I’m sure, at one time or another, we’ve all witnessed a media interview that’s gone wrong. Perhaps the journalist caught the interviewee off guard with a question they weren’t prepared to answer, or maybe the journalist said something provocative or off topic which caused the interviewee to react badly. Whatever the case, tricky media interviews are par for the course in the world of PR, and therefore knowing how to prepare yourself properly for tricky interviews, is an essential skill you need to master if you want to be in the public eye.

 So far in this blog series we’ve discussed what media training actually is, why it’s beneficial, preparing for different forms of media, how to find a good media training company and why key messages are so important. In today’s post, the final one in this series, we’ll cover how to ensure you’re fully prepped for tricky media interviews and any curly questions that might crop up.

So, if you want to find out how to always handle a tricky media interview like a pro- no matter what curveballs a journalist might throw your way- read on to find out our top pieces of advice:

  1. Use the Q=A+1 method

No, this is not a cryptic math equation. The Q= A+1 method is an abbreviated way of saying that for every interview question, your answer should contain one of your key messages. Remembering this abbreviation can be particularly helpful in a tricky interview situation. For example, if you ever feel like a journalist is going off topic with their questions, use your key messages as your North Star to guide you and keep you on track.

Recently, I coached one of my clients to use the Q=A+1 method when preparing for a live TV broadcast interview. The interviewee was in their early 20s and a successful entrepreneur and business owner. The journalists were impressed by how young and successful my client was, and we anticipated that they wanted to ask him questions around his income and net worth. However, my client wanted to keep the focus of the interview on all the philanthropic and charity projects he was engaging in, particularly around supporting mental health, since this was his passion and the message he wanted to share on TV. In our pre-interview briefing session I coached my client to know his key messages inside out, and then keep returning to them continuously in every answer, no matter what questions the journalist asked.

For example:

Journalist: How does it feel to be so young and successful, and already a millionaire?

Client: For me, it’s never really been about the money, my passion is giving back to the community in any way I possibly can, and I’ve recently started up a mental health program for young people under the age of 21…. Etc.

Finding organic ways to weave in your key messages, no matter what sort of curly questions you are asked, is a difficult skill that can take lots of time and practice to master. However, your publicist, or a good media training company, can help you get stronger at this skill until you’ve mastered it.

  • Consider every angle

When it comes time to prep for a media interview, it’s imperative that you consider all the possible questions a journalist could potentially ask. Most of the time for a live broadcast interview for radio or TV the producer/ journalist won’t send you the questions beforehand. Even if they do, there’s every chance they could go off script, and as the interview is live you won’t get the opportunity to re-record any of your answers. The key to overcoming this problem is to think through all the potential angles a journalist could take with their questions, including questions that you think would trip you up and be difficult to answer. If you prep your answers for these difficult questions beforehand, you’ll be less likely to panic and appear flustered if the topic comes up in your actual interview.

If you’re having trouble anticipating the sort of curly questions a journalist might ask, your publicist or media training company can help put together a list of potential questions for you (including any curly ones). As PR people, we live and breathe media, pitching to journalists every day, briefing our clients for interviews, and keeping our pulse on what’s going on in the news cycle. You can tap into your PR agency’s expertise by asking them to help brief you on interviews, including providing background information about the publication and journalist (if you haven’t heard of them before) and giving you all the information you need to ensure you’re firing on all four cylinders for your interview.

  • It’s okay to admit you don’t know something

Sometimes it might just be necessary to admit you can’t answer a certain question off the top of your head, or that a particular question sits outside of what you feel comfortable speaking to.

Imagine this scenario, you’re on live radio or TV, making a point related to one of your key messages, when suddenly out of the blue the journalist brings up some new information- like obscure data or an article that you haven’t read- in an attempt contradict you and make it appear as though you don’t know what you’re talking about. This underhanded tactic can catch even the best of us out sometimes, so it’s important to know how to prepare yourself.

In these sort of situations, it’s okay to admit you don’t know the answer to something, however, what’s important is the way you phrase your response. Instead of stuttering, losing your confidence or talking round in circles (which happens to many people once they’re thrown a tricky question), or saying “I don’t know the answer”, you could respond with something along the lines of “I haven’t yet come across that particular piece of data, and I can’t comment on those statistics until I’ve seen the full scope and context of the report.” Before the journalist has a chance to press their point further, you swiftly move the conversation back to one of your key messages (using the Q=A+1 method) to ensure you keep the conversation on the right track. The key is to always remain calm and confident, remembering that you are an expert in this subject and not to let difficult questions unsettle you.

It’s also okay not to answer a question on a topic area that you don’t feel comfortable speaking to. Again, the key is how you phrase your response. Instead of saying something like “I can’t talk about that” or “I don’t want to comment on that issue” you could say “that topic sits outside of my area of expertise for XXX reason.”

A recent, real-life example is a client I had who is a former top tech executive. She was doing a PR campaign to launch her new book around the same time as Elon Musk was attempting to buy Twitter. As a result, many journalists wanted to get my client’s commentary around Musk’s takeover of Twitter (due to her high-profile career in tech) even though the topic wasn’t relevant at all to the book she was launching. We advised her to respond to this question by saying that conversations surrounding Musk sit outside of her area of expertise, and she was therefore unable to provide any commentary on the situation.

These are just a few of our top tips, however if you are keen to learn more about all the ways to prepare for media interviews (particularly if you’re worried about being thrown some tricky questions), visit our media training services page and contact us today to book in a session.

By Agent Kath