How I Managed One Totally Unexpected Question

Ten years ago, I managed the media relations department for an environmental nonprofit called Conservation International. In that role, I was frequently interviewed by the media.

One morning, I was scheduled to be interviewed by a radio talk show host in the Midwest. I dialed in a few minutes early and was placed on hold so I could hear the live programming. The station was in a commercial break, and came out of the break with a “bumper,” or by playing a few seconds of a pop song.

As the music continued playing at a low volume, I heard the phone line click over to me as the host started talking and introducing me. When his introduction finished, he started with his first question:

“Brad, how old are you?”

I was in my late 20s at the time, and was immediately afraid that I would lose credibility in the host’s eyes (and the audience’s) if I admitted I was a youthful 29-years-old.

His question threw me. I stumbled for a second. But luckily, I had the presence of mind to ask him why he was asking.

“Because that’s a great old song, and I was curious if you knew it,” he replied.

“Oh, sure,” I said. “That’s Rare Earth’s ‘Get Ready.’” How in the world did a 29-year-old who grew up in the 80s know that? Because I happened to pay for many of my college expenses by making my way through school as a mobile disc jockey —  and it so happens that I played that song at many a party.

The D.J. didn’t ask about my age again. Crisis averted.

But what should you do if you find yourself similarly tongue tied? Remember that you don’t have to answer every question just because it’s asked. In my case, I asked why he was curious, which allowed me to learn that his question wasn’t intended to undermine my credibility (as I feared), but rather to ask me about a pop song he loved. You can certainly ask for clarification in a similar manner before answering questions that come from left field.

And if he was asking me the question to undermine me? I could have just laughed and deflected by saying, “You know, I’m old enough to know not to answer questions about my age.”

Don’t remember Rare Earth’s “Get Ready?” Take a few minutes and enjoy!

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