Tag: Media Training

Strategy of Answering Question’s Big Finish: Building Your Spokesperson’s Messages and 11 Keys to Remember

MARYCHUCKLES[1]

For the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about The Strategy of Answering Questions; specifically:

But as you may recall from these different posts, we never developed the specific messages. We had several bullet points, but no real messaging surrounding the launch of our sample product or service:

  • Last several years developing, testing and refining new technology
  • Enables consumers to accomplish tasks faster and more efficiently
  • Target audience are men and women 35-54 years old; educated; high disposable income
  • Vastly improves existing technology

To get from bullet points to actual compelling messages, review your bullet points. Are these the points you want to make in the interview? These are not the answers to questions you may be asked. These are the points you want to make, the reasons why you agreed to the interview; the points you want your real audience to hear/read/see.

Prepare a mini-speech for each bullet; a headline followed by an example. The headline is your message stated in the strongest possible language. The example is the way to prove your headline.

There are four types of examples you can use:

  1. personal experience
  2. experiences of others
  3. facts/statistics
  4. analogies

Whenever possible, have several examples that support and reinforce your headline. Doing so allows you to repeat your headline without going back to your only proof point. The person you are meeting with may not remember all of your specific examples, but the headline becomes memorable. I don’t recall one “light” or “bridge” but I sure do remember “A thousand points of light” and “building bridges.”

As you think about all things spokesperson training, remember:

  • Think of the questions a  reporter might ask you during an interview.
  • Decide on the best possible response to each question (short and sweet) and then determine whether you can bridge from that answer to one of your objectives. (Use the three-column technique.)
  • If you can bridge, state your message in the form of your prepared mini-speech. If you can’t, state your answer and wait for the next question or say,” I don’t know.”
  • Avoid over-answering the question. Give a direct response to each question in as few words as possible and then bridge, if you can.
  • There is no such thing as “off the record.” Don’t care how good your relationship is with the media or how clever you think you are – – the media will either not honor it, or find another source to verify it.
  • Nodding. People often nod inadvertently to show they understand the question. They’ve heard the question before, and/or they’re ready to answer the question. Unfortunately, nodding also suggests agreement with statements, and that may give a false impression.
  • Labeling the question. Refrain from such expressions as “That’s a good question,” or “I’m glad you asked that.” Those phrases buy time, but they can be irritating.
  • Competitive questions. Be especially careful about questions involving proprietary topics. You can discuss the issues but you don’t have to discuss your strategies.
  • Avoid jargon. Think in terms of simple language understandable to a larger audience.
  • Pick your battles. Stick to your prepared messages. Don’t go off message. Going off message can easily lead to complaints of being taken out of context.
  • Go back to your messages. Often the last question is “Do you have anything to add?” Use this question as the opportunity to reemphasize your message points.

Well, that’s it for Strategy of Answering Questions and it is it for me for a little bit. Need to re-charge the blog-battery so I can take a fresh look at the PR industry. Thank you for taking the time to read. In the immortal words of Chuckles the Clown (circa the greatness of The Mary Tyler Moore Show) – – “A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants.”

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How to Effectively, Seamlessly and Honestly Nail the Interview by Answering the Toughest, Dirty, Trap Media Questions

MOUSETRAP_rend

In my previous blog post, I talked about the how to best prepare messaging for a media interview (or a business meeting) by building a bridge from the question to your message.

But how do you answer the really tough questions? To get started, let’s first review the messages surrounding the launch of our sample product or service:

  • Last several years developing, testing and refining new technology
  • Enables consumers to accomplish tasks faster and more efficiently
  • Target audience is men and women 35-54 years old; educated; high disposable income
  • Vastly improves existing technology

And the possible types of questions:

  • Late to market
  • Too expensive
  • Not going to succeed
  • Already outdated
  • Not needed

My contention is that the toughest trap question is nothing more than a great chance to get your messages across (once you concisely answer the question). Let’s take a look at some of the most common trap questions:

  • A or B Questions:  “Was it poor planning or poor execution that made you guys late to market?” The A or B question is asked in a way that suggests an answer.  However, the options offered may not be the correct response.  You can pick an alternate direct response: Answer:  “Neither. The new technology vastly improves the outdated technology…
  • Hypothetical Questions:  “If this new technology flops, will the company survive?”  The iffy question asks you to predict the future.  This type of question usually asks you to accept the hypothesis. Instead, you can reject the theory and create one of your own.  Thus, the answer is: “That’s not going to happen.  We’ve spent the last several years developing…”
  • Third Party Questions:  You never have to argue with or defend anyone else.  Third parties include but are not limited to: competitors, industry analysts, other people in the company, customers or other industries. The best answer to questions about other people is: “Ask them,” or “I can’t speak for them.” Then you can bridge to the issue in the question by simply saying, “What I can tell you is…”
  • Unfair/untrue Statements:  These questions contain misleading or untrue assertions or the question may include inflammatory words or phrases.  “Why are you charging so much for a technology that is outdated?” Here there are several incorrect statements. You never want to repeat back the negatives, but you can absolutely disagree with the premise. “That’s not true. This technology vastly improves existing technology and we are targeting men and women with a high disposable income…”

While there are certainly other types of “trap questions” that may or may not be designed to trip you up, proper preparation should prevent any of them from becoming an issue. Also, remember there are questions you don’t have to answer – competitive, security, etc.

The process – boiled down – comes down to listening and making sure you understand the question; answering it short and sweet and either bridging to your pre-prepared messages OR answering the question short and sweet and wait for the next question if you don’t have anything relevant to say.

My next and final post in this series will tie everything together by providing message preparation steps and tips.

How the Three-Column Approach is the Best Way to Getting Your Messages Across AND Answering the Reporter’s Question

megasharkbridge

When we last left our Strategy of Answering Questions blog, we were talking about – among other things – the ways to answer questions including not necessarily the way the media would like us to do so.

So, let’s get a little interactive. Grab a piece of paper. I’ll wait….

Draw three columns, making the middle column much narrower than the right and left columns. Label the right column Messages.

Now, think about a particular topic. This is the topic that was pitched to the media or – if reactionary – the topic the media is asking to talk about. Let’s say, the launch of a new product or service. Write down those points we want to get across. Think about it like you have a three-minute commercial to fill with facts. At this point, we aren’t sculpting true messages or worrying about anything other than those things associated with the launch.

I think it’s fair to say the points could look something like this:

  • Last several years developing, testing and refining new technology
  • Enables consumers to accomplish tasks faster and more efficiently
  • Target audience are men and women 35-54 years old; educated; high disposable income
  • Vastly improves existing technology

Pretty good list. Could have more bullets, but you get the idea. Label the column on the left side Questions and think about all the types of questions that may be asked.

Don’t look at the messages. Just think about the types of questions and jot those down.  Could look something like:

  • Late to market
  • Too expensive
  • Not going to succeed
  • Already outdated
  • Not needed

Again, you get the idea. Also, please note that I specifically did not write the questions in sentence format. Reality is a reporter isn’t going to repeat your questions verbatim. There are multiple ways a question can be asked and this prepares you to get comfortable with answering any type of questions – – even the tough ones.

Now if you take a look at both the left and right columns, you’ll see that the column on the right relates to the column on the left. Your message points may not specifically address the question, but they certainly relates to them.

But what about the middle column? Glad you asked.

The short, narrow middle column are for your Answers. The column is short and narrow to remind you to keep your answers short. You absolutely want to answer questions because you don’t want to sound like a politician, but you are taking part in an interview because you have messages you want to get across. Messages on a topic that you’ve already agreed upon.

So, a question is asked, concisely answered and “bridged” to your message points. Bridging is the technique that allows you to get from a question to your positive message. The secret to successful bridging is answering the question.  Whenever you’re asked a question give a short, honest answer, then bridge to the positive message you’ve prepared in advance. If you don’t have a positive message prepared in advance on the question’s subject, give a short honest answer and stop.

Next up – how exactly do you answer those really tough questions? Like, “Was it poor planning or poor execution that made you late to market?” or “What if the new technology fails?” Fear not. The toughest question is nothing more than a great opportunity to get your messages across.

Strategy of Answering Questions – Three Spokesperson Rights and Three Ways to Answer a Question (All Involve Answering Honestly)

BARBARA WALTERS, JUSTIN BIEBER

In the first post of this series on the Strategy of Answering Questions, I provided an overview on how and why the strategy and tactics used in “spokesperson training” for a media interview can be applied to any business meeting, presentation or conversation. I also made it clear the PR professionals’ job isn’t over after the interview is booked and the training occurs.

In this post, we will talk about the rights you have when you agree to an interview and the three ways to answer a question.

Our spokesperson has three rights we – as PR professionals – need to be aware of:

The Right to Be Prepared – A spokesperson should never enter into an interview without a clear understanding of what the interview is about.

The good PR professional is going to provide a briefing sheet. This is a given. But, know your spokesperson. The purpose of the briefing sheet is not to prove your existence or worth. More may not be better. You don’t want your spokesperson to overanalyze a reporter or try to be too clever by referencing some obscure fact you found about the reporter.

It should include basic information on the outlet and why it is important (our target/real audience reads it, etc.). Same for the reporter. If there are relevant stories, you may want to include.

Part of making sure your spokesperson is properly prepared is letting him/her know that it is okay to conduct an interview with notes in front of them. Whether over the phone, in-person or – in many instances – on television. Work with the spokesperson in determining what they prefer – – note cards, etc.

The Right to be Comfortable – It is important to be comfortable for two reasons.  First, when you are physically comfortable, you will be more confident. Second, you should be thinking about your message, and physical comfort will allow you to do that.

The good PR professional will not only make sure the spokesperson is comfortable, but aware of the task at-hand. For example, if conducting an interview over the phone, make sure the interview is on a landline or on a cell where there will be consistent, good coverage. No speaker. No driving. No distractions.

The Right to Be Treated Fairly – Common courtesy is not always common in an interview. Part of our role is to make sure our spokesperson understands who he/she is talking to – – a reporter/anchor is allowed to ask tough questions but should “call it down the middle” while a columnist/commentator is getting paid to offer up an opinion.

If a media outlet has the reputation of being off-color or irreverent, go in with your eyes open. If the topic you are discussing is explosive, the interview may be.

When it comes to answering a question, there are three ways:

Direct, Immediate Response – Whenever possible, this is the best way to answer a question. You definitely want to convey your willingness to answer tough questions.

Sometimes people ask non-questions like:  “Tell us about your company,” or “Describe your strategy with this new move.” These “questions” are simply an invitation to start talking.  The interviewer is “handing you the microphone” and asking you to communicate.  Take this opportunity to define your company or cause.

After Thought – There are some questions that require you to think before you answer.  Since you don’t want to stare at anyone in stunned silence, these are techniques that will give you time to think:

  • Ask the questioner to repeat or rephrase the question.  The question will always be easier the second time.  Even if the question is repeated verbatim, it buys you some time to think about your answer.
  • Repeat or rephrase the question yourself.  “If I understand you correctly, what you’re asking is” or “The key point you are raising in your question is” or “What is important for the audience to know is…”
  • You can also think aloud to buy some time.  “That dates back to the a few years ago” or “Let me just provide a perspective to that…”

Try not to overuse these techniques. Save them for those situations when they are really needed.

Not at All – There are questions you don’t have to answer…well, sort of. You do have to give a direct response explaining why you are not going to answer the question.  These responses include:

  • “That’s personal.”  Questions about your salary, voting record, hobbies, personal opinions.
  • “We consider that competitive information,” “Our competitors would love to know that.”  Questions about corporate strategy, profit margins, expansion plans, new products or services are proprietary.
  • “I really can’t talk about it while it’s in litigation.”  There are legal reasons for not answering questions.
  • “Negotiations are in progress.”  You don’t have to reveal the progress of ongoing negotiations or private discussions.
  • “It wouldn’t be smart to give a blueprint to our security.”  You don’t have to answer questions about these precautions.
  • “I don’t know the answer to that question.” The best reason of all not to answer a question is that you truly don’t know the answer. Abraham Lincoln said it best – – “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

One of two things will happen:  A question is asked and since you have agreed to the topic, and you’ve prepared ahead of time, you will concisely answer that question and “bridge” to your message points. Or, a question is asked and you don’t know the answer. Tell them that and wait for the next question.

You may have heard people complain that a reporter took their words out of context.  Odds are, the reporter didn’t do that. Odds are that person went off his message or tried to answer a question he wasn’t prepared to answer. The same could be said if someone “misinterprets” something you said. Never try to guess the right answer to a question.

Now that you know how to answer and what you can and cannot answer, the next post will talk about the process you should go through when preparing your messages and the technique of bridging, or transitioning from your answer to your message.

“I’m with the New York Times, Nobody Likes You. I’m on Deadline. Care To Comment?”

MicrophoneIn my last blog, I talked about the benefits of presenting a contrarian viewpoint when proactive pitching. What happens when a reporter calls you with a story he/she is doing and it isn’t…how should I say, the best story.

In my current position I act as my company spokesperson. Couple of years ago I received a call from a reporter. They were running a segment later that day about how “nobody” uses my product anymore and wanted a comment from me. Couple of things:

  •  Really have to be careful with definitive words – – nobody, everyone, etc. Really? Nobody uses it? In this instance, some still use. Not as many as years ago, but some do.
  • “Love” it (need to get a sarcasm button on the keyboard) when the press call for an immediate comment on a story they are on deadline for – – my experience has shown most times (not always) the press already knows what they want you to say. They are looking for that contrarian viewpoint.

Now, just because the press reaches out to me doesn’t mean I have to respond. Well, it sort of does because – these days – the press will include the dreaded, “the company refused to comment” or “we reached out to the company but have not heard word back.”

I always try to get back to the press with some sort of response. May not be the response they are looking for – – there are situations where I do say, “I can’t talk to that for competitive or legal or security reasons” but they are answers and – most important, they are the truth.

What about my “nobody uses your product” example? Well, I could’ve given them the data supporting usage of the product, but since I asked some questions about the segment, I learned that they had interviewed consumers.

Didn’t think a corporate suit giving numbers was the answer. Thought it would sound too cold and calculated, compared to consumer real-life experiences. Instead, I asked if they would talk to a local business owner who relies heavily on my product. The strategy was to counter those real people with another real person.

The reporter agreed and I quickly found the right person. Completed the story for (or dare I say with) the press.

And I think that is the key, whenever possible work with the media. Understand what they are looking for and accommodate as best you can. Any thoughts? Please let me know.