People often ask me: "Betty, how is it that you're able to have a conversation on air about so many different topics? How do you try to know everything about every topic?"
The answer, of course, is you don't. Nobody can know everything about everything. But you can know enough to connect with the person you're speaking with and ask the right questions. There are people and topics you can spend months doing research on--as I did when I first interviewed Warren Buffett. I read countless books on Buffett and value investing, watched nearly all his interview videos from six months back, and read 120-plus pages of articles on him all before our first one-hour sit-down at his office in Omaha. If Buffett threw me any curveballs, I was ready.
But then there are times when you don't have that luxury, such as when you're crashing on deadline before your live television program. You may have 30 minutes or less to prepare for several interviews. That's led me to develop a few techniques over the years that enable me to learn almost everything I can about a topic or person in five minutes or less.
This is useful for a variety of situations beyond a live television interview. Think about it--how often do you need to know something fast about the person interviewing you for a job or a sales client you're about to meet? How do you go from a "know nothing" to a "know everything" quickly? Here are a few of the tricks of the trade.
1. Start with a Google search.
Sounds basic enough, right? You'd be surprised how many people think "research" entails first looking up a person's corporate bio or a company's website. These are typically useless, unless you want to know someone's official title. If you want the real deal, Google the person or company or topics and search under News. Don't go back more than 12 months. Anything older is less relevant. Read the highly cited articles first. Pick lengthier articles--those usually have more contextual information. Longer articles usually present a counterpoint or questions surrounding the topic or person--very critical when you want to get the full story.
2. Speed read.
I don't have any special skill in this, but given the nature of my job, I probably read more than the average person. However, I don't have more hours than the average person, so I've had to figure out a way to speed through articles. Usually the first three or four paragraphs are your most critical--read those. Look out for numbers and names--those are usually important parts of the story and give new details. Skim the first few words of each new paragraph to see if they're critical to the story. Rarely read the last paragraph, unless it's an opinion piece, in which case that's usually the so-called money quote by the writer. People tend to want to end their op-eds with a commanding statement that says it all.
3. Look up social media accounts.
Thank goodness for social media. I learn more about a person through their Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts than a regular old news article. Mark Cuban says more on Twitter than he does in a one-on-one with Re/code. That's because people use these platforms to tell you what interests them. You can use these points to connect and learn. No need to go back too far--the most recent 30 days of tweets or Facebook posts are more than enough to know what's caught the person's fancy.
Now go hit the books!