A news story is often shaped by how the interview subjects answer the questions they’re asked. For leaders being interviewed on behalf of their organizations, there is an art to giving responses that will both deliver the organization’s key messages and have the best chance of making it into news stories.
This is an art that requires a great deal of practice, which begins with a firm understanding of the following top four tips for media interviews:
1. Give short answers
In print and broadcast media, quotes are reported in “sound bites” – short clips or written quotes. The average quote in a print or online story is one or two sentences, and the average sound bite for a TV news segment is seven seconds or less. This means you have very limited time to get your message across, and every word counts.
When you keep your answers short, you better stick to your main points and decrease the likelihood of your quote being taken out of context because it’s easier for the journalist to take accurate notes. It also allows more give-and-take with the reporter, giving him or her the space to ask better follow-up questions.
2. Use positive language
Always use positive language when responding to reporters’ questions. If the reporter asks a negative question, don’t repeat the question back in your answer. Instead, frame your response using positive language and work in your key messages as appropriate.
3. You don’t have to answer a question
A news interview is not a deposition; if you are uncomfortable with answering a question for any reason, you do not have to. You can use a “non-answer answer” while still striving to be helpful to the reporter. Examples include:
- “I’ll need to get more information on that and get back to you.”
- “I’m not really the best person to address that question, but I can help find a source for you on that if you’d like.”
- “I can’t give you details about that…” (“…because we are a privately held company,” or, “…for competitive reasons,” or, “…because of client confidentiality,” etc.)
4. Don’t go “off the record”
A reporter may ask you to speak off the record on a topic, which means he or she will not publish or air what you say. As a rule of thumb, just to be safe, we advise our clients not to talk off the record. A reporter could forget what’s on and off the record, which is a risk not worth taking. Also, even if the reporter doesn’t publish or air what you say, it may impact the direction of the story. In short, anything you say before, during or after the interview should be something you would feel comfortable with seeing in the newspaper the next day.
The above are just a handful of the tips we share in our Half-Day Media Training and Media Training Basics sessions. Contact us today if your company’s leaders need coaching on how to work with the news media.