In my previous post, I described how to use the bridging technique to handle a difficult question from a reporter.
Bridging can get you out of most difficult situations. Here are two other effective techniques.
The best labels are catchy titles or phrases that summarize your point. Good labels—the Iron Curtain, the Cold War, the Silent Majority—are hard to refute and easy to recall.
By their very nature, labels are simplistic, but better you simplify things than leave it to the reporter. Think up apt phrases beforehand; do not depend on the creative juices flowing in the pressure of the interview. (As Mark Twain said, “It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.”)
Use your label more than once in the interview, but do not belabor it. Three mentions are usually enough to make the label “stick.”
Questioning the Questioner
If you need time to organize an answer to a difficult question, or if you are concerned about some words or phrases used in the original question, turn the tables and ask the interviewer a question. It could be as simple as:
- “Would you please define that term?”
- “Would you rephrase the question?” or
- “Are you asking me X or Y?”
Use the question to shift the discussion to the issue you want to raise. Do not try to use a question as a weapon.
The late Richard M. Nixon tried that when, during a campaign, he asked a testy Dan Rather if he were running for office. Rather replied: “No, Mr. President. Are you?” Nixon never really recovered in that interview, and people still remember that put-down.
Most people will never need to use these techniques, as the majority of media interviews are civilized affairs. However, should you find yourself facing a hostile reporter, I hope you find these techniques helpful.