Posted on: 30/11/2017
We watch and listen to top executives on TV and radio defending their company’s reputation when things go badly wrong, but have we ever thought how we might handle this level of aggression should we ever find ourselves sitting in that terrifying hot seat?
Here, Sandy – a crisis management specialist – gives us her top ten tips for handling those tricky media interviews …
1. Preparation, preparation, preparation: often these things happen VERY quickly so you might not have an awful lot of time to prepare yourself but as a minimum:
• Gain an understanding of the programme/s you’re appearing on – try iplayer/podcasts etc and if this isn’t possible ask friends/family if anyone has seen/heard what the style is/tips
• Get a good understanding of the venue and parking and directions from the car park – there’s nothing worse than already being nervous and then not being able to find anywhere to park or being completely lost and rushing in late and perspiring!
Ask questions of the person who calls to set up the interview: for some reason (especially when people feel on the ‘back foot’ having possibly done something wrong) people don’t think they can ask questions of a researcher or journalist. You can! And you must!
• Who will be interviewing you? Ask if you can speak to them to find out what line they’ll be taking, if it’s not them who calls. Then try to listen to previous interviews the journalist has conducted so you get a feel for their style
• Either way, find out what line they’ll be taking (so you can prepare for this line of questioning)
• Will anyone else be interviewed/in the studio? Who? (so you can research them too and not be blindsided)
• Will it be live or recorded? (so you can prepare yourself and know not to ask to repeat an answer if it’s live, as per John Prescott!)
• How long is the interview likely to be (so you can prepare to make sure you get your message across)
In the interview…
2. Do one thing well: have ONE key message you want to get across and repeat this several times in different ways, any opportunity you get (do NOT go in with ten ‘key’ messages – you’ll fail before you start)
3. Keep an eye on the clock: if you feel you’re running out of time find ANY way to get your ONE key message in – remember this is YOUR interview not the journalist’s and you are NOT just there to answer their questions. A technique I teach in my media training workshops is ‘ABC’ (Acknowledge, Bridge, Comment)… the journalist asks a question and you Acknowledge it, Bridge across to what YOU want to say then Comment eg: “That’s a good question and I’ll come back to it but what your listeners really need to know is …”
4. Use plain English: it’s not what you say but how you say it. Don’t use industry jargon, acronyms or tech talk. Picture your Great Aunt Hilda sitting at home listening to the radio programme you’re on and talk to her
5. Don’t take it personally: the journalist doesn’t hate you – he’s just doing his job and asking the questions he thinks his audience will want answers to. So talk to THEM, not him and keep it polite and calm
6. Don’t fudge: if you don’t know the answer to a question, say so. As many times as you need to. Do not be bullied into fudging and being led down a cul de sac
7. Think before you speak: don’t rush into an answer. Better to be thoughtful and get it right. However, remember: a long silence on radio can sound like an eternity and will suggest you have been wrong-footed
8. Don’t ramble: give clear, concise and decisive answers and then stop talking
9. Be compassionate: appropriate to the seriousness of what you’re being questioned about, use the language of compassion. Be sympathetic and empathetic throughout. Remember, you might be talking about a person’s life or lost job etc
10. Tell the truth: better the ‘quick bleed’ than allowing the facts to come out later after massaging the truth
About the Author – Sandy Lindsay MBE
Sandy was honoured in the Queen’s birthday list for services to business and young people and named the IoD’s NW Director of the Year (and Highly Commended nationally.) Sandy chairs communications consultancy, Tangerine, the social media apprenticeship, The Juice Academy, and Skills groups for the NW IoD and the North West Business Leadership Team.