How to steer a media interview to your key topic or point

Broadcasters, podcasters and journalists thrive on curiosity. Here are several invaluable phrases and redirections to guide the conversation fluidly to your focus—without tipping your hand.

Consider this scenario:

You are a spokesperson for a company that produces virtual reality headsets.

In a few hours, you will sit down with a radio show host to talk about the technology’s growing market. From your preliminary research, you sense the host is more interested in the virtual reality (VR) gaming market. 

You, however, hope to reach medical professionals to highlight how headsets are increasingly being used to treat dementia, chronic pain, injury therapy and stroke rehabilitation.

You can’t be so blatant as to come out and say her interest is not in your best interest. (There are few things that make a host or reporter cling tighter to their angle than to have a source suggest a different way of telling the story.)

You must be a bit more subtle—but if you are, you can have much more influence over the interview than might have seemed possible.

How can you passively dictate the next question?

In this instance, the radio host is onto her third question about VR gaming and other entertainment uses. You want to switch gears. Here are a few ways to do that:

Radio host: “I would imagine the growth of your company is going to come from younger consumers, say those under 39. Are those the customers you are targeting?”

You: “Certainly, customers between the ages of 25 to 39 are driving the sales. But there’s a whole other market out there that’s even more important to us. You’d be surprised what they are using VR technology to accomplish.”

It’s a rare reporter who doesn’t bite.

Radio host: “Oh? What’s that?” 

And off you go.

Other phrases can help you tap a reporter’s or host’s curiosity to tee up your next question. Here are a few:

  • “In our research, we discovered something even more surprising.”
  • “What you just mentioned is the second-leading use of our technology. The first is eye-opening.”
  • “It’s unfortunate, but many people don’t realize there’s a simpler way to deal with this problem.”
  • “Yes, our findings were influential in pushing the needle forward on our understanding of the universe. But I haven’t even mentioned the most interesting discovery we’ve made.”

The statement you choose should elicit an obvious follow-up question. In all these instances, it’s easy to imagine a reporter responding quickly to what you have said.

When should you use this technique?

You might be asking, “Isn’t it easier and far more efficient to cut out the middleman?” You could simply use these phrases to transition to your main message rather than waiting for the reporter to ask the question (really, repeat the question). 

There are instances when enlisting the reporter’s help is more effective, such as when:

  • Your answer has already gone on too long and you need to hand the ball back to the reporter.
  • The host has asked that the interview be more conversational (such as a podcast).
  • You want to nudge the conversation back to your main points. If you do it on your own, it could appear too heavy-handed.

They can be used anytime, but a little goes a long way. If the first few questions are a bit adrift of your real intent, you can gently and subtly steer the conversation back to your most important points. The technique also allows your interviewer or host to look and sound good by asking you the “smart” question.

Christina Hennessy is chief content officer for Throughline Group. This post originally appeared on the Throughline Blog.


One Response to “How to steer a media interview to your key topic or point”

    Ronald N. Levy says:

    Excellent! Throughline training or that of another such firm can empower you to make five achievements.

    .1. Increase the media time and space you get for key points your management would love you to make more widely known.

    .2. Multiply the audience and impact you create by quoting–on your own site and other sites, in publications and in media releases–crucially important segments from the interview. What you say carries more weight with many people when you quote not just what your leader or expert said but what the media reported.

    “What I heard on the radio this morning,” people say (or “saw in the newspaper” or online) is such-and such! It may be many times more persuasive than what an ad or a corporate executive said.

    .3. One or more of your key points may not only increase retail sales of something but cause thousands of stores to increase stocks of it. Retail managers are exquisitely sensitive to not having an empty shelf which causes lost sales today and perhaps lost customers who in the future shop where the shelves stay filled.

    .4. Another of your key points, if you use Throughline training so you work it into interviews, may generate literally tons of letters to legislators in Washington favoring or opposing some idea. You don’t even have to suggest letters in your interview. When Americans hear or read of a proposal that may hold down consumer prices, increase securities prices, reduce unemployment or have some other effect the public wants, Washington may be swamped with
    “please gimme” mail.

    .5. You may get not only good results but also avert disaster if Throughline training teaches you and your senior executives how NOT to answer questions like “do you think you are doing enough to hold down the use of unlawful drugs by your executives?”

    When almost any answer you give could cause you PR disaster and even lawsuits or a corporate management change, the answer you choose may get you well-deserved respect from your top people as a PR genius or close.
    The media training you get may help make his happen.

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