In the words often attributed to (apparently wrongly) to U.S. President Harry Truman, “If you want a friend [in Washington], get a dog.” If Give ’Em Hell Harry ever said that, in my imagination he was thinking at least in part about the press. And of course, with 24/7 news cycles and whole websites and networks devoted to exposing foibles, that’s more true than ever.
If you have the opportunity or responsibility to represent yourself or your organization with press and analysts, here are a few things to keep in mind –
- Your audience is not the person in front of you – it’s the audience the person in front of you reaches. Don’t let your guard down because it feels like an informal conversation – everything you say can reach much further so avoid unscripted moments.
- Know what you are going to say before you start talking. Have a messaging framework prepared, know your talking points, and stick to them. Learn the art of the pivot, of drawing your answer back to the points you want to make.
- “I don’t know,” or “Let me check with some colleagues and get back to you on that” are great answers for interviews. Just make sure you do get back to the questioner. This doesn’t work as well if the interview is for TV or radio, but do resist the urge to think you need to have every answer in detail just because you’re the one with the microphone in your face.
My work in big businesses included several opportunities to speak with press and analysts, and many more where a boss or internal client was prepping for an interview that we knew would be closely watched by our ultimate audience. I attended a few half-day or daylong trainings provided by PR agencies. I definitely recommend such a training if you are entering a role where you’ll be doing a lot of press work – if your company has a PR team or a relationship with an agency, see what’s available for you.
Or, work with a messaging and speaking coach (like those at 3C!) on your general messaging, and make sure to spend some time on how to make sure your audience message lands even if someone else is holding the pen or mic.
More tips for communicating with press or analysts:
- Work with a team to think of any “gotcha” questions you may face about the product, program, or plan you will be speaking about. Consider options for answer to each. These could become an external-facing FAQ, or an internal “Rude Q&A” document.
- Practice, practice, practice. Practice your answers until you feel comfortable bringing the conversation back to your preferred ground, and practice the answers that don’t – “I don’t know,” or “I want to talk with my colleagues about that (or do more research, etc.) and get back to you,” or even something more direct, like, “I’m not going to engage in speculation, what’s your next question,” or, “I don’t think that’s what your audience is interested in, [interviewer name], I think what they really want to know is…” Yes, sometimes it’s better not to answer.