When You Score A Touchdown, Get Off The Field

You’ve just delivered the perfect media response. Your answer is on message and perfectly quotable. It will accomplish everything you had hoped. Then…you say more.

It pains me to see an answer that was brilliant in its first 15 seconds become diluted when it lasts for another minute. An extended answer also risks introducing secondary points that offer reporters the ability to quote something relatively unimportant.

When I see our trainees deliver a great answer—and then keep going—I tell them this: “When you score a touchdown, get off the field!”


What To Say When Reporters Enter A “No-Go Zone”

The words “no comment” are problematic during a media interview. Too often, that curt phrase sends a “guilty” message to the audience—even if your refusal to comment has nothing to do with guilt or innocence.

I recently saw a perfect example of that during a training with an economist whose financial institution has been the subject of regulatory scrutiny. When I asked her about the latest on the investigation, she said, “No comment.”

We then discussed a far better approach.


The Media Training Lesson I Learned While On Safari

While on a South African safari in 2003, I received an instruction I’ll never forget.

Before leaving for a nature hike one morning, the guide turned to our group and told us to form a tight single file line. Lions, he informed us, tended not to attack a line of people—such lines appear to the lion to be a single large object and are therefore too threatening to attack—but lions harbor no such reservations if one person strays from the pack.

I recently experienced something during a training that made me think of that moment.


The Other “What Is Your Personal Opinion?” Trap

In my book The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview, I wrote about the hazards of answering a “personal opinion” question.

In this post, you’ll find that excerpt. But after reading it, you’ll find a second trap question the book doesn’t address—and it’s one you should be aware of before a reporter catches you off guard.

You’ll also see an example of how something so seemingly innocent can become troublesome, and quickly.


Here’s How Chris Matthews Forced A Donald Trump Abortion Error

Donald Trump earned condemnation from liberals and conservatives alike on Wednesday for stating that women who get abortions should receive “some form of punishment.”

Trump’s campaign quickly realized he had committed a major error and went into overdrive to correct it. During one cleanup interview, his spokesperson admitted, “This was a complete misspeak.”

Interviewer Chris Matthews used a specific technique to knock Trump off script — and our trainees fall victim to it often.


Why Good Media Interviews Are Like Threading A Needle

Media trainers often focus on what can go wrong during an interview. As a result, spokespersons can become fearful of the consequences of a badly worded thought.

Those risks are real, of course, but sometimes we don’t do a good enough job of reminding people that in many cases, the majority of interviews they ever give will not be adversarial in nature.

A spokesperson who thinks about what both they and the reporter want from the exchange can succeed at threading the needle between their goals and the reporter’s needs.


When Throwaway Comments Become Your Lead Quote

Many years ago, a client told me a story that serves as a useful cautionary tale for everyone who interacts with reporters.

The man, who represented a government agency, was friendly with a local reporter. The two socialized after hours on a regular basis, but had an agreement that whenever the reporter called his buddy at the government agency in his professional role, the usual rules of media interviewing would apply.

One day, the reporter called his pal and asked for a comment. Unfortunately, his friend said something he shouldn’t have.


Donald Trump’s “Off-The-Record” New York Times Interview

On January 5, 2016, Donald Trump visited the editorial board of The New York Times. Some 30 editors were reportedly present for the meeting, portions of which were agreed by both parties to be off the record.

Late last week, a columnist for the Times who attended that meeting wrote a piece suggesting that Trump was more flexible on his immigration views than he was letting on publicly.

This incident offers a cautionary tale about why going off the record is risky — and adds a new rule to my list of things to consider if you’re ever inclined to speak in that manner.

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