When you are in an interview, avoid repeating any negative words or assumptions used by the reporter. The reporter gets to use any words he or she wants when asking questions, and you get to use any words you want when answering questions. Don’t let a reporter or a talk-show host choose your words for you. When former President Nixon said, “I am not a crook,” the only thing he accomplished was giving people the impression that he was a crook.
Your goal is to communicate positive message points about yourself, your company or your organization. The moment you repeat negative words or assumptions during an interview, you give reporters the opportunity to accurately quote you saying negative things.
Example: Reporter to TJ, “Mr. Walker, isn’t it true that you always teach people to lie, obfuscate and dissemble when talking to reporters?”
Walker to reporter, “Of course, I don’t always teach people to lie and obfuscate. We at Media Training Worldwide teach executives and spokespeople to communicate positive messages about themselves while answering reporters’ questions. We teach people how to understand the goals and tactics of reporters in order to communicate messages in a graceful manner. At the same time, we teach (blah, blah, blah for another 10 minutes on how great we are) . . .”
Guess what the only quote will be from me in tomorrow’s newspaper? TJ Walker, president of Media Training Worldwide, confessed, “I don’t always teach people to lie and obfuscate.” End of quote and there will be no other quotes from me. Can I complain about being quoted out of context? Sure, but so what?
Nobody cares. The reporter quoted me accurately; I have nobody to blame but myself.
In a normal conversation with a friend, family member or colleague, it is quite effective to repeat the negatives in a question; this shows the person with whom you are talking that you are listening and respecting his or her concerns. For example, “Yes, son, I understand that you feel that your mother and I are too strict, and it is horribly unfair that we won’t let you stay out until 3 a.m., but . . .” This conversational style is appropriate with family, but it would be disastrous if you used this technique with the media.
Normal, intelligent, rational, logical people feel the need to rebut false premises before bridging to positive message points. In the business world, this works. Don’t do this with the media! Do not rebut premises. Do not restate negatives. Do not say what isn’t true. Instead, say what IS true, what IS positive, what IS important to you. Then nobody will think you are a crook.
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