New spokespeople often worry about stumbling in a media interview. Rightly so. How many professions are there where your work gets published for thousands to read, see and then make snap judgments about your reputation? At StrategyCorp we’ve lived this as journalists, spokespeople, and communications professionals and the truth is that there are some basic rules for even the most novice spokesperson or communications professional to avoid pitfalls in any media interview. Here are three common things to watch out for in your next interview:
Repeating Negative Language. Journalists will often ask questions that are loaded with negative language: “Isn’t it true that there was a lapse in security at your plant?” The most natural reaction to this sort of question is to repeat the negative language used by the journalist: “No, there was no lapse in security, we’ve got extensive security measures that…” But as soon you repeat the journalist’s negative language, you have given them license to put quotations around those words. As a spokesperson, any words you say are quotable. The solution? Mentally edit your response before you give it, responding with the phrase “On the contrary…”
Filling Silence. It is human nature to fill awkward gaps in conversation. Silence is uncomfortable to many people; and rather than let silence grow, people feel compelled to continue speaking, even when there is nothing more to say. Journalists know this and often use it as a tool to draw out more information from spokespeople. After answering a question, journalists sometimes leave a long pause before asking the next question – when confronted with this, inexperienced spokespeople will rush to fill the silence with unprepared material, rather than letting the key message stand on its own. In these cases, don’t go off message. Ask the journalist if they have any additional questions, and remain in control.
Inventing Answers. A spokesperson does not have to be a subject matter expert on everything related to an organization. Knowing your key messages and the topic of the interview is expected; however, it is not only acceptable, but responsible, for a spokesperson to refer specialist questions to subject matter experts. Speaking without the proper authority or knowledge can lead to trouble, and will often result in relaying unplanned or incorrect information to journalists. Avoiding such mistakes is a primary job of a spokesperson, and remaining on topic and within the bounds of your key messages is an effective means of doing so.