by TJ Walker
A good media message answers the most basic, obvious questions that you think will come up when a reporter interviews you on a certain subject. It’s a good idea to have answers to who, what, where, when, why and how, plus other questions you know will be asked. A good 30- to 60-second three-part message will answer these questions without the reporter even having to ask them. By supplying answers easily and quickly to the obvious questions, you are showing the reporter respect while building your own credibility.
BUT . . .
Don’t go overboard. Many executives and politicians with whom I have worked over the years had previously spent hours and hours brainstorming dozens, even hundreds, of complex, hypothetical questions. And yet these same people never had a clear, simple and easy-to-understand basic message on the topic.
Ultimately, you have to realize that there are an unlimited number of questions that can be asked by reporters. As newsmakers, spokespeople and experts, we have ZERO control over the questioning process. We have 100 percent control (ideally) over what comes out of our own mouth. That’s why I believe interviewees should spend 90 percent of their time refining their message and their sound bites, and 10 percent of their time worrying about which questions are going to be asked, instead of the other way around.
I am NOT saying that questions don’t matter and that you should just ignore the questions and say whatever you want. I’m just pointing out that it makes more sense to focus on your role in the process. Your role is to have interesting, quotable answers. It is the reporter’s job to ask the questions. If you do your job of coming up with interesting and newsworthy messages related to the topic at hand, this will make you a media success. If, however, you successfully predict the questions you will be asked, but your answers are reactive, defensive, overly complex or muddled, you will not get any credit from the reporter, readers, viewers or listeners. Worse, you will have failed at your one true objective: getting YOUR message out.
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