Being interviewed the media can be challenging, but it also provides a platform and opportunity to communicate your message to the public. There are Four Interview Traps to Avoid, however, especially in an evolving “incident” or “crisis.
Saying “No Comment” — No surprise here. Just about every media training program warns against uttering the words “No comment.” But it is a source of constant amazement how many people say these very words when hit with a media question they don’t want to, or cannot, respond to. “No Comment” translates into “Gulity as Charged” by readers, listeners and viewers. That doesn’t mean, of course, that you have to tell everyone everything just because a reporter asks a question. Just don’t say “No comment.” Instead, explain why you cannot address the question specifically and provide something. For example, if you cannot comment on an issue in specific, speak to it generally.
“I can’t speak to the specifics, but here’s what I can tell you…”
This may not satisfy a reporter completely, but it acknowledges the legitimate interest of the reporter and public, and conveys a spirit of cooperation. They don’t get everything they sought, but they get something. And if you can, tell them why you can’t comment specifically. They may not like it, but they may at least appreciate your reasoning.
Speculation — Speculation should be avoided at all cost. Reporters may ask you to speculate on a situation, especially in a breaking news event when information may be scarce and slow in coming. Further, if you are conducting a news conference, state up front that you will not speculate and that your objective is to provide as much hard, confirmed information as you can. That may forestall requests to speculate. At the least, it gets you on record as focused on facts as you know them.
Responding to Hypotheticals — A close cousin of speculation, responding to a hypothetical rarely results in a good end. It can drag you into a discussion of something that does not even exist in reality and which has dubious relevance to the situation at hand. Simply decline to respond to hypotheticals and move on to the next question.
Accepting a False Premise — The last interview trap to avoid is a little harder to recognize: accepting (much less responding to) a premise you don’t accept or agree with. Often a question will be wrapped into a premise stated by the questioner. Yet many people blindly launch into a response that serves no positive purpose. What to do when faced with this situation? Simply state “I don’t agree with the premise of your question. The real issue is…” Doing otherwise can lead to a situation where you are compelled to defend yourself against a premise that is spurious to begin with.
So there you have them: Four Interview Traps to Avoid. Being aware of them, and anticipating how you will segue out of and away from them will help you come across as confident but not confrontational, and cooperative without being excessively conciliatory.
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