As a college professor I try to make classes as interesting as possible. One of the ways I do that is by having students deliver current events each class period.
Students are very responsive to this and animated conversations often arise in response to their presentations. I learn just as much as they and often I am hearing new information at the same time they are. Yet, as a professor, many students are under the impression that I am already aware of what's being covered. So if the student presenting can't answer a question about her current event, suddenly 20+ eyes will dart in my direction looking for closure.
I learned early on to never act as a know-it-all, so I when I am not sure I deflect the queries to the class in an attempt to have the 'hive' answer the question. This often works more times than I am let down.
But if that doesn't pan out, there are a few things working in my favor to help me field questions with little trouble. First, by the second day of the week or second class of the day many of the current events that students present have already been covered by a student in one of my other classes. I have already been made aware of the news and have had a discussion with another class.
Second, I prepare for questions hours, days and sometimes months ahead in anticipation of what will be asked. I use anticipatory communication, which is the process of identifying areas of interest an individual or group will be interested in discussing and preparing responses based upon those expected interests. Anticipating future communication allows me to create a base of knowledge that I don't have to 'travel' far from to answer questions.
Now, there are some subjects that students bring up that are so obscure or on the fringe that they are not worth preparing for and a simple "I don't know" or "that's interesting" from me will suffice. Yet, there are some subjects that are such popular news items that to be unaware of the particulars would almost be irresponsible. So I dutifully stay abreast of mass communication and educational issues, politics, tech and science breakthroughs, sports and pop culture. Every morning I go online and check my emails for breaking news and then read various news outlets from my locale to others across the globe. If there are points that give me trouble in an article, I will practice explaining them a few times until I understand them. This routine allows me to respond intelligently to most queries by students.
However, there are some news topics that require a deeper level of understanding, knowledge that can't be learned or understood by reading a few news articles. This is where anticipatory communication really comes into play. With those topics I will use academic journals, books, lectures, podcasts, magazines and watch videos on the subjects so I will feel comfortable enough to speak knowledgeably to my classes.
Anticipatory communication skills work great for my professional life but they also help me out and even save me in social situations. As many reading this know, this summer was filled with increased debate about the Debt Ceiling. As I do not teach during the summer, I reduce the number of current events I follow. So, I had been following the headlines and reading articles discussing the Debt Ceiling, yet, I had no in-depth knowledge of the subject.
As classes neared I told my wife that I better start brushing up on all the important issues. Since the 'debt talk' was taking up so much media attention, I decided I would spend the next day learning as much about the Debt Ceiling debate as I could. I had a cram session the next day reading about the Debt Ceiling from all different angles, learning the positions, what was at stake, who the players were and how it would affect the American public. I figured I was well on my way to understanding the issue and by the time classes began I would be 'good to go' on that and a number of other concerns.
I didn't have to wait that long. The very next day, in the locker room of my Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Academy of all places, one of my grappling buddies asked, "Bakari, do you follow politics?" I answered warily, "I do, a little bit." What he said next made me feel like I was in a scene from a movie. He asked, "What do you feel about this Debt Ceiling Debate?"
Fresh off an entire day's study of the Debt Ceiling I spoke as if I was Fareed Zakaria on Global Public Square (GPS). It was one of those moments of serendipity that only comes about through previous preparation.
I felt like Derek Luke's character, in the movie Antwone Fisher, when he practiced with his psychologist what he would say on his date in case she asked certain questions. On the real date when he realized he answered a similar question with what he came up with his psychologist, he giggled aloud.
I didn't giggle out loud, but I felt just as pleased. I usually know what I am going to use anticipatory communication for so it was pleasing to be able to use it when least expected.
We use anticipatory communication skills all the time without knowing it. When people watch the latest episode of a show they barely like so they won't be left out of a conversation with friends or when a person watches ESPN religiously so they can be up on the latest, they are anticipating future communication with others.
But how many of us consciously use anticipatory communication for our careers, aspirations and more importantly our close ties and family relationships? I contend that once a person understands the value of anticipatory communication they will realize it can help establish connections, increase their expert status and help them maintain harmonious personal relationships.
Bakari Akil is the author of Pop Psychology: The Psychology of Pop Culture and Everyday Life
and Psychology from all Angles: Interesting, Entertaining and Weird Stories
. You can also check out what he is up to on his Twitter page
He is also the author of M.U.S.C.L.E.-The Cheatin' Security Guard