What You Say When You Are Asked A Tough Question During A Media Interview
By Gene Griessman,Ph.D.
If you want to know what to do, and what not to do, in a media interview, be sure to watch the HBO movie “Game Change.”
I’m a member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and just attended the premier of “Game Change,” a movie based on the best-seller about the McCain-Palin campaign, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin.
First, a brief review of the movie. I haven’t seen all the entrees for the Emmys, of course, but I can say that this particular movie has Emmy-nomination written all over it. The adaptation of the book by Danny Strong is impressive. The acting by the supporting actors is terrific. And it’s a pleasure to watch the performance of the major characters–Woody Harrelson as Steve Schmidt (the presidential campaign senior strategist), Ed Harris as Senator John McCain, and Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin. Julianne Moore, for example, doesn’t just play the role of Sarah Palin. Moore becomes Palin, which is the highest compliment that can be paid an actor.
Now, here are three lessons for your media interview:
One. Anticipate the questions that you will be asked, and be ready for those questions with crisp, on-target responses.
Two. Be prepared to pivot when you have given your crisp response. Don’t conclude with off-the-cuff remarks. That’s when you can get into trouble. There are famous instances of politicians stepping on land mines when they did that. Two come to mind: Jimmy Carter’s infamous remark about “lusting after women in his hear,” and more recently Mitt Romney’s gaff “I have great some great friends who are NASCAR team owners” when Romney was trying to connect with common people at NASCAR.
You must pivot to something that you can discuss with confidence. But you must pivot in a manner that does not seem evasive. I have been on both ends of the camera, and I can tell you that interviewers hate it if you give an answer that has nothing to do with the question that you were asked.
Give a direct answer to their question, then pivot by using a power phrase. Here are two excellent pivot power phrases from Marilynn T. Mobley’s book “The Scoop on Media Interviews.” Mobley recommends that you say, “Let me put this in perspective,” or “That’s a good point, and I think you will be interested in knowing…”
(When this advice was first posted, we revived a response from Tom Maddocks who recommended a bridging statement that I like a lot: “what’s really interesting is…“)
Three. You must feel good about yourself before the interview begins. Palin performed disastrously when she sensed fear in the eyes of her advisers. Exclude negative people if you can, and include people who believe you are great–people who celebrate you. If you read fear in the other person’s eyes, it will affect you. But if you see in their eyes that he/she admires you and thinks you’re a winner, that will have a profound impact on how you think about yourself– and how you perform. It’s the principle of the looking-glass self that sociologists talk about.
There’s a lot more to learn from “Game Change” than these three lessons. It will be a pleasant way for you to learn valuable communication skills. And I will have more to say about these lessons in future posts on Howtosayitright.com.
-Gene Griessman is an internationally known keynote speaker, actor, and consultant. His video “Lincoln on Communication” is owned by thousands of corporations, libraries, and government organizations. He has spoken at conventions all over the world. To learn more about his presentations, contact us at 404-435-2225 or [email protected] Learn more about Gene Griessman at presidentlincoln.com and atlantaspeakersbureau.com
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Why is it lately that the major topic of the 2012 Election is contraception? Don’t the Republican’s know that women vote too?
The film movie is worth it to view. the movie is so cool. It’s a strangely paced flick and suffers at times from incredibly long exposition and poorly contrived story lines that seem to be added to no doubt develop the storyline rather than the movie story that I wanted to see.
I agree with you on the movie – the first half hour of it was great, actually. tailed off a bit towards end but still a way better film than it should have been
We always teach our media training clients about how to pivot, or bridge to the point you want to make. However if you make it too obvious, the interviewer will spot immediately that you are being evasive. A phrase like ‘let me put this into perspective’ is just like a red flag to say ‘I’m about to change the subject’. I would instead use bridging phrases like ‘what’s really interesting is…’ or ‘but you have to remember also that..’
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