‘Um, Ahh, No Comment’ – 5 Tips to Get Media Ready


We’ve all seen it. The infamous media interview. That soundbite that divulges more than the interviewee intended to (from words spoken on or off camera) … the innocent “No comment” that implies a guilty act … the dumb look that says, “I don’t know how to answer that question” … and it’s played over and over again. I cringe every time I see someone interviewed who just doesn’t get it.

Don’t be that person. With some advance work and practice, you can be prepared for that next media interview.

Whether in-person, over the phone, via video or in writing, here are 5 tips to help you get media ready:

shutterstock_1821522291)      Develop key messages. Create a couple key messages, but no more than four. Think in terms of a Twitter post (140 characters), not long drawn-out sentences. These should convey the key aspects, or headline, of what you want to share with the reporter. It doesn’t mean these messages are guaranteed to make it into the story, but staying ‘on message’ keeps you focused on what you do want to share.

2)      Anticipate questions and develop answers. You most likely know the questions a reporter will ask and what their audience wants to know. The media can ask anything, as they don’t have to stick to the topic. Think of that question you don’t want asked. Now prepare an answer. If you’re asked a question you truly can’t answer, since you don’t know or can’t reveal that information due to confidentiality or legal reasons, don’t say, “No comment.” Rather, say, “I can’t provide any information on that at this time; however, I can tell you (then bridge back to a key message).” If the reporter’s question has inaccurate information, then certainly don’t repeat the inaccuracy.

3)      Stay in the conversational “box.” This is one of the times “thinking outside the box” is unacceptable. Keeping your conversation focused, limited and inside the box helps you avoid interview “babble” … you know, the things you say that you wished you didn’t… Because this will most likely be what is reported. It might be what the reporter is truly fishing for, and you just took the bait.

4)      Think beyond the words. It’s not only what you say, but also how you say it. Body language speaks louder than words. Think of facial expressions, including eye movements (eye rolls, looking up and sideways – they are exaggerated on television). Avoid excessive hand gestures. Don’t sway or slouch. Your tone of voice is also key, especially over the phone or for radio/podcast interviews. Articulate key words, take natural pauses and avoid ums and ahhs. You may say, “We really care about the safety and well-being of our employees,” but with your arms folded and insincerity in your voice, you’re really saying something else.

5)      Remain on the record all the time. It’s too risky to go off the record. Sure, reporters want to get background information, and you want to be a valuable source sharing what you know. But there are different levels of understanding of what off the record means – pen down, recorder off and you won’t be quoted – it’s just for background. However, sometimes you will be quoted but not actually mentioned by name, like “a person close to the situation who requested anonymity.” And sometimes it’s not always clear when you are back on the record or still off the record. Think of the occasional open mic that captured what people really think, when they thought they weren’t on the air yet.

Don’t wait for a media interview to get ready. Take the time now to practice. Who knows – later today you could be thrust into the limelight with media asking you for a statement. Will you be prepared?

Rich is a former journalist who has spent a couple of decades conducting training, including preparing spokespeople for media interviews, executives for presentations and company employees for communicating in crisis situations.