Interviews - Five Tips To Handle Tough Questions From Reporters

Journalists are trained and often experienced at getting information out of their subjects. Conflict and other negative situations often make the news and journalists often have a knack for taking a positive situation and twisting it into something else in order to make it more "sell"-able as news.

It's a common scenario. The media calls after your organisation has put out a news release on the latest groundbreaking achievements.

You've done the hard work in preparing your media message, spending time honing the features, benefits, evidence and proof that will build your case to overcome even the most cynical journalist. After hours of brainstorming, you've come up with a great quotable quote that even the most seasoned PR pro would be proud of.

You've practised and warmed up your voice. You've spent time to quietly relax, using your favourite visualisation technique to anchor your feeling of confidence as the moment of truth comes quicker than you realise. You've never been more prepared for this media interview in your life. The opening questions go well and you grow in confidence. Your body language and eye contact show you're in control and on message.

And, then it comes. Like an unannounced steam train, a question out of the blue. A tough 'red herring' completely throws you off balance as their ambush technique works with devastating effect. Crushed, your media interview stumbles from bad to worse. You miss several opportunities to stay on message and make the most of the media opportunity. Afterwards you feel deflated, humiliated and let down.

How can you avoid this situation and prepare for the tough questions that often come from seasoned, cynical and 'so what - who cares' journalists?

Here are Five Ways To Handle Tough Questions In A Media Interview.


Many journalists are attracted to the media because they want to see their face on TV, hear their voice on radio and read their name in the paper. I call them 'ego-driven' journalists. Work to their egos and stroke them. Compliment them on a great question. For example, use "that's a great question and I'm glad you asked it, ....."


Once you've paid the compliment, get back on message as quickly as possible to show you are in control and not the reporter. For example, after the compliment use "...but what I want to say is this ..."


Good reporters will always look for an angle to make the story more newsworthy and will try a range of techniques to get conflict into the story. Keep your focus, be disciplined and avoid going down a line of questioning that is not relevant to the story or your message. Be firm, but polite. For example, "I really think we're getting off track here, the main point I want to make is ...."


Under no circumstances should you lose your temper, shout or get angry. This only inflames the situation and comments said in the heat of the moment when emotions are running high can often get you in trouble. Remember they make great copy and sensational 'news grabs'. Remain calm. Remember you are the one in control with the information that the media wants. You have every right to call a halt to an interview if the journalist become overly aggressive or offensive.


I've lost count of the number of times a novice interviewee has taken the whole bait and been taken down the garden path and completely off message by an irrelevant question during a media training exercise. Most people are quick learners and when they see it happening to others quickly learn not to do this once they've seen how easy it is to stay on track. Prepare for tough questions prior to the interview in a formal media training course or with a colleague. Road test your messages prior to talking to the media and you are more likely to stay out of trouble.

Thomas Murrell MBA CSP is an international business speaker, consultant and award-winning broadcaster. Media Motivators is his regular electronic magazine read by 7,000 professionals in 15 different countries. You can subscribe by visiting Thomas can be contacted directly at +6189388 6888 and is available to speak to your conference, seminar or event. Visit Tom's blog at

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