Practice these Tactics to Tackle Tough Questions

It never fails.
No matter how much you prepare for the big media interview, the reporter will ask you questions you can’t or don’t want to answer. What do you do? Here are some do’s and don’ts to help you come off polished and professional, even when you’re not sure what to say.

First, let’s cover some don’ts.

That’s an interesting question.
While it’s tempting to say and rolls easily off your lips, avoid saying, “That’s an interesting question,” or “That’s a great question.”  People recognize this stall tactic, and it’s too easy to get into a bad habit of saying it after every question to buy time to think. Not every question is interesting. Keep reading and learn better ways to buy yourself some thinking time.

No Comment.
Next, never, ever, ever, ever say “No comment.” Never. Ever.  It makes you look like you’re hiding something. This phrase makes you sound guilty, uncooperative, incompetent… you get the idea. Just don’t do it. Never. Ever. We can’t stress this enough.

What Can You Do?
Now that you have the basic don’ts down, let’s look at a few do’s to use when rough questions require creative answers.

If the interview isn’t live, it’s OK to tell the reporter you don’t know the answer and offer, if possible, to get an answer by their deadline. It’s also OK to say that the answer they want is not in your area of expertise, or you don’t have the information or authority to share that answer with them. If you know someone who can help, offer to connect them. (Just don’t say no comment. Seriously. Don’t. Never. Ever.)

Let’s assume your interview is either live or being recorded without the opportunity for edits. This makes the interview harder, but if you have some effective tactics mastered, you’ll come across as a pro.

First, anticipate and practice the questions reporters will ask you.  Practice answering them. Have your friends, family and teammates ask them to you and share your answer out loud. This will make responding much easier when a reporter asks you live.

Buy Time
When questions come up you weren’t expecting – and they will – give yourself a little time. Here are some helpful phrases to practice to help you think on your feet.

  • I figured you were gonna ask me that.
  • I know people are (excited, concerned…) about (topic). Here’s what I can share with you today.

Bridge and Pivot
After buying yourself some time, move on to one of these bridging /pivoting phrases. These are our examples. Find or create one or two that feel comfortable and natural for you.

  • What we know right now is…
  • What I can share with you today is…
  • What I’d like to tell you is…
  • I think the real question here is…
  • Let me start by saying…

The … is where you start talking about the question or talking point you are prepared to share and want to cover.

Take Control
We recommend using the bridging statements above to take control of your message and cover your talking points. (And speaking of taking control, if you haven’t read our post or watched our video about the Four C’s of Mastering Media Interviews, check it out next!)

In Case of Emergency
When the question is asked that makes you want to break the emergency glass, don’t panic. If you really can’t bridge or pivot comfortably, the following options, while not recommended as regular practices, can get you unstuck in a pinch. We do caution you to use them sparingly.

Don’t Answer
First, you can choose to simply avoid answering the question. The example in the video is pretty funny, but instead of saying you don’t answer questions, simply say, “I’m not able to answer that right now.” or “I don’t have that answer.” Be careful how you phrase your comment because this can come across as a no comment answer without actually saying no comment. (And we never, ever want to say that, right?) And at the end of your phrase, take control with a bridging phrase, “What I can share is…”  That will make you sound more cooperative and competent.

Play Politician
Also, you can just repeat your talking point and ignore the question entirely. Again, not recommended, but when you’re stuck, it can work. Politicians are famous for doing this. They just keep repeating what they want to say, over and over, sometimes ad nauseam. But again, if you want to avoid looking like a politician or appearing uncooperative, reserve this tactic for emergencies only.

Ask to Understand
Finally, requesting that the interviewer repeat the question, clarify, or expand on what they just asked is OK. Ask politely as you would in regular conversation.

  • “Can you repeat the question?”
  • “Can you expand on that?”
  • “Can you clarify what you mean by _______?”

That’s a Wrap!
We’ve shared a few ways to navigate through those tricky media interviews.  These are just a few tactics, and there are many ways to handle tough questions. Find what feels comfortable for you. Practice, practice, practice. And if you’d like to work with us one-on-one for customized media training. Reach out! We’d love to work with you or your team.

…And just in case you missed it – never say “no comment.” Never. Ever.