Sunday, May 20, 2007

By Jerry Brown, APR

The following is a commentary from
Guest Columnist
Jerry Brown

Just like music, interviews have a rhythm. Control your rhythm and you’ll find it easier to control your answers. Let a reporter disrupt your rhythm and you’ll probably get into trouble.

All of us have a rhythm to our speech and the way we answer questions. And it’s different for each of us. Reporters may follow your rhythm or try to disrupt it during an interview depending on what they believe will be most useful to them.

During a hostile interview, for example, a reporter may hammer you with a rapid succession of questions, interrupt you and try to rush you by upping the tempo. Or the reporter may be friendly, encouraging you to speak as long as you like.

Is one better than the other? Not necessarily. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by hostile reporters who try to rush and interrupt you. But don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by the ones who are more friendly.

Reporters use a variety of techniques to change the rhythm of an interview. Three of the most common are pausing, rushing and interrupting.

· Pausing: A lot of media trainers ignore this tactic. I’m not sure why. Reporters who use it generally are masters at getting people to say things they shouldn’t. It works like this. The reporter asks a question and you answer. Instead of following with another question, the reporter pauses. Many people are uncomfortable with the silence. So, they start talking again – saying things they shouldn’t. Good reporters know this can be extremely fertile ground for them. It’s simple to avoid this trap. Answer the question. Stick to your message. Then wait for the next question, even if the reporter pauses.

· Rushing: Flip side of the pause and more common. Reporter asks another question as soon as you’ve finished your answer – or even a little before you’ve finished your answer. Don’t let the reporter rush you. Take the time to finish your answer and deliver your message. Then, give yourself breathing and thinking space between answers. If the reporter’s trying to rush you, pause before you begin each answer to slow the pace. Besides maintaining your rhythm, one of your goals is to get the reporter to listen to what you’re saying. Reporters who try to rush you often aren’t listening.

· Interrupting: An exaggerated form of rushing. The reporter repeatedly interrupts your answers to ask another question. The reporter may be trying to get you off balance so you won’t think about your answers. But something to watch for: The reporter may interrupt because your answer isn’t useful for the story. Time’s extremely important to most reporters. If a reporter’s interrupting to badger you, take time to complete your answer and ask the reporter to let you finish before you accept another question. But if you know the reporter’s interrupting because what you’re saying isn’t useful, move on.

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