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Treating media interview as a date with Harvey Specter

A friend the other day was telling me about the value of mediation in settling disputes versus going through the courts system. They went to great lengths to point out that some people see the court as the place where they can put forward their argument over a particular matter. Sadly though, the case couldn't be further from the truth (excuse the pun) and time and again he sees people coming him for mediation after the courts system has failed them.

His point being that the court is a contrived forum where by you only get to answer questions put before you. The power is all in the hands of the lawyer as to how your story will be interpreted or how much of it will even be told and unless you've got Harvey Specter from the TV show Suits on your side, a large chunk of what you want to get off chest, may actually remain there and never be heard. Even worse you can be led down a path, where one off comments you make mean nothing in isolation but put together in a particular way, conjure up a completely different meaning from what you were trying to say and you'll be left muttering to yourself "the bastards".

Well you can probably guess where I'm going here, I'm talking about the comparison with this scenario, with that of a media interview. Imagine you're in the dock, the lawyer is the reporter and your audience is the jury, how careful would you be in framing your answers?

Sure, the court of law can be a lot more hostile than a media interview, but the fact is there are certain tactics and preparation that it is best to keep in mind should you be interviewed by media. The reality is you won't get a carte blanche to say what you want and even if you do, only an ounce of it will be used so it's important to choose your comments carefully. Luckily for you, as your personal Mike Ross I've outlined below a few tips on how you can do this:

Don't say "no comment."

When you say no comment, it gives the impression you're ducking for cover. It's better to front up and be frank about why you can't answer and then offer something else. E.g. look I'm just not in a position to answer that because it's commercially sensitive / confidential, what I can say is…

The fact is though proper preparation prior to the interview would have meant you would have anticipated difficult questions already and have some suitable answers so you're not put in that position in the first place. Think the mock trials at Harvey's firm.

Ask the question you want to answer

Ok, so you don't get to do this in the court of law but when it comes to talking to journalist don't be afraid to front foot it rather than wait for the reporter to ask the question you want to answer. It's all in the segue into the topic you want to discuss. For example:

"What really matters is ______."

"The most important issue is ______."

"The more interesting question is ______."

Look out for polarising questions

Ok, this may seem obvious but there are certain questions that are often employed so that your answer becomes the angle for the story. This quite often happens if there is an ongoing issue or story that is already out in the open and your interview is key to moving it along. These are usually, yes or no type questions or being asked to rank on a scale. You hear it all the time with politicians being interviewed on radio: "Do you see this as being acceptable behaviour for a civil servant minister? Yes or no?"

Don't feel you need to answer this if you know if it will be certain to be held against you or become a headline, just return your key points, in this case, it might be providing further context about the actions of the civil servant.

Don't repeat a negative question and watch for "trap questions."

There's no reason to needlessly hurt yourself by repeating a negative question, while trap questions are loaded questions that paint you negatively no matter how you answer. For example, say a reporter asks, "You're just ripping off first home buyers here aren't you?" Answer with, "I wouldn't say that, what I would say..." Think about it: If you answer, "No we're not ripping off…," the headline could easily be, "X denies ripping off..." The best way to deal with both is simply answer it briefly and move on to what you want to say.

There's plenty more points to be mindful of should you get a chance to be interviewed by media anytime soon and it's worth noting that reporters on the whole aren't out to get you (unless your Donald Trump right now). Their goal is the story, but should it work in their favour to paint you in a particular way to tell that story, they will.

Taking the above advice should help your cause and if you'd like any further insights we're but an email or phone call away.

Luke Henshall