You can conduct business from the sleekest office and develop groundbreaking ideas each day, but if you can’t speak intelligently about your industry or startup, your company likely won’t get the respect it deserves.
Like politicians, entrepreneurs should be ready to answer a variety of questions. Learning to speak with just about anyone in an informed, confident manner contributes to the credibility of your business and suggests that you’re an industry leader.
Have answers ready for the following five questions, and you’re likely to impress the people you’re talking to:
1. What are your thoughts on [this recent news item]?
If you’re an entrepreneur who hopes to disrupt your industry, staying current is vital. Magazines and websites specific to your industry are great starting points, but general news is also important. You’ll be better positioned to meet the needs of your customers if you’re aware of the general events and trends that affect them.
Consider browsing the headlines of major newspapers, such as The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, every day. Their content could help fuel conversations at events, meetings or the office. You don’t necessarily have to be an expert in every subject conceivable but you need a pocketful of news items you can relate to and discuss in conversational settings.
Related: 6 Ways to Improve Your Conversations
2. What’s happening with [this company]?
Becoming an expert on your competitors demonstrates that you’re always monitoring your industry for its next big development. Knowing how to defend or promote your own business in relation to your competition is also critical to surviving the startup world. Try using an RSS feed, which can comb industry-specific Internet resources for keywords that you select. It can also help you be intelligently engaged in conversations about your industry.
3. Where do you see your industry in 5-10 years?
If you want your customers to trust and respect you as an authority in your industry, it’s important to show that you have the foresight to predict its progress. If you believe that your industry is growing, consider conducting research to accurately gage its growth rate and pinpoint the factors that will determine its trajectory.
Networking with other professionals is great for collecting information on where your industry might be headed. Whether through email, over coffee or while attending conferences and webinars, keeping in touch with your peers can ensure access to personal insights you might not find in mainstream media.
4. How do you innovate?
If you can tell stories about how your company arrives at its greatest ideas, buzz may begin to grow around your startup. This doesn’t mean that you have to divulge proprietary processes. Instead, share the stories behind your innovations. Think about 3M’s story of how the Post-it was invented. A scientist was trying to develop a better glue when he realized that the adhesive he’d developed was able to be stuck and re-stuck multiple times. This story doesn’t reveal any part of 3M’s secret recipe behind the glue but it captures your imagination about the invention process.
5. How was your company started?
Questions such as this are welcome. They show that people want to learn more about what powers your company. People are inherently curious and want to know what you do and how you’ve done it.
Be ready with two or three stories. For example, explain how you redesigned your website and made the decisions regarding the layout and copywriting, or share how your company logo and name were designed. Hewlett-Packard, like many other tech companies, has a story that borders on mythical, one that begins in a garage with two guys tinkering over electronics. Think about your origin story and how it should be told.
Staying informed in your industry oftentimes involves more than knowing about the latest technologies and business practices that directly affect your daily operations. Being an informed business leader also means being aware of the happenings in the world around you and seeing how the world may evolve in the future. Remember, if you’re not ready with an answer, others may make one up for you.