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Knowing What You Know Now

Public relations counselors tell clients and colleagues not to speculate. More often than not speculation comes in the form of questions to predict future outcomes. It’s a scheme designed by reporters who want interviewees to say something foolish, improbable, with no basis in reality or all of the above. The advice so many of us give is that no one has the gift of prophecy or the ability to predict the future and that doing so would be silly. Do not speculate, talk about things that you know for certain and stick to that.

Admiral Akbar of Star Wars was not present during the Jeb Bush interview on Fox News.
Admiral Akbar of Star Wars was not present during the Jeb Bush interview on Fox News.

The media has now caught up with the public relations industry and reinvented the speculative question. Instead of predicting the future, interviewees are asked to second-guess themselves about the past. The most famous and recent example was on Fox News when during an interview with Former Florida governor and brother of President George W. Bush the Iraq war came up. Megyn Kelly asked Bush, “knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?”

Jeb Bush response to the 'knowing what you know now' was a full frontal fail.
Jeb Bush response to the ‘knowing what you know now’ was a full frontal fail.

Bush is no stranger to media or interviews. He comes from one of the most covered families in history. His experience as governor along should have sent a signal to his brain that said, ‘it’s a trap’. Sadly for Bush, there was a short circuit. He fell into Kelly’s trap. It was a full frontal fail. Here is his quote:

“In retrospect,” Bush continued, “the intelligence that everybody saw — that the world saw, not just the United States — was faulty. And in retrospect, once we invaded and took out Saddam Hussein, we didn’t focus on security first, and the Iraqis, in this incredibly insecure environment, turned out the United States military because there was no security for themselves and their families. By the way, guess who thinks that those mistakes took place as well? George W. Bush. So just for the newsflash to the world, if they’re trying to find places where there’s big space between me and my brother, this might not be one of those.”

The news out of this was not what Jeb expected. His answer was covered in plenty of other places, and that is not what this posting is about. Jeb should not have answered the question.

Megan Kelly of Fox News.
Megan Kelly of Fox News.

Instead of talking about what might have been, Bush should have taken the prophecy advice and flipped it around. He could have said, “it’s pointless to discuss what we might or might not have done. I am not able to go back in time and undo any decision or action. Instead of wondering what might have been done differently, we need to concentrate on what is happening now…”

The ‘knowing what we know now’ question has a life of its own. The time traveling/navel gazing type of inquiry is part of the arsenal of passive aggressive reporters, thanks to the ill-advised answer Governor Bush gave. Remember, just talk about what you know now. Not what may come or what you would have done.

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Six Steps To Prepare for a Successful Press Interview

Media interviews can make or brake a business or career. Learn to manage them.
Media interviews can make or brake a business or career. Learn to manage them.

Six Steps To Prepare for a Successful Press Interview. If you read these postings in order you have so far: learned how public relations is better than advertising, built a media list of contacts who cover businesses like yours, learned how to write a press release and how to follow up with reporters via phone. If you missed any of these it is easy to go back and read them. Just scroll down.

With a well-written press release, and targeted press follow up you have persuaded a reporter to interview you. That is a very good thing. Potentially. It can also be an unmitigated disaster if not planned for and executed properly. Anyone, regardless of how much experience they have in life, business or media interviews, courts disaster if not properly prepared. Anyone who says they will just “wing it” for an interview is marked for trouble. Big trouble. Imagine epic, viral failure posted everywhere. You do not want that. And frankly speaking if you are not willing to make time to prepare for a media interview, you are better served to just not do it. If possible postpone the interview or delegate it to someone who does and will make time to prepare.

The outcome of an interview should not be the result of how well the reporter is to interview you or the questions he/she asks. Reporters are busy and probably have several other interviews to do the same day as yours. You cannot rely on being asked the right question to have a positive story. Instead, you have to control the content of the interview. You control the interview based on what you choose to say and most importantly what you do not say. So knowing in advance what you intend to talk about it is vital.

Here are the steps to preparing for an interview.

  1. What do you want to read or hear after the interview? Literally, what do you want the headline or lead to be? Write it down. Nothing is real unless it is written down. Thinking about it is fine, but writing uses parts of the brain that will reinforce your ideas and help you both remember and think harder about the points you want published and/or broadcast.
  2. Think in sound bites or “must airs”. A sound bite is a short burst of information that is easy to repeat, understand, and edit. A “must air” is that point you absolutely need to make during an interview for it to be successful. A point that needs airing that you “must air” during the interview to be a success. Humans who do not have perfect memories edit TV, radio, podcasts, and even written articles. They have lots more on their minds than just your interview. So make remembering the news you want reported easy to remember by writing your “must airs” down in advance. So naturally the next step is….
  3. Write your sound bites/must airs down. Once you know what they are, write them down in the order of importance. A good sound bite /must air is a short declarative sentence. Like this one. Limit this list to between 3-5 items. You will have a difficult time remembering more than this and if you can’t remember them, the reporter you are talking to will have no chance of remembering them either.
  4. With your sound bites/must airs written down in the order of importance, edit them a bit more. Remember that shorter is better when it comes to talking with a reporter.
  5. Stay on message. This is especially important for people who are new to doing interviews and for those who have a lot of experience (see what I did there?). The best way to be quoted saying something stupid is to drift away from those carefully crafted must airs. Never get off topic. Your must airs are your anchor. They keep you moored to the truth that you want published/broadcast. If you find yourself getting off topic during an interview, regroup and get back on message.
  6. Find a friend, colleague, or your friendly public relations person and practice the interview. If you have the ability, video the session and watch it later. Over the years, I’ve found that people I work with learn more from watching themselves on video than anything else.

If people who want to use the media to promote their businesses or causes never read, hear, or learn anything from me again I hope this is it. This methodology and thinking about “must airs” will work for media interviews but that is not the limit. Use this technique for job interviews, meetings with superiors, staff, or any other challenging meeting where you are required to communicate. Anchored to your “must airs” will serve you well regardless of the venue.