The art of answering media questions

Posted May 20, 2011

Answering questions from a journalist is NOT like answering questions from any other person, whether it be a boss, friend, colleague or family member. Context A media interview is NOT like a real conversation. In a real conversation, you have context, you understand the context, and usually your audience understands the context. If you are explaining something to an employee, you can reference something you said five minutes ago. If you are giving a speech, you can build one idea on another, referencing something you said earlier to highlight a point. You don't have that luxury when you are talking to the media. That's because a journalist may interview you for 30 minutes and use just one little snippet of that conversation for the story. That means everything you say must make sense on its own and not be reliant on things you say before or after each point you make. This is not quite as important in live broadcast interviews. Real conversations In a real life conversation, if someone said to me, "How does it feel to teach people how to avoid answering questions and to lie to the media," it would be fine to preface my response with "I don't teach people how to avoid answering questions and lie to the media, what I do do is teach them how to get their message across competently through the media." Media Training As media training clients learn, the problem with this is that the journalist may take the first part of that answer alone, so the story could focus entirely on, "Media trainer denies teaching people how to lie," and not use the rest of my answer. This makes for a negative story and implies some shadiness on my part. Without context Without the control of context, I would be better to answer with a positive statement like, "I feel proud that I train people to communicate their messages competently through the media." Then the reporter doesn't have a negative option and can't take me out of context. This is mis-understood Many people who are great speakers and one-on-one communicators, but don't undergo media training, never make the adjustment to being good media communicators because they don't understand this distinction between media interviews and all other conversations.
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