I will be doing some media interview training for a client, which will include how to handle difficult questions from reporters.
I thought I’d share some of those tips here.
Someone said that being interviewed by the media is like Russian roulette. You never know which question will kill you.
While most interviews are not nearly that dangerous, many reporters like to catch spokespeople off guard and get provocative “sound bites.”
In this environment, you must control your media interviews as much as possible.
That doesn’t mean evading difficult questions. If you evade a question or say “no comment,” people will think you’re guilty. You could also open yourself up to “ambush,” where an interviewer would interrupt you, stick a microphone in front of you and ask embarrassing questions.
In extreme cases like that, your evasiveness could become the story. So learn three basic techniques for dealing with difficult questions: bridging, labeling and questioning.
Bridging enables you to get from where you are to where you want to be in the conversation. Bridging doesn’t evade the question; it restructures it before answering.
To bridge, use a phrase, clause or sentence to move away from the interviewer’s question to a more positive point. Potential bridges include:
- “Let’s consider the larger issue here….”
- “Before I get to that, let me fill you in on this….” or
- “To answer that question, I first need to explain that….”
As you can see, bridging offers different information than would have been included in a straightforward answer to the original question. In the process, bridging often brings up more interesting matters than the reporter initially asked. And often the reporter never gets back to the initial question.
Former Vice President Dan Quayle used this technique to great advantage early in his re-election campaign. A reporter asked him if he and President Bush had discussed whether Qualye should leave the ticket, given his low approval ratings and the relatively high approval ratings of many other Republicans.
Quayle said that he and Bush discussed many things, but that the real issue was Bush’s vision for the country, and went on to discuss the former president’s campaign platform. That simple, straightforward bridge (“We have discussed many things….”) got Quayle back to where he wanted to be.
A note. Once you’ve bridged, volunteer more information than is required. This can encourage the interviewer to go off on your tangent rather than pursue the original line of inquiry.
In my next post, I’ll cover two other techniques: labeling and questioning.