Media interviews: accentuate the positive

A popular Johnny Mercer song from the 1940s began:

“They said we better, accentuate the positive…
Eliminate the negative…
Latch on to the affirmative…
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between.”

That’s great advice for anyone doing media interviews.

Reporters are trained to ask challenging questions; CBC veteran Linden MacIntyre described his approach to interviews as ‘skeptical inquiry’. 

So here is a great tip for people facing negative or challenging questions in media interviews: don’t get tangled up in the negativity.

If you hear only the negative words in the question, you can sabotage your answer by spending time denying or defending against the negativity. 

Say the question was ‘How disappointed are you by your recent results?’ If you focus on the ‘disappointed’ you are likely to start your answer negatively – with a denial. 

But if you  focus on the words ‘recent results’ you are more likely to be able to start on a positive note with something that pleased you about the results.

Listen really carefully to the question. Don’t allow yourself to get flustered by the negative aspects of the question. And don’t be surprised or offended by what can sometimes seem like a litany of challenging questions. 

Prepare for the challenges in media interviews. Anticipate where the reporter might try to challenge or unsettle you. Figure out in advance of the interview how you will handle the challenge.

At all times in the interview, listen carefully for the elements of the question that you can talk about positively. That’s where you get to latch on to the affirmative.

Every question should be a springboard to your message. You just have to listen for the words and phrases that give your answers lift-off.

“The media only report stupid or careless answers, not stupid or unfair questions.”

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Neil Everton

Neil Everton has distilled a lifetime’s experience with some of the world’s top news organizations into his Media Mastery training aids for anyone worried about talking to reporters. The video, books, e-books and workbooks are available in the Podium Coaching online store.