How to Answer Difficult Media Questions

Learn how to manage difficult media interview questions.

Lisa B. Marshall
5-minute read
Episode #54

How to Answer Difficult Media Questions

I recently received this email from a regular listener in France:

I held my very first press conference last night and I found the question time really hard. I am aware that practice and thinking of questions ahead of time is important, but how do I answer difficult questions from reporters? For example, know-it-all questions, chummy questions, good-bye questions, jargonistic, and speculative questions?

Marie-Adele, thanks for your question. Having strategies for effective communication with the media is important for all of us. Although you are talking about a formal press conference, I think that today, people who believe they will never be talking with the press may be surprised to find themselves in front of a camera or microphone. Highly accessible publishing technologies have made it possible for just about anyone to find themselves being interviewed.

Prepare and Practice Your Core Message

As you mentioned, you already understand the importance of preparation and practice. are. Specifically, it’s important to know ahead of time exactly what it is that you want to communicate so that you can effectively manage the interaction.

To some extent, the actual questions asked are less important than your preparation and practice of the three to five core messages you want to communicate. No matter what question is asked, your main goal is to answer the question and communicate at least one of your planned key messages. With preparation, any question from the media is a chance to tell your side of the story, or get your message across.

No matter what question is asked, your main goal is to answer the question and communicate at least one of your planned key messages.

Should You Speak in Sound Bites?

Some people are resistant to creating these sound bites because they feel they’re simplistic and not complete. But, it’s always better for you to summarize and simplify your ideas rather than leaving that to the reporter. Only you know the best way to create the impact that you want. Particularly in difficult situations you don’t want your words misconstrued, so the more concise your message is, the better. Remember the goal is not just to survive the interview, but to compel the audience to take the ultimate action you want them to-- such as to trust your company or buy your book.

Once you know what your core messages and what you want to accomplish, you’ll need some strategies to help you manage the interaction. Two important, basic techniques are bridging and questioning the questioner.


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.