By Gerard Braud –
Media training is not just about being an expert when it comes to answering a question. Media interview skills also require you to know how to ask questions of the reporter. The fuss about presidential candidate Jeb Bush is a case in point, based on an answer he gave to Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly when asked about the Iraq War. What happened to Bush, can just as easily happen to you or an executive who serves as your spokesperson.
Here are some tips that will help you in your next interview:
Lesson 1: Listen to the question.
Lesson 2: Discern whether there is a question behind the question.
Lesson 3: Anticipate how your answer might trigger a dangerous follow up question.
Lesson 4: If you don’t truly understand the question or where the question might take you, ask the reporter to clarify. It is okay to say, “I’m sorry, I don’t fully understand your questions. Can you restate it?”
Bush’s failure to do this is costly. It can cost him in the polls as well as in financial contributions. In business, it can cause you to lose customers and sales because it damages both your reputation and your revenue.
(For those of you who rely on my book Don’t Talk to the Media Until… as your executive media training guide book, this lesson relates directly to Lesson 2: The Big If on page 3, in which I ask the question, “If you could attach a dollar to every word that comes out of your mouth, would you make money or lose money?”)
Here is how the interview went down:
Kelly: “On the subject of Iraq, knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?”
Bush: “I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind every body and so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.”
But Kelly’s question is not about going to war based on the intelligence provided at the time, yet Bush’s answer is. Essentially Kelly’s question is, “If you were president and you were told there are no large supplies of chemical weapons in Iraq, would you still invade?”
That isn’t the question Bush was answering. Bush thought he was being asked, “If you had been presented with the same intelligence your brother was presented with as President, would you have made the same decision to go to war that he did?”
The presidential campaign season is just getting started and the media are looking for every little flaw in every sentence that is spoken by a candidate. They do the same in interviews with you or your executives who serve as a spokesperson.
Bush’s faux pas is proof that even media interview veterans have to keep their skills sharp by listening to each question carefully, clarifying the intent of the question, and parsing every word of your answer.
It is amazing how many people create negative headlines for themselves because of something they said in a media interview that wasn’t perfect.
My advice is that regardless of how powerful you are and how busy you might be, to do a solid interview you should:
1) Have a media training coach that you love to work with
2) Set time aside at least once a year to allow that trainer to grill you on camera with an honest evaluation
3) Roll play with a coach or colleague before every interview with every reporter, so that you get your head in the game moments before the real questions begin.
Never allow yourself to get complacent. Don’t think because you’ve done so many interviews that you can eliminate the training that keeps your skills sharp. One misplaced word can cause serious harm to your reputation and your revenue. Can you afford that?