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

How to Answer Jargonsitic Questions

Next, I asked Helen about jargonistic qu estions. These are questions where the reporter uses jargon in the question, usually in the form of acronyms. Here’s Helen.

Helen: This is when the media reporter is trying a little bit too hard.They may ask you a question like, “When your clients look to the ROI on SEO what can they expect from your company?” And other people in the room may not know what they are talking about, or they are looking to see how much you know.

The best thing to do is really address the jargon and turn it into plain everyday language so that you can bring everybody in the room, or who are reading your article, or hearing your interview onto the same page.

I agree with Helen, it’s important to avoid jargon and speak in simple, direct sentences instead. In Helen’s example, instead of saying SEO, you’d say search engine optimization, perhaps even briefly explaining it using a concrete example.

In addition, if you are good at explaining complex issues in plain terms, you might want to use this skill to build a relationship with a reporter. If you notice he or she seems to need more information, you can offer to meet to provide background information.

How to Answer Speculative Questions

Finally, the listener asked about speculative questions.   Speculative questions are “What if?” questions that try to lead you to talk about irrelevant topics. I asked Helen to give us an example:

Helen: “Well yeah, all of this sounds wonderful, but if the phone lines had been cut, how would you have gotten the emergency care that your staff needed?” So they are looking to almost set you up with a “Well, that’s great that we’re all here and you did such a good job, but are you really prepared? Do you really know what you are doing?”

If you choose to reply to a speculative question, your response should be terse and it should be crystal clear that you’re answering a hypothetical question. However, speculating or answering hypothetical questions can get you into trouble.

It’s best to ignore the speculation and confine your answers to what is known about the core issue. In the response to example Helen provided, you might say, “The root of your question is the safety of our employees; which we take very seriously…” then you’d move to your core safety messages.


So there you have it, some quick and dirty tips to help you navigate know-it-all, chummy, good-bye, jargonistic, and speculative questions. Remember the bottom line is for you to take control, anticipate questions, deliver key messages, stay calm, and stick to facts.

Oh, and no, I don’t think that reporters are out to get you. But, I do think that reporters have a job to do and that job is to tell great stories. By following these quick and dirty tips you can give them a great story while maintaining your professional credibility.

This is Lisa B. Marshall. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.

P.S. While I had Helen Coronato on the phone I also asked her about a few other types of questions such as leading and loaded questions and she also shared some general advice. You can hear the full interview by visiting The Public Speaker Fan Page on Facebook or my Art of Speaking Business blog.

Finally, I’d like to thank Helen, for being my guest on the show!

If you’d like to be connect with me, feel free to join my networks on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

If you have a question, send email to publicspeaker@quickanddirtytips.com. For information about keynote speeches or workshops, visit lisabmarshall.com.


Online Public Relations – The Successful Media Interview (Nice short tutorial!)

The Weekend Publicist (Helen Coronato’s method to create a press kit!)

Interview image courtesy of Shutterstock.


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.