Being in the spotlight of a press conference is incredibly stressful. The media can be relentless in their questioning and if you put your foot in your mouth, things get worse. Unfortunately, keeping yourself out of the media limelight is a pipe dream in this digitally-connected world, especially if you’re on the way up. Fortunately, many have survived hostile reporters and their killer questions. Here are some of their secrets.
Focus on the Core Message
Before even attempting to talk to the media, it’s crucial to prepare your core messages. Create three to five key points that you need to get across to the press. And no matter what question they throw, always ensure that you answer with one of your these points. Practice is critical to doing this under pressure. Find someone to grill you with the worst possible questions and try to convey your points all the time. Don’t be turned off if your messages seem like sound bites. It’s better to be regarded as simple than to be misunderstood.
Bridging is Indispensable
When answering a question, don’t be flustered if your key messages won’t fit. Just because a reporter asked, you’re not obligated to answer the question directly. You can expand, narrow, or change the direction entirely. This technique is called bridging. Use phrases like “To answer that question, I must first explain that…” and “That’s a concern but the real issue is…” to get your key points across.
Question the Questioner when Necessary
Another technique to answer a question is by questioning the questioner. This is effective when the reporter asks something vague or simply something incomprehensible. Don’t ramble ignorantly. Ask for clarification; it will usually result in something far clearer and more concise. You can also ask for the motivation behind his question to find a better way to answer it.
Reframing is a Lifesaver
A similar technique to the two is to reframe the reporter’s question. This is especially effective against hostile, killer questions. By taking away the negative slant and pointing it at a positive direction, you can answer with a core message, look polite, and escape unscathed. For a mundane job interview example, “Why did you quit your last job?” is a loaded question that can make you look bad. But you can reframe it by smiling and saying something like, “It was a difficult environment. But it helped develop problem solving skills that allowed me to succeed in completing Project ABC…”
Keep Your Guard Up
Lastly, even if the press conference is over don’t let your guard down. The most innocuous and friendly question at the end from the press can be a loaded trap. There is no such thing as off the record, especially if it’s still being recorded. Even if the segment ends up in the cutting room floor in the actual broadcast, the complete conference can still be uploaded and show a side of the brand that shouldn’t be seen.
Answering killer questions isn’t easy but with preparation and the right frame of mind, you can hold your own and make your brand smell like roses.
If you need help in preparations, consult with a reputable PR agency. Its specialists can help you formulate core messages and prepare you for any question in the presscon.