Politicians and pundits are often accused of spin. Spin is when the interviewee tries to manipulate the facts or the direction of the story for their own gain. A politician wants you to see things their way, even if their opinions are not based on facts.
The problem is, most interviewers, and many times the audience, can you see right through this. Before social media, politicians and their handlers could get away with more of this in traditional media interviews. Now, the reaction and dissection begins instantly and continues online. It can spill back into traditional media.
Your time would be best spent creating answers using the Message System (Chapter 3) and then practicing moving to those answers with the Answer System (Chapter 4).
Off the Record
There is no such thing as off the record. If there is something that you should not be saying—don’t say it! Many people have gotten burnt or been embarrassed because they said something that they thought was private and off the record. They might have been talking to the journalist after the interview was over. There’s no reason to believe that this should be off the record. They are journalists and have the right to report anything and everything they hear and see!
Even if a journalist claimed some portion or all of your conversation to be off the record, you should still be wary of your remarks making it into the story. After all, journalists are both truth-seekers and professionals who want to deliver the “best” story they can (and that means different things for different types of reporters).
For example, some people have done TV interviews and were caught saying something they did not expect the public to hear during a commercial break, or while they were waiting for the interview to begin. Just be aware that as soon as a microphone is on you, they are often already “hot” or “open.” You never know who is listening—often, it is producers in the control room. They may be all-too-willing to share what you said with the public, other writers, social media, etc. Today nothing seems private, and
this is especially the case for all circumstances surrounding an interview—everything counts and you are always “on.”
Some people choose to allow the interviewer to rile them up. Becoming angry, acting defensive, or losing your cool, does not make you look good. Do your best to understand that the journalist’s job is to ask tough questions and to create interesting content for their audience. Even if what they say is not true, your job, in the “hot seat” (if that’s how you’re feeling), is to calmly and professionally speak their questions . . . even if you are feeling like you are being interrogated. Stay calm, cool, and in control!
Saying, “No comment,” is usually a bad idea. If you are someone within an organization that really should not be commenting, then say, “I am not the organization spokesperson. Let me put you in touch with the right person to help you out.”
If you do say “No Comment,” It gives the journalist nothing more than you looking guilty or like someone who is dodging questions. For those who are spokespeople, simply think of a morsel of information you can give them that doesn’t necessarily answer the question, but shows, however, that you respect the process of news gathering.
“We are not giving a statement right now, but plan to once we have gone over all of the facts of this situation.”
That answer will look far better to the public, and gives some small amount of satisfaction to the journalist. The journalist might still ask some follow-up questions, hoping that you will break and start commenting when you don’t want to. You could always follow with, “That’s all I have for now. Thank you.”
Not Having a Plan
Many people mistake an interview as a conversation between people. They cross their fingers and hope that everything goes well. This is not effective. It can go in either direction. As mentioned earlier in the book . . .
WINGING IT IS NOT A STRATEGY
An interview is more than a conversation. It is a conversation where the interviewer asks questions and you are strategically guiding them to the answers you wish to have “show up” (in print, video, etc.) in the interview. When done correctly, the answers sound and feel authentic. The intervieweris happy, the audience is happy, and YOU are happy.
Proper planning includes deciding on media messages prior to an interview, creating a few “killer” sound bites, and being ready with Answer System techniques so you are set up for the best chance for success. This—combined with some short practice (ideally videotaped) is the secret for a positive outcome.
While you may get through an interview without any major issues, having no plan will probably cause some of these common interview blunders:
- Saying Um and Ah, like or “you know”, as you figure out what it is that you want to say.
- Spending too long a time talking about some topics, and then have no time left to speak about other important points or messages.
- Talking about topics that are off-message and did not need to be in the interview.
- You appear to be stumbling around for answers and seem unprepared.
- You appear to be unconfident, nervous, or afraid.
Take five or ten minutes and make sure you have done some preparation before every interview. You will not regret the extra effort.
You may say one thing, but your face might be saying something completely different.
Some people who have lied during media interviews have said “no” while their head shook “yes.” Some people have pained expressions on their face. Others open the interview by saying “thanks for having me. I am happy to be here” while their face says the opposite. Most often, this is not because they are lying—they are just nervous.
Practicing with a video recording device will help you to see what the rest of the world sees.
Take time to see if your face is sending the right or wrong message.
These are mistakes to avoid. Working with a professional can set you up for success.