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Joanne McCall
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Surprise! When Doing Media Interviews, Expect the Unexpected

The unexpected. It’s a part of life and certainly applies when doing any kind of media, including interviews. Because more and more of us are using technology to put our messages into the world, talking to a professional about this would be good. In this three-part series, publicist and media trainer Joanne McCall shares helpful tips and techniques that anyone can use to present themselves better in the press. Our own Stephen Parker spoke with McCall about this.

We all know surprises happen in life, and you say we can expect them when doing media interviews. What are some of the common questions you are asked about regarding surprises? 

Here are the most common questions that come up around this topic: 

  • What if something happens?
  • What if I get asked a question I don’t want to discuss? 
  • What if I get asked a question and do not know the answer? 
  • What if I completely forget what I am saying right in the middle of a thought? 
  • What if I get triggered by something the host says, and I react emotionally to it?
  • What if they ask me something untrue or wrong? 
  • What if they are confrontational and mean to me?

The concerns reflected in these questions mostly concern performance and how you do during an interview. There may be other surprises you haven’t even thought to worry about; I’m not suggesting that you do, but I want to prepare you for the possibilities. You may find this hard to believe, but the good news is that you will look forward to the unexpected with practice because you get to see how far you have come and how good you are at dealing with the unexpected. Let’s look at some scenarios you might be confronted with and explore how to deal with them. 

Surprise. Your host might be a jerk. Unfortunately, it happens. Hopefully, you or your publicist did your research ahead of time about the host and the culture of the show, but sometimes we get surprised anyway. Very nice people can suddenly turn into jerks when something sensitive sets them off.

How you play this can make a huge impact on you, the host, and the audience. An intense, passionate reaction can be a catalyst to help you sell your message and convince people of its importance, or it can hurt you and your credibility by making you look like you have no emotional intelligence.

So what do you do? A little “verbal aikido” is in order. Aikido is a martial art that uses an attacker’s strength and momentum and turns it back on them. If nothing works to get the host to calm down, then speak through them directly to the listener.

For example, a woman doing a nationally syndicated talk show was sharing about a chain of fitness centers she created across the country for overweight women. She wanted to provide a safe environment for them to work out and not feel like they did not belong simply because they were not wearing skimpy little outfits.  

When she arrived for the interview, the host was very nice and polite, greeting her with a big smile. But that all changed when the microphone was hot and they were live. The host’s first question was, “Why would anyone want a membership to your health spa?! You’re fat!”

That would rattle anyone, but to her credit — and remember, he was very friendly at first, so this was a big surprise to her–she quickly got over her shock and spoke through the host directly to the listener by saying, “Thank you so much for asking that question. This is EXACTLY why I created my fitness spas so that overweight women do not have to feel criticized and humiliated by people like you. It is a safe place where they can come to work on their fitness goals in a peaceful, supportive environment.” She quickly added the website address where people could learn more. That is an example of verbal Aikido.

The interview ended shortly after that, but I commend her for holding her own and conveying her message. Of course, you wouldn’t intentionally insult a host, 

Joanne McCall
Photo Credit: Joanne McCall

Surprise: I wasn’t expecting that question. When I do media training with my clients, my first question to each of them is, “Are there any questions or topics that you think are off-limits? 

“Are there any that you’re scared to be asked about?” You’d be amazed how often people have something inside that they just really do not want to talk about. It could be some part of their own personal story, or maybe some old, unflattering news story from years ago, or some other kind of scenario they just do not want to get into.

Our first challenge is to find an answer to those topics and questions because it is enormously freeing when you have a great response to the exact question you do not want to be asked. Sometimes, it seems as if having a great answer ensures they never even ask the question! (Ever created the perfect comeback only to have no one ever set it up for you?) 

After much coaching, another client reluctantly admitted what he worried about that might come out during an interview. When he was in his early twenties, he made a mistake in his business and was arrested. It was not something he did intentionally, but he did not do enough research on international law and committed a felony offense. He paid his debt to society, yet from that point on, he had a felony on his record, which would never go away. He did not want to talk about it, and he was afraid it would come up in an interview. Get the right kind of reporter who does the right research, and that is exactly what would happen. We worked on how to respond to any question relating to the felony charge and conviction. I suggested he come clean and tell the story. It did not have to be a long explanation. He needed to own it, say he learned from it, and explain it would never happen again. We practiced doing mock interviews, and once he knew how he would handle it, it freed him up to be his best during interviews. 

Joanne McCall is a publicist, media trainer, and industry insider who has coached, consulted, trained, and helped thousands of authors and influencers, including Brian Tracy, Ken Blanchard, Dr. Richard Bandler, Mark Silver, Andrea J. Lee and many more, to get the media attention they desire. She can help you too. She is the author of Media Darling: Shine Through Every Interview.


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