Why You Should Stay In Your Lane

My firm conducted a press conference training workshop for a national organization last week.

When each trainee took their turn at the lectern, we killed the room lights and aimed a spotlight at them. The light was so bright, the trainees could barely see the reporters in the first row (their colleagues played the role of the pesky press corps).

Afterwards, a few of the trainees told me that their hearts were pounding during the exercise. Their adrenaline surge, caused from the combination of hot lights and the fear of failing in front of their peers, prompted them to answer questions that they probably shouldn’t have.

You’ll occasionally be asked questions as a media spokesperson that don’t pertain to your specific area of expertise. Your natural instinct may be to try to answer those questions as best you can. It’s often a mistake. 

The U.S. Army’s social media policy offers this terrific advice about when to answer questions:

“Stay in your lane: If you’re not the expert on a military topic, don’t comment like you are.”

 

That advice should govern your interactions on social media and with the traditional media.

For example, let’s say you’re a technical expert for a company. The reporter begins by asking you about the technical issue you’re an expert on, but quickly changes the topic and asks about the company’s latest financial report. Don’t try to answer. Just tell the reporter that the company’s financials are outside your area of expertise and that you’d be happy to find someone who can answer their financial questions for them.

For friendly live interviews, you can also use another approach, something I’ve dubbed the “Peter Jennings Rule. You can read more about that here.

I know all of this probably sounds obvious. It does to our trainees, as well. But once the lights come on, they usually forget everything they learned and start saying way too much. So before stepping into that studio or picking up the phone to call a newspaper reporter, remember: it’s okay to stay in your lane.

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