Was That Question Really Such a Surprise?

Last week on a local New York sports radio program, Jets Cornerback Darrelle Revis and his public relations representative abruptly ended a phone interview because the conversation became heated.  This incident was reminiscent of former US Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell walking off the set of Piers Morgan because she was unhappy with the line of questioning. And in April, RIM co-CEO ended an interview with BBC because of a line of questioning around Blackberry’s security issues in the Middle East.

Google the phrase “abruptly ended interview” and you will see over 2.7 million results. I didn’t check each story but a scan of pages reveals that politicians, professional sports players, reality stars and actors do it. But business executives do it too.

When an interview is ended prematurely, the interview itself becomes the story, not the content that the person being interviewed originally intended to deliver.  Of course, this is never ideal for either the interviewer or the interviewee.  The only resulting benefit appears to be providing fodder for those who wish to slam the individual who just ended that interview.

Agreeing to a media appearance means that you have made the decision to take the time out of your day to share something with the public.  Abruptly ending that interview tells the world that you appear to be hiding something.  Or, that you simply did not put in the necessary time and effort to prepare for the interview.

There are some basic rules that govern every media interview.   Agreeing to be interviewed gives the journalist the understanding that you will, at the very least, acknowledge their questions and will sit through the entire conversation.   As the person being interviewed, you should presume that you will be asked questions that you do not want to answer.   Just because you do not prepare for the tough questions, does not mean that you will not be asked the tough questions.

So what do you do?

Before every press interview, you must first anticipate what the questions will be.  That information is generally not gleaned from asking the reporter in advance what the questions will be.  You will get that information by looking at what others are saying about you, your firm or your industry.  Also consider topics that you have discussed both privately and publicly which may be considered fair game.  Know what the sensitive issues are and develop and rehearse the appropriate responses.

Understand that you do not have to respond to every question the precise way the journalist wants you to, but you should show enough respect to the audience and the reporter and have an answer that you are comfortable with, then address the question and move on.

In order to have a successful media interview, it’s important to know what the difficult issues are, develop the right messaging and responses to provide accurate information. In some cases, you may simply not be able to respond for legal, privacy or regulatory reasons. When that is the case, simply say that you cannot, or are not in a position to, answer a question because of legal, privacy or regulatory reasons.

Press interviews are not always going to be perfect for either the reporter or you. But the right preparation will improve your chances.

Melissa F Daly is the founder of MFD Communications LLC, a New York based media training and consulting firm. MFD Communications offers an approach to media and presentation training that is custom tailored to each individual and format that will be most useful. Melissa started the firm to help those who don't want an off-the-shelf approach. With 15 years of experience preparing executives to present to external and internal audiences, handle press interviews or prepare for critical business pitches, Melissa understands that a customized and personalized approach is the most effective and rewarding.  For more information, please visit: keymessagedevelopment.com.