An interviewer’s questions can sometimes put us off. It may be that we simply find the journalist obnoxious or perhaps a little aggressive. Perhaps he speaks with some sort of sneer, making you feel he is trying to make you look silly. It’s understandable if this sort of situation makes us feel upset or even angry. In an extreme, we might even be tempted to storm out of an interview. While you have the right to do that, it’s really your most extreme option. Better to seek ways to get the interview back on track, and that’s something your key messages can help you achieve.
Key messages are essential for your success in an interview. This is especially true if you find yourself cornered by the journalist or, for that matter, if you have strayed from your subject. First of all, get yourself some breathing space by saying something like: “A very good point” or “That is an important issue.” Though these lines can sound patronizing, they are permissible when you come under pressure. Next, provide an appropriate key message and, if necessary, something topical. In some cases, however, the key message alone will create the perception that you have answered the question, and that’s all that matters. Other times, the journalist may confront you with a misperception. In that case, stop him politely but firmly. Say something like “Not at all. What is true…” and so on followed by a key message.
Planning for an interview may sound self-defeating. After all, isn’t conversation about the unexpected? Still preparation isn’t just possible, it’s essential. First off, get information about who is coming to talk to you and what he or she probably wants to find out. Most importantly, however, decide what you are going to tell the other person, and in what order. Picture an interview as if it were a tour of your company.
The phone rings, and there’s a journalist on the line. What do you do? You tell him you’ll call back. First of all, it’s a matter of principle. No journalist can expect that a busy executive like you could spontaneously find the time to talk to him. By the way, how did this person get through to you anyhow? Might you have been too liberal in giving out your cell phone number? Perhaps it’s time to get a new one and restructure your contact system. But let’s get back to that journalist. You told him you’d call back, preferably stating a time. Now consider calling your press department. In most cases, that’s a good idea.
Have your key messages ready, and you will find it easier to influence a conversation or an interview. If you can tell your story concisely, clearly, in a positive tone, consistently and credibly, you will be heard, or at least you will be able to make yourself heard.
But of course, as they are, your key messages won’t simply fit into any old interview. So get some tools. One is bridging (that is, closing) the gap between a question and your key message. This is most useful when the question is about something you would rather not talk about. Your spontaneous reaction might be: “No comment.” But that will destroy whatever good will there was so far. Better not to say what you can’t say, and instead lead over to what you can say. The easiest way to do this is simply to say so: “What I can say is this.” And then state your message. Or how about: “What’s important to us is…”