Why spokespeople fall apart on the last question

Picture the scene.

You are pretty sure your spokesperson is coming towards the end of their
media interview. You’re confident they have answered all the questions on
the topic well and you feel they have got the message across successfully.

Suddenly, the journalist asks something completely unexpected, completely
out of left field and your principal puts his foot straight into his mouth.

The final question has tripped up many a media spokesperson—and often
undone all of his or her previous good work.

So what can you and your media team do about it?

Awareness is key

Often the last question will be introduced through a phrase like “while
I’ve got you here,” which you have probably heard during radio or TV
interviews.

It might take the form of a question about last-minute developments on your
subject. It could be about wider issues in your sector or industry, or
perhaps about something a rival organization has done.

The scope could be much wider than that. In the current political climate,
you will often find spokespeople asked to give their views about the impact
of Brexit or Donald Trump through this final question.

It is essential for spokespeople to be aware that a tricky question could
still be coming and that they don’t start to relax or rest on their laurels
because they feel the interview has gone well.

[RELATED: Get the skills you need to become a trusted advisor to leaders.]

Preparation is also absolutely crucial. Spokespeople need to spend time
anticipating the wider issues that could be brought into an interview and
in particular into a difficult final question.

You can be sure that the journalist has been doing their research and his
means spokespeople need to ensure they know about the big issues in their
industry and what the media has recently been interested in.

They also need to be aware of what the organization’s official stance is on
wider issues like Brexit and be confident to use that messaging in an
interview.

How to manage a final question

Say too little, or sound irritated by the sudden change of questioning, and
you could appear defensive. This would be likely to cause the journalist to
pursue that line of questioning and ramp up the pressure.

Say too much, and the focus of the interview could be about the response to
the final question rather than the subject you wanted to talk about. This
is particularly true when that final question invited you to speculate, for
example on potential job losses as result of leaving the EU.

The best replies to these questions are the ones where a spokesperson
provides a brief response, which doesn’t include anything controversial,
and then goes on to steer the conversation, using
media training
techniques, back to the subject you want to talk about.

Beware throwaway questions

The last question doesn’t just have to be a “while you are here” question.
Some of the most devastating interview mistakes have come from responses to
what are seemingly throwaway questions.

When something has gone badly wrong, the final question to a CEO might be
‘do you really think you are worth your salary’ or ‘are you going to
resign’.It was a question
Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg
prepared for extensively when he appeared in front of US Senators as his
briefing notes showed.

The question was never asked, but it was a much better approach to prepare
properly than assume a sneaky question with the intent to rattle Zuckerberg
wouldn’t come up.

How would you advise someone to prepare for the final question of an
interview, PR Daily readers?

Adam Fisher is the content editor for
Media First, a media and communications training firm with over 30 years of
experience. A version of this article originally appeared on


the Media First blog
.

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