How to tackle tricky questions

Not all media and public speaking opportunities will be to an entirely ‘friendly’ audience.

People might have difficult questions or take a hostile stance towards your presentation. Sometimes they want to know information that cannot be shared, or which does not fall within your remit. This is where you require the art of tackling and the ability to diffuse tension.

To effectively tackle a question, here are some tactics that you should consider:

1.  Take control of the interview.

You need to be less defensive and start the interview with positive intent.

By finishing your answer with short snippets that leave the questioner wanting more, you can nudge them into asking a question you would like to face. This subtle approach is known as “signposting”. It makes it easier for you to control the interview and deliver your key message.

For example: end your answers with ‘…there are a couple of examples I could provide,’ or ‘there’s more to that story.’ By indicating more information, you are encouraging the interviewer to ask you more about an area you’re comfortable with speaking. BarksComm calls this a ‘sneak peek.’

2.  Stick to your message and the facts.

Sometimes reporters or interviewers will try to get into your head by using emotional or opinionated language, but you should stick to the facts and use affirmative, fact-based language.  

For example: ‘don’t you think it’s stupid that we aren’t being asked to wear masks?’ The temptation here is to snap back with something like, ‘people should be intelligent enough to make their mind up,’ or ‘what’s stupid is that people are still going out to the pub.’ And that becomes the headline for tomorrow’s paper. Take a moment to breathe and consider what your key message is concerning this topic. For example, ‘The fact is that the Chief Medical Officer is making recommendations daily according to the situation.’

3.  You are allowed to say no.

Just because somebody asks you a question does not mean you are obliged to answer it. If you know the information is sensitive, embargoed or a political matter then you can say that. It’s helpful to have a few pre-prepared lines that you can deliver confidently in the face of inappropriate lines of questioning to provide a satisfactory response without leaving any avenues open.

For example: ‘I’m afraid the answer to your question is regarding sensitive information, I’m not able to discuss this topic at this time.’ Will invite the question – ‘well when can you discuss it?’ Keep your responses short, simple, and factual. Provide a mitigating reason why you cannot discuss the issue.

So, these are some of the tactics to tackle tricky questions. What are your thoughts on tackling difficult media? Let us know in the comments below.


Looking to learn more tricks and tips like these for your next media interview?

Find out more about our very own media training master class led by contentgroup CEO, David Pembroke. An ex-ABC journalist, David is well versed in the art of media and is supported by a team of communication strategists who have experience working in all aspects of media and communications.

Read the details on the media training master class here.

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