Don't Repeat. I Repeat: Don't Repeat.



By Susan Tomai

Too many unflattering sound bites are the result of an interviewee repeating the questioner’s words. This is understandable - repeating is what we do in everyday conversation. We grow up being taught that repeating another’s words shows that we're listening - and care enough to show it. But a media interview is not everyday conversation.

In an interview, the objective is to use your own words, not the reporter’s, to deliver key messages. Let’s say you’re trying to bring attention to an effort to help parents learn about social media. If the reporter says something like “Social media is bad for kids, isn’t it?”,  you don’t want to say “No, social media isn’t bad for kids.” The reason for this is that even though you’re shooting down an assertion that you don’t like, you’re still saying the words, and those words can become the chosen sound bite.

The better course is to simply go to one of your messages. You might say “With proper supervision by parents, social media can be a great way for kids to communicate.” Remember, you can’t control what the reporter says, but you can and must control what you choose to say.  It takes discipline not to repeat questions, or deny accusations, but it’s a necessary discipline for any spokesperson.


Hold On

holding holding By Susan Tomai

Whenever you're in an interview and feel thrown off by a particular question, have a generic “Holding Statement” ready on the tip of your tongue. Example: "Remember (insert reporter’s name), our organization's mission is to eradicate poverty/protect low wage earners/ensure equal education to all children regardless of their zip codes” etc. Use your organization’s mission statement as a holding statement to give your self enough time to redirect and move on. If you believe in your organization’s mission this is an easy placeholder for difficult reporter questions.


I Think Not

By Susan Tomai  Pl_Thinker


Many speakers feel the need to preface statements with the words “I think, ” as in “I think we should work harder” or “I think the American people deserve more health insurance options.” Perhaps speakers do this because they worry that they’ll be perceived as arrogant or overbearing if they don’t. But their worry is misplaced.

“I think” only weakens a statement. The message is stronger and the speaker sounds like more of a leader if there’s no qualifier at the start of the sentence. So when giving a media interview or conducting a meeting or delivering a presentation, just say “We should work harder” or “The American people deserve more health insurance options.” Simple as that.


“You Said What?” - Keeping Your Communications Team in the Loop

images By Susan Tomai

Calling all senior executives and officials: the last thing your PR/Communications team ever wants to hear you say is “Oh, I talked to a reporter yesterday and I forgot to tell you about it.” Say what?

Every day we hear about yet another communications blunder made by a leader in business or politics. We are not perfect beings - we make mistakes - which is why we have communications and media teams. It’s their job to understand and implement the organization’s communication strategy; it’s your job to run the organization.

A few tips to help you and your communications team work together more effectively:

  • Don't talk to a reporter without first consulting your communications pros, so they can vet the interviewer and the direction and topic of the interview.
  • If you’ve just given a speech and are cornered in the lobby by a reporter, don’t just answer her questions - ask your own questions first. What’s her name? Which news organization does she work for? Get her business card, smile and tell her you will get back to her asap.
  • If your phone rings and a reporter is on the line, do the same thing: ask him the basic questions first, then politely tell him you’re in the middle of something and have to get back to him later. Then, immediately call your comms team and let them handle the next steps.
  • If you do an interview with a reporter and your communications pros aren't there with you, record the conversation. Be transparent and tell the reporter you’re doing this to ensure accuracy.

May the words “You said what?” never be spoken again.

Missing The Point

Finger-Pointing2 By Susan Tomai

What is up with all the finger-pointing? By this I mean the terrible habit of politicians, thought leaders and executives pointing their index fingers at the audience in the “I told you so” pose. It’s condescending and says “I know better than you.”

Unfortunately, it’s also when a thousand camera shutters click away to capture the action shot. It helps make the story come alive - and it’s not pretty, if you’re the one doing the pointing. A better approach is to gesture with an open hand, or perhaps two hands. It looks more positive and won’t offend your audience - unless that’s the point.