There’s an intense debate about whether Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has what it takes to be successful at the professional level.
This season, Tebow’s proven successful—seven wins and one loss as a starting quarterback—even while being inconsistent and unconventional. Many observers of the game, particularly former professionals, question his technical abilities.
For now, we’ll leave the question about his quarterbacking skills up to those who have a much deeper understanding of things like the option offense, throwing styles, and pocket skills.
However, it’s clear to us that Tebow has plenty of what it takes to succeed in one area where so many professional athletes fail—managing a high-pressure media interview.
Last month, CBS Sports aired an interview between Tebow and television analyst, former Bronco, and NFL Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe—a man who has criticized Tebow in the past. He has called Tebow a “$10 million project” not up to the task of leading an NFL offense.
Sharpe went into the interview to aggressively and unapologetically hammer home his point of view. As he boasted to the Denver Post
before sitting down with Tebow:
“There are no olive branches with me. I brought my Mike Wallace suit. There’s no jeans. No sweater. I brought my ‘60 Minutes’ game face.”
The former Bronco may have worn a fashionable suit and put on a fierce game face, but Tebow had all the right moves and delivered a textbook performance.
(Watch it here
Here’s what you can learn from Tebow about managing a tough media interview:
Take control from the start
Tebow didn’t just leave his response to Sharpe’s introductory comments at, “My pleasure.” He took the opportunity to set the tone by being gracious, humble, and establishing common ground with his interviewer.
Contrast this to Sharpe, who soon ceded all control by asking Tebow, the subject of the interview, “Can I say something honestly?” Tebow gladly granted permission.
Tebow has drawn tough criticism throughout his collegiate and professional playing careers. Right now, with a six-game winning streak and some of the most thrilling last-minute heroics in pro football this year, he has every license to say that he has proved detractors wrong.
Yet not once in the interview with Sharpe did Tebow criticize a coach, a team member, or a single skeptic. Instead, he went as far as to say that he had a lot of work to do to overcome “doubters” and “critics.”
Twice, Sharpe asked Tebow whether he felt the Denver Broncos organization was behind him. Twice, Tebow delivered the same answer, saying that he is thankful and feels blessed to play for the team.
He clearly had prepared; he knew the question was coming and the answer he would deliver. Most important, he didn’t feel that he owed Sharpe a different answer, even if Sharpe had asked the same question in a different way.
Maintain message discipline
What Tebow was trying to communicate came through consistently and clearly. For him, this season is first and foremost about the team and winning games. Personally, it’s also about his growth and improving as a player and a leader.
Almost every answer he brought back to these core messages. He also kept his responses concise to avoid rambling answers and filling empty space that would have diluted the strength of his points.
Finish on a high note
So much of a viewer’s overall perception of an interview comes from how it wraps up. Whether it’s a one-on-one, an editorial board, or a news conference, you always want to finish an interview with your message and on your terms.
Tebow did this beautifully in this interview. He said he wants to score touchdowns and win, but he also said he wants to be a role model and make a difference in people’s lives and the world. He stayed on message and, with some wise and generous help from Sharpe, even managed to leave the interview on an emotional peak.
The debate around Tim Tebow’s ability to be a successful NFL quarterback on the field will no doubt continue. But off the field, when the lights are on and the cameras are rolling, it’s clear that there is more to Tebow than your average megastar athlete.
Over the past 15 years, Rob Hoppin has established a reputation as a trusted adviser to some of America’s most prominent leaders in politics and business. He’s currently president of Hillenby, a corporate communications and public affairs consulting firm based in Alexandria, Va.