myself flustered and mushy-minded. The rest of the interview moved away from the pre-set questions and I wasn’t prepared at all.
I was prepared for reading; not thinking.
Panic set in, and while I’m sure that actually the spontaneous part sounded fine and was in fact much more natural and interesting to listen to, I felt drowned and disappointed with how it had gone when I got off the call.
And so my over-preparation had actually distracted me from the genuine and more subtle preparation that goes into a situation where you might be required to do some spontaneous thinking. If you’ve ever been in a situation where you CAN prepare and can therefore also OVER-prepare, then you’ll know what I mean.
Outside of our Normal
When we face a test of any kind, be it a job interview, an exam, a presentation/public speaking engagement, a situation where we have to meet new people, there are certain things that we need to do beyond the default response of informational learning and revision to adequately prepare in order to make the most of ourselves in the situation.
There are many things I was never taught at school about preparation. Everything was geared towards written exams in which all you needed to do was regurgitate certain keywords and phrases in the right places.
But true preparation in real life seems to be much more subtle than that. When it comes to social interactions and more unpredictable situations mere knowledge or learning is not going to get us through; and it is certainly not going to take us to the next level.
More than Learning
1. Preparation is a movement of the mind. An extraordinary situation, event, or occasion for which we have something to prepare is going to require us to step out of our comfortable operating zone. It is important to be aware that if we are going to prepare well then there is a conscious shift that takes place from our normal level to a more switched on and responsive position. Making sure this happens at the right time is key: too early and you risk burning out before you get there; too late and your risk over-arousal by an overwhelming flood of adrenaline.
2. Good preparation involves rest and removal from the situation. When I have a gig I like to finish preparation two days before. After my final rehearsal I pack up and get everything ready so that I can just put it in the car when it’s time to go. I make sure I know where I’m going, what time I need to be there, and how the rest of the day of the gig will look. With everything prepared I am able to step away and rest. There is little worse than turning up to a gig having spent the day rehearsing. Burned out, creatively de-hydrated, and just needing to rest.
3. Start with the end in mind. One key to preparation is knowing the objective. What are you trying to acheive? What is your theme/subject? What point are you communicating? With that at the forefront of your mind you have a position to come back to if you get stuck. Knowing your bigger why for doing something gives you a tether from which you can explore the surrounding terrain, and to which you can always return.
4. Know the audience to whom you are speaking. By having an overview of the people you are addressing you know what assumptions you can make and what you might need to define or explain. Do they know you? If not then a part of the preparation is understanding and viewing yourself from a position of no prior knowledge of what you do, no knowledge of your credentials or history. Prepare by knowing HOW you are going to connect on a human level with whoever it is that’s listening.
5. Know how you want to depart the situation. How is this going to end? What are you going to do to make sure you feel comfortable with the outcome? Again, knowing your objective, setting a goal, and making sure you meet it is key to feeling satisfied with how you approached the situation. It’s horrible to finish something and think that you messed it up. All too often that happens simply because you weren’t clear on your objectives so you have no frame of reference by which you can tell yourself a positive story.
These are just a few examples of the more subtle ways we need to prepare for scenarios that are designed to test us. Situations that are paramount if we are to grow and develop; but can also have negative impacts if we under-prepare or over-prepare with the wrong emphasis.