What's the Best Way to Answer Questions From the Media?
You can have much more credibility if you stop having a conversation with a reporter and answer questions with a statement. It's really as simple as that.
Regardless of the question, provide a statement for your answer. In only rare cases do you have to start your answer with a "yes' or a "no", so use the opportunity to make a statement. The question from the reporter can actually become just a setup for what you want to say. The following examples illustrate what I mean:
Question - "Your Council decided to raise property taxes by eight percent. Isn't that too much for taxpayers to afford?"
Typical Answer - "Well, no we don't think so...ah...we've talked to taxpayers.....
Statement Answer - "We've talked to taxpayers in many different ways and they told us they want service levels kept high...."
Question - "Would you guarantee that after such a large tax increase this year there will be a smaller one next year?"
Typical Answer - "Ah, so, no we can’t do that...this does make it easier.....
Statement Answer - "An increase like this lessens the chances of a large increase next year, but we need to listen to what taxpayers are telling us...."
See the difference? Using statements to answer questions puts you in control of the interview. Of course it's not possible without developing some really good key messages that you can use in response to the reporter's questions and practicing before you do the actual interview.
The media also appreciates the statement because it's easier to insert into the news story. It gives the electronic media a clean edit point to lift your comment. It’s also easier for the reporter or news anchor to set up your comment because there’s no need for them to paraphrase the question you were asked that led to your comment.
One point of clarification though – you always need to answer the question, so ensure your statement does answer what the reporter is asking you. There’s no sense making a statement if it doesn’t answer the question. It only creates mistrust between you and the reporter.
The really interesting thing to note is that this doesn't only apply to media interviews. You can use the technique in business conversations. The key point is, you have to know what you're going to say before you say it.
You have likely seen people speaking at news conferences, or in video clips on television and marveled at how good they were at answering questions from reporters. What most people don't understand is, with some coaching and practice, they can be just as good.