Staying in Control

Interviews can be challenging for even the most experienced spokespeople. The following techniques can help you stay focused and in control of your message. They are particularly useful with broadcast media, but also work with print reporters and other question-and-answer situations.

  • Ask questions before you answer them. Clarify in advance the topics to be discussed and the type of audience. Ask if there are specific questions the interviewer wants answered. If you don't feel qualified to address the issue or are uncomfortable with the approach, say so. Suggest other approaches. Refer them to the ALA Public Information Office or other sources of information.
  • Take time to prepare. Tell the reporter you will call back at a given time (even five minutes if the reporter is on deadline). Use this time to review the key message and anticipate questions. Be sure to call back at the agreed upon time.
  • Never answer a question you don't fully understand. Say, "I'm not sure I understand the question. Are you asking...?"
  • Think first. Don’t rush. A pause can make you appear more thoughtful. You also can buy time by saying, "That’s a good question." Or, "Let me think about that and come back to it."
  • Beware of leading questions. Some reporters may attempt to influence your answer by asking something like "Wouldn’t you say..." followed by an idea for your agreement. Answer the questions briefly followed by your own statement.

Q. Isn’t it true that many colleges are closing their library buildings in favor of online collections?

A. I don’t think it’s likely. Libraries are the heart of the campus. One of the most important things librarians do is teach students how to find and use information.

Never repeat a negative. Keep your answers positive.

Q. Why do librarians allow children to view pornography?

A. We don’t. Our job is to help children learn to use the Internet wisely and guide them to all the great Web sites out there.

Avoid one-word answers such as "yes" or "no." Use every opportunity to make your point.

Q. Since everything is electronic, shouldn't the library need less money?

A. Technology offers many advantages, but saving money isn't necessarily one of them. Computers must be maintained, updated and staffed. Also, everything is far from electronic. Our library has a large print collection and many other resources that aren't on the Internet.

  • "Flag" or emphasize key thoughts with phrases like "That’s an excellent question" or "The important thing to remember is…" or "The real issue here is…."
  • Stay "on message." Use every question as an opportunity to "bridge" to your message.

Q. How was the weather when you left Chicago?

A. The weather was terrible. But I’m not nearly as concerned about that as I am about some very serious threats to our freedom to read.

  • "Hook" the interviewer into listening to your key points by saying, "There are three things your listeners should know" or "There are a couple ways to answer that question. First . . ." The interviewer can’t cut you off without frustrating his/her audience.
  • Practice. Practice. Practice . . .with your staff, your family and friends. The more you do it, the better and more comfortable you’ll be.

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