When journalists are doing an interview, they’ll ask different types of question to get their subjects talking – whether they want to or not!
In general, these questions will fall into recognisable categories, and it’s well worth knowing how to identify these, so you can develop techniques to answer them well.
1. Open questions
Any question starting with who, what, where, when, how and why (and not forgetting ‘tell me about’). These are a great opportunity as they are an invitation to talk at length and a chance to get your message across. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve asked a question starting ‘tell me about’ working on programmes such as Remembrance Sunday, to encourage people to talk about their experiences.
Do beware, though, as they can be used to trap you.
“When will the chief executive resign?”
“Why didn’t you call in expert help when you knew there was a problem?”
2. Leading questions
These invite you to make judgements about your activities.
“Your track record running this hospital is hardly one to be proud of is it?”
Deal with these type of questions factually, refuting the points made. So you might list your achievements and describe the measures you have taken to overcome the current difficulties.
3. Incomprehensible questions
Interviewers do sometimes get in a muddle but rather than pointing it out, use the opportunity to answer the question you hoped they would ask.
4. Multi-element questions
This is sometimes the sign of an inexperienced or over keen interviewer:
“With me now is Barack Obama, the President of the United States. So Mr President, can you tell me how you defeated the Republicans, but it’s all going a bit wrong now isn’t it, are you concerned about how the Democrats will do in this week’s elections, and what does it feel like to be the first black president of the United States?
Just pick the nicest question – ie, the one which will allow you to get your messages out best – and answer that.
5. Hypothetical Questions
The type of thing you may face from an aggressive current affairs journalist.
“Will you resign if the investigation proved that your department approved that shipment of illegal arms?”
To deflect this type of question, simply refuse to be drawn and turn the conversation to a positive point, repeating the statement you have made to other reporters.
6. The Cul-de-sac Question
This is designed to catch you out, no matter what you say.
“Mr Mullins, your organisation is responsible for leaking sensitive medical records. As managing director, you must surely be considering resignation?”.
The only thing to do is refute both parts of this question – and stick to your own agenda.
Remember that whatever kind of question you’re asked, the point of agreeing to be interviewed is to promote yourself and your business. So each question has to be seen as an opportunity to do this by delivering your key messages.