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TUESDAY TIP: Reporters have an agenda

We’re just going to say it — reporters have an agenda. Therefore, don’t ever walk into an interview with the expectation that you’re about to engage in a fair Q&A. You’re not, and you never will.

Don’t believe us? Listen to this exchange. Ed Helms reveals what it was like to interview Daily Show participants. The discussion starts around 1:17:00, but here’s a snapshot:

Ed Helms: “But I’m not a real journalist. I have a game I have to play and a script I have to stick to.”

Interviewer: “That they don’t even know they’re playing, really.”

Ed Helms: “Usually they do know that they are playing a game. They just overestimate their own defense mechanisms and their own ability to handle it. The people that knew the show the best were often the easiest to hoist on their own petard because they were cocky. And they don’t even consider the fact that you get to walk away and sit with the footage for two weeks and use whatever part of it you want. You have the final say. They don’t.”

Interviewer: “It’s a rigged game. And not in a bad way…”

Ed Helms: “It is very rigged. Listen, I’ll say it: We took advantage, sometimes.”

But don’t let Ed’s honesty keep you from agreeing to media hits. Instead, use it to your advantage.

Here are the three things you need to keep in mind as you walk into every interview:

#1 — Just do it
Agree to the interview. Even if the reporter has an agenda, he/she can’t put words in your mouth.

#2 — An interview isn’t a Q&A 
Don’t ever treat an interview like a Q&A, because it isn’t. Instead, take control. You should walk in ready to deliver your talking points, which you can do by blocking and bridging. Acknowledge the reporter’s question, and then pivot to what you want to talk about.

#3 — Your audience is at home
Even though the reporter is standing in front of you, or talking to you via an IFB, your audience is the viewer/listener. You aren’t trying to convince the reporter of your talking points, you’re trying to convince those who will read, listen to, and/or watch your interview.

Secrets for Q&A Success

Speaking in front of a live audience can be terrifying. Not only do you have to prepare and present talking points to keep the people engaged, but you will likely have to answer questions at the end.

Sometimes Q&A provides insightful commentary and allows you to talk more in-depth about an issue; other times, you field a filibuster and/or hostile questions you’d rather not answer.

It’s a risky situation, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself and the audience.

Here’s what we suggest:

Step #1: Set ground rules. You might think this is an unnecessary and condescending step, because who doesn’t know how to handle themselves during Q&A?? Turns out, a lot of people.

Before you take the first question, explain that you will only respond to questions (NOT comments), and the questions need to be brief to allow as many people as possible to participate.

Step #2: Don’t follow Justin Trudeau’s lead.

We get it, Q&A is unscripted and less formal. Anything can happen! But a joke or petty correction that leaves you apologizing days later means it was better left unsaid.

Even if you disagree with the premise of the question, or the words/phrases used, don’t insult the asker. Kindly reframe the question, and then block and bridge to the response you want to give.

Now, go rock that Q&A.