In most cases, you’ll probably find media interviews to be a pleasant experience. The average business doesn’t find itself plagued with controversy, so the chances of your being blindsided by a reporter probably aren’t all that great.
However, there may come a time when a reporter does hit you with a challenging question. Your ability to handle a tough line of questioning will play a huge role in determining the direction and outcome of the interview. If you panic and drop the ball, your brand’s image (and your own) could take a serious hit.
So, how should you react when a reporter asks a hard question?
1. Prepare yourself. First things first: You have to be prepared for your interviews. Rare is the moment where a tough question will come out of left field. If you’re in a situation where a reporter might hit you with a question you don’t like, you should probably know ahead of time. Be prepared for any and every type of question the reporter might ask, and study the reporter’s work before the interview to determine whether he/she tends to ask hard questions.
2. Attack questions that lack validity. If the reporter asks a tough question that is irrelevant, inaccurate, or too personal/inappropriate, it’s well within your rights to attack the quality of the question. Don’t let yourself be bullied.
3. Refer the reporter to someone else. If the question is about something that isn’t in your area of responsibility or it’s about something you just don’t know about, deflect it by referring the reporter to the person who could answer it or by promising to get back to him or her later.
4. If you’ve already answered it, don’t answer it again. Should you find yourself in a crisis, reporters will tend to ask the same hard questions over and over. If you’ve already covered a topic extensively, there’s no need to go over it again. Simply let the reporter know that you’ve already answered the question and that you’re not going to keep covering old ground.
5. Don’t get emotional. Have you ever seen an NFL coach snap at a reporter for asking a tough question after a loss? You don’t want to be like that guy. If your emotions get the best of you, you’ll say something that you regret and that makes you look like a fool. Furthermore, you’ll just attract more attention to that tough question, causing reporters to dig even deeper.
Have you ever been asked tough questions in a media interview? How did you handle it?
A version of this article first appeared on PR Fuel.