In my previous post, I talked about how to answer questions correctly and reviewed those questions you don’t have to answer.
At this point in spokesperson training, I ask the participants to take a piece a paper and create three columns, making the middle column much narrower than the right and left columns. I’ll ask that we label the right column “Messages”.
I’ll suggest that we agree on a particular topic that we are going to talk about later – - say, the launch of a new product or service – - and write down those points we want to get across. Think about it like you have a three-minute commercial to fill with facts. At this point, we aren’t sculpting true messages or worrying about anything other than those things associated with the launch.
I think it’s fair to say the points could look something like this:
- Last several years developing, testing and refining new technology
- Enables consumers to accomplish tasks faster and more efficiently
- Target audience are men and women 35-54 years old; educated; high disposable income
- Vastly improves existing technology
Pretty good list. Could have more bullets, but you get the idea. Label the column on the left side “Questions” and think about all the types of questions that may be asked. Don’t look at the messages. Just think about the types of questions and jot those down. Could look something like:
- Late to market
- Too expensive
- Not going to succeed
- Already outdated
- Not needed
Again, you get the idea. Also, please note that I specifically did not write the questions in sentence format. Reality is that a reporter or person you are meeting with isn’t going to repeat your questions verbatim. There are multiple ways a question can be asked and this prepares you to get comfortable with answering any type of questions (even the tough questions, which I’ll talk about in my next post).
Now if you take a look at both the left and right columns, you’ll see that the column on the right relates to the column on the left. Your “Message” points may not specifically address the question, but they certainly relates to them.
But what about the middle column? Glad you asked. The short, narrow middle column is for the “Answers”. The column is short and narrow to remind you to keep your answers short. You absolutely want to answer questions because you don’t want to sound like a politician, but you are meeting with this person (or conducting an interview) because you have messages you want to get across. Messages on a topic that you’ve already agreed upon.
So, a question is asked, concisely answered and “bridged” to your message points. Bridging is the technique that allows you to get from a question to your positive message. The secret to successful bridging is answering the question. Whenever you’re asked a question give a short, honest answer, then bridge to the positive message you’ve prepared in advance. If you don’t have a positive message prepared in advance on the question’s subject, give a short honest answer and stop.
Next up – how exactly do you answer those really tough questions? Like, “Was it poor planning or poor execution that made you late to market?” or “What if the new technology fails?” Fear not. The toughest question is nothing more than a great opportunity to get your messages across.