How Answering Media Questions Is Like Playing Football

I often work with media training clients who respond to every question I ask during our mock interviews with unnaturally short, clipped answers.

They’re far from alone – many spokespersons answer the questions they’re asked, but fail to do anything else to advocate for their views. They might offer a five-word answer – not even a complete sentence, just blurted words that do nothing more than answer the specific query.

What should they be doing instead? They could begin with that five word answer, supplement it with a captivating and memorable message, story, and/or statistic, and finish it with a closing call-to-action. That doesn’t have to take long. They can do it all in 30 seconds or less.

Here’s a different way to think about it: being a great media spokesperson is like being a great football player.

When reporters ask you a question, they’ve handed you the football. If you answer with five clipped words, you’ve gained no more than a yard before giving them possession of the ball again. But if you take their question, run with it while advocating for your position in a memorable way, you’ve just given yourself a first down – and possibly scored a few points.

Here’s an example:

Question: “Why should your museum get more money from taxpayers? Times are tough for everyone – shouldn’t you have to sacrifice like everybody else?”

One-Yard Gain: “Absolutely, and we have.”

First Down: “Absolutely, and we have. It’s important to remember that we are only asking for enough money to keep our doors open and our artwork safe.”

Touchdown: “Absolutely, and we have. It’s important to remember that we are only asking for enough money to keep our doors open and our artwork safe. Last year, we were robbed because we couldn’t afford a nighttime security guard – and it cost us more than it would have to hire two guards for three years. That’s why we’re asking the public to contact the governor’s office and ask him to give us the funding we need, to make sure that parents can continue bringing their children to our museum for years to come.”

This technique isn’t intended to allow spokespersons to filibuster, but rather to allow them to take advantage of their precious limited time while in possession of the ball. Be generous with the reporter by sharing the ball; but don’t give it back until you’ve fully advocated for your position.

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