The next time you are confronted with a press interview that could go wrong, follow these simple steps to deliver the right message
August 22, 2018 4 min read
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If you’ve ever been confronted with a “gotcha” question during a press interview — the kind of question that makes you scratch your head, sweat or squirm in your chair — you know what it feels like to be in the hot seat. How you handle and respond to questions during a press interview will ultimately have a significant impact on the outcome of the story.
Of course there are a number of topics that could make for a challenging press interview. If your company has been caught up in a scandal or there are rumors of wrongdoing, you’ll likely get more than one uncomfortable question. If your business is not performing well, you should expect a question about how you’re going turn things around. If your business is suffering from frequent employee turnover and the news is spreading on social media about a poor company culture, you should anticipate a reporter wanting to dig further. These are exactly the kinds of difficult questions a reporter should and will ask.
A gotcha question on the other hand will make you feel like you’re in no-win situation no matter what you say. A gotcha question will catch you off guard, trip you up or trap you with a hypothetical scenario that could ignite the rumor mill. It’s important to remain calm if you get asked these types of questions. Don’t get provoked into saying something you’ll regret later.
Here are some tips on how to prepare for your next press interview and handle any challenging questions that may come your way.
Do your homework on the reporter before the interview.
The reporter is going to do her research on you and your company. You should do the same on the reporter and the publication. Read up on the reporter’s background and, most importantly, read her past articles. You will be able to pick up on her tone, style and the types of questions she likes to ask, and you may learn that she has covered your company or your competitors in the past. If possible, ask as many questions in advance of the interview to learn more about the reporter’s angle and ascertain what direction the article may take.
Prepare your key messages.
Stick to the three or four messages you want to get across in the interview. These are the key takeaways you want the audience to remember. Regardless of the question you are asked, always reinforce these key messages in your responses. If you need to redirect the conversation at any point, use verbal bridges (“The important thing to remember is …”) to steer the interview back into comfortable territory.
Don’t take the bait.
If a reporter makes a statement or asks you a question that you cannot verify — perhaps he spoke with an unhappy customer — tell him you’ll need to know more about the situation and you’ll follow up with him after the interview. It’s also acceptable to remind the reporter what your interview is about, “We’re here to discuss XYZ, and what I can say about that is …” Get all the facts before you comment and remember, “no comment” is still a comment.
Don’t repeat negative language.
It’s natural to repeat part of a question when you answer it. But, if you do that with a question that includes negative language during a press interview, it could turn into a negative headline. When you hear a negative phrase, say something positive about how you are addressing the situation.
Check the news of the day before the interview.
Make sure you’re up-to-date on the news of the day, especially as it relates to your industry. If you’re being interviewed on a day when there’s breaking news in your sector, you will likely be asked to comment on it. Come up with a strategy for how you want to position your company in relation to breaking news.
At the end of the day, a reporter wants to write a story that is newsworthy and interesting. There are always ups, downs and pivots in business, and the information you’re willing to share about the journey is what makes for a great story. However, there is always a chance you could walk into a gotcha moment. Don’t be defensive. Treat it as an opportunity to tell your story and demonstrate what your company does best.