The following valuable tips can enable you to give intelligent answers to reporters in an interview or media presentation.
Do not repeat the negative words of the reporter
Do not repeat the negative words of the reporter. Use your own words to answer. It does not mean dodging questions. Once somebody puts negative words in front of you and you repeat them, they can now quote you using those negative words. It’s not a misquote; you said it. In this case, you couldn’t complain that you are being quoted out of context. Are you a crook? Don’t answer, “No, I am not a crook.” You can say, “I am proud of the fact that I’ve always conducted my business life ethically and honestly. You answered the question by deducing that you are not a crook, without saying I’m not a crook.” The reporter can then say that you denied being a crook, contrary to how we speak in everyday life. When skimming headlines, people see your name with the word “crooked,” which does not give a good image.
Never lose a debate by not debating.
Don’t debate a reporter about their questions or assumptions or tell them that they’re stupid, wrong, or that you disagree with their assumption. This doesn’t work. You do not want to win a fight with the reporter if it’s a live political TV talk show or radio show. In any edited media interview, do not waste your time correcting the reporter, telling them they’re wrong, unfair, or whining and complaining; it just makes you look immature, and, it doesn’t help you achieve your goal.
Your goal is to get the exact message you want. The word quote you decided in advance into the final story. Your goal is not to win the debate, so don’t quibble with the reporter. Listen and think of the question close to what the reporter said in a positive context and answer that.
Media answers are different from everyday answers
Answering questions in an interview is not like answering questions from your parents, family, friends, teachers, or people you work with.
It’s because of a lack of context of how your words are going to come out at the end because a reporter can interview you for ten minutes an hour, two hours, two days for two years, and only one, three, or four-word phrases is all that gets in the final story. So, your ideas will be pulled out of the context of the whole conversation. It changes every aspect of how you answer questions. So, it’s not enough to have an intelligent, thorough answer. Every part of your answer must stand on its own. It must come out sentence by sentence because if there’s even one sentence, even half of a sentence that can be taken out of context that makes you look wrong, stupid, foolish, ill, informed, insensitive, it’s not a satisfactory answer.
Pick the easiest question
Feeling tense in an interview in front of questions is entirely natural. Tension puts pressure on you, and our brain doesn’t work as effectively, clearly, and quickly as it does when you’re in a completely relaxed situation. Sometimes a reporter will ask you two, three or maybe four questions in a row. Don’t try to act smart and answer the most challenging question first. Instead, listen carefully to all the questions and then strategically pick the one question that’s the easiest for you to get back to one of your message points. Your goal is to get the messages you care about.
Rewrite the question in your mind
When you are asked a challenging, uncomfortable or unpleasant question, you can mentally rewrite the question to make it an easy, simple and positive question. You’ve got to do all of it silently in your brain. It does not mean ignoring or dodging the question. A fair-minded person who heard the question and your answer should feel that you were responsive and didn’t dodge.
For example, if a media trainer is asked a question, wouldn’t you feel guilty and ashamed about teaching people how to lie and spin questions? It sounds harsh, mean and aggressive. Now how should you answer that question? Don’t say I don’t teach people to lie because it sounds like what a professional lying teacher would say. Analyze what this reporter is asking. He is asking, “How do you feel about being in your profession?” Now, this may be the most straightforward question in the world. You can answer it by saying I feel great to be in a profession where I teach leaders how to communicate to the world about the good things their organizations are doing. The beauty of this answer is not that it’s filled with beautiful quotes, and no part of the answer can be edited to make me look negative, defensive and stupid. You did not dodge the question but answered it on your terms.
Don’t hesitate to say, “I don’t know”
If a reporter asks you a question that you cannot answer, simply say you cannot answer and then stop there. Continue with what you know that’s relevant and closer to the message you want to deliver. If you answer incorrectly, and the reporter finds out it is not valid, you’ve misled the reporter, the readers, viewers, and listeners if it gets into the final story and destroys your credibility.
This is the perfect answer if someone throws a hypothetical situation to you about how awful things are. For example, if a reporter asks you why your company sales are declining, doesn’t this mean your company will go through bankruptcy, and your business career will be destroyed? Here, the person is asking about the future. No one knows the future. So, in this case, you are sincere. So, you can start by saying, “I don’t know about that. Every day I come to work, I behave, honestly and ethically, helping clients, which builds my business.” A reporter cannot accuse you of dodging the question. For example, if the reporter says, “Is it your client?” you cannot say I don’t know.
Do not hesitate to say, “I don’t know” when you are unsure about an answer. However, continue with something you find relevant to the question and then connect it to your message. Do not repeat the negative words of the speaker, as it will get quoted with your name. Do not get stuck debating the question; rather, say what you want to convey in a relevant way. If you are asked multiple questions at a time, answer the easiest one first. If the reporter asks you a complicated or challenging question, convert it to a simple positive question in your mind to answer, focusing your ideas.