The first thing the average embattled politician or corporate executive does to prepare for a media interview or press conference is to brainstorm with his or her staff to come up with all of the questions reporters might ask. This process might take hours or even days, and it is a complete waste of time!
I’m not saying that questions don’t matter; they do. People think that media consultants like me tell our clients to ignore the questions completely and just stick to the prepared message. However, that’s not the recommended strategy either.
You do want to brainstorm and determine the four or five most obvious questions that will come up during the interview, plus the one or two questions you think would be hardest for you to answer. But here is the reality: you will never know all of the questions that will be asked because you have no control over the interviewer or his or her questions.
What you do have control over are your answers, and you have total control over your basic message. Most people go into an interview without a firm, clear, simple, easy-to-understand message. This is their downfall – not a lack of knowledge regarding the questions.
When you focus so much of your time on possible questions, you are entering into an entirely reactive relationship with the interviewer. You are giving all of the power to the journalist. This is a defensive position.
You want to enter the interview with a well-thought out message that answers the most basic questions that might come up during a discussion of the subject. Then you want to use your answers as a bridge back to your main message.
Too many of my clients obsess over so-called tough questions that could come up. There are no tough questions. For any question there are exactly two answers: either you know the answer and you put it forth simply and articulately, or you don’t know the answer and you say, “I don’t know,” and you then steer the conversation back to relevant information that you do know.
Never tell a reporter, “That’s a good question.” If I am a reporter, I think all of my questions are brilliant. You have now implied that some of my other questions are less than Pulitzer-Prize material – an outrage! Additionally, there is no such thing as a stupid question, an ignorant question or a leading question. Why? Because unless it is live TV or radio, the readers, viewers or listeners never get to hear or see the questions.
However, there is such a thing as a stupid answer, a bad answer or a dumb answer. Your answers will be staring back at you for eternity – so make them good. This is where you should focus exclusively – on your answers.
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