How to Answer Difficult Media Questions – Part 2

Learn how to answer know-it-all, chummy, goodbye, jargonistic and speculative questions!

Lisa B. Marshall
6-minute read
Episode #55

This week we pick up where we left off from last week. Marie-Adele, a listener from France, asked me about handling difficult questions from reporters. Specifically, she asked for tips on handling know-it-all, chummy, good-bye, jargonistic, and speculative questions.

If you haven’t already, you might want to listen to part one of this episode. In it I suggested some general strategies for answering media questions--like developing your core messages, bridging, and questioning and the questioner. This week we’ll cover specific tips for each of the types of questions Marie-Adele asked about.

I’m very excited because in today's episode I spoke with publicist, Helen Coronato, on the phone. Her business focuses on helping entrepreneurs and small business owners navigate media. She had some great tips to share. Here’s a part of our conversation.

How to Answer Know-It-All Questions

Lisa: So Helen, she asked about know-it-all questions. That’s when the reporter wants to just wrap up quickly and say, “Oh, we already have the story, I just need to wrap-up a few points.” How do you handle those types of questions?

Helen: Of all the questions that I think are the most problematic, it’s the know-it-all questions. And here’s why. We can’t assume that the media is going to be on our side. So when someone is saying to you, “Well, I’m writing this interesting story on moms in the workplace. I just wanted to get a couple of quotes from you.” You really don’t know from that statement whether or not the reporter is writing about how wonderful it is that moms are in the workplace or how tragic it is that moms are in the workplace.

So if you are throwing your quote out there, you don’t know what you are attaching [it] to. So in a one-on-one, it’s really important to find out what it is that reporter is speaking about. You can say, “Well, could you give me a little bit of background about what this story is?” or “Can you read to me some of the quotes you already have so I know whose company I’m in?” or “Can you give me the title that you’re working with?” All of these ideas are going to let the reporter know, “OK, we’re going to put the brakes on first, and I’m going to get to know you just a bit more, before I attach myself to you. We don’t want to be so desperate for media attention that we jump on anybody’s bandwagon.

How to Answer Chummy and Goodbye Questions

Next I asked Helen to talk about chummy questions and goodbye questions. These types of questions are similar. In both cases the reporter is attempting to catch you in a moment when you are relaxed and slightly off-guard. After the reporter puts his notebook down, he or she might say, “I know the official position, but just between us, how do you feel about it?”

As I talked about last week, you need to remain focused on your core messages. You could say something like, “Of course, I’ve got personal feeling, but the issue is this. My personal feelings don’t enter into it.” Here’s what Helen had to say.

Helen: You want to remember always that chummy questions [start off sounding] like, “Hey friend, hey I agree with you,” or “Wow, that was a great interview and no one [has] ever said that before.” When someone starts to load on the compliments, your professional guard should go up a little bit and it’s a great time to shake hands and move on.

The thing is, nothing is ever off the record, especially with the Internet. All of a sudden, the thing that you thought was not such a big deal can turn into a very big deal.

The Dangers of Chummy and Goodbye Questions

Helen (continued): Because the thing is, nothing is ever off the record, especially with the Internet. Though your answer may not end up in that specific press release, article, or media event, it could still get leaked somewhere else. Then all of a sudden, the thing that you thought was not such a big deal turned into a very big deal.

The goodbye question is very similar. Again you are thinking that the interview has ended. This is what I call, “doorknob” reporting. The reporter has his hand on the doorknob, literally, walking out the door, or is getting ready to wrap up the phone call [when h says something that completely catches you off-guard. And it’s going to be something a little shocking or provocative to try and get you [to react] a certain way so that they have their close. The important thing there is to remember they are still not out the door.


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.