Over the years I’ve coached many journalists how to take control of interviews. Most reporters go into an interview with a plan to get what they want to the build the story they desire. Well, here’s the flipside: Three ways YOU can take control.
1. Be aware of your surroundings, especially in an office. Scan your surroundings before the interview. Good reporters like to do a 360-degree rotation of a space, such as an office, to look for objects, photos, plaques, etc., that may help tell a story or shed light on your personality. If you don’t want a family photo on display, put it in a drawer. If you have a photo of you and some buddies up at the lake chugging from a beer keg, that’s probably not a photo you want visible to a reporter. Likewise, if you want to strategically use an object to attract attention or guide the interview toward a subject you desire, put it where a reporter will notice it. In a recent media interview, Richard Peddie, president and CEO of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment did just that. A binder that had the future plans of MLSE was in plain view. Of course, the reporter noticed it, but wasn’t allowed to see its contents. However, the future of MLSE was a major focus of the interview.
2. Be prepared for the ‘guilt-trip’ question. Especially if you are a public official. Sometimes public officials forget that reporters often ask questions that are of public interest. If you’re being interviewed and appear to be evasive, a good reporter will remind you that you’re accountable to the public. In fact the reporter may use the following question, “If I was calling right now as a member of the public and asked the same question, what would you tell the person?” This is a great question because it’s designed to put an official on the defensive. The purpose is to make you blurt out something that a reporter can use to generate conflict between you and the public. Don’t fall for it. It’s best to be as honest as you can be, show concern, and show that you plan to further examine a situation. That’s always better than putting up a wall and shutting down a reporter who will just seek comment from someone else.
3. Silence is a tactic. Picture the scenario: A reporter asks a question. Rather than answer right away, you’re not sure what to say. There’s silence. The situation becomes awkward. The reporter just sits there staring at you. Soon, to avoid the uncomfortableness, you say something that makes little sense and is confusing. It’s probably something you wish you didn’t say. Ugh. Presto, the reporter has used the silence tactic perfectly. You can beat the silence tactic by turning the questioning back to the reporter. This also gives you more time to formulate your answers. Turn the silence around by asking a reporter to rephrase the question, or saying you’re not entirely clear on the question.