Communications Corner

    • January 3, 2010

Answering a Reporter’s “Tricky” Questions (Part 1)

During interviews, reporters often ask questions that seem easy to answer, yet hold potential traps; others may appear to present you with no choice but to give a reply that you don’t want to give. By anticipating and preparing for these questions, you can keep the focus of the media interview where you want it—on the key messages about your work.

In the last issue of Leaders’ Link, we considered two tricky questions that you can expect from reporters, and strategies for responding to them. Here are two more.

The “Loaded Preface” Question
This type of inquiry presents opinion or incorrect information as if it’s factual, and encourages you (explicitly or implicitly) to agree. “It’s widely accepted that mammograms don’t provide significant benefits to women under 50. In light of this, should women younger than 50 avoid screening?” If you allow the underlying assumption to go unchallenged, it may appear that you’re endorsing it.

As politely as possible, correct the record immediately, and transition to one of the key messages you’ve prepared: “Some sources have suggested that about mammograms, but it isn’t widely accepted by any means. It’s important for women of all ages to know they should make the screening choices that are right for them.”

The “A or B” Question
This question consists of two alternatives, typically forcing you to choose between extremes: “Will this project help to halt the spread of HIV among IV drug users in the community, or could we spend this money better elsewhere?” It’s a question that seems to narrow your options—yet, in most cases, neither option reflects the truth.

Override the two choices, and transition to a key message: “I wouldn’t agree with either of your assumptions. However, I do believe that by reducing the spread of HIV among IV drug users in the area, the project will serve our community—not only by saving treatment funds, but by reducing human suffering.”

When you directly confront the assumptions posed by either of these questions, you’ll find it easier to state your case. And by approaching your answer as a teaching opportunity, you increase the likelihood that the audience will perceive your words as well-reasoned and persuasive.

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