We’ve written plenty of blog posts on how to deal with the tricky situations that can sometimes arise during media interviews. But being a good spokesperson isn’t just about handling the challenging questions.

how to answer interview questions wellThe best spokespeople are those who continually work on their interview technique. No matter how good, or experienced, you may be, there is always room for improvement.

With that in mind, here are three quick ways to take the quality of your answers up a notch:

 

1. Give concrete examples or statistics.

Anybody can generalise; what will really add depth to your answers and demonstrate that you are a knowledgeable industry commentator is your ability to back up your points with facts and figures.

Compare this:

“The Taiwanese offshore wind industry has been really successful recently.” 

With this:

“Taiwan has awarded 3.8GW of capacity in its most recent auction, which points to the state’s ambition to encourage investment.”

 

Or this:

“We’ve seen solar farms suffer big losses in recent months.”

With this:

“According to our data, Californian solar farms have suffered $1.5million of losses in the recent wildfires.”

 

Providing that you get your facts right, a concrete example or statistic not only hooks the journalist’s interest, but also demonstrates that you really do know what you’re talking about.

The journalist is interested in a conversation with you because you’re an expert – so prove it.

 

2. Structure your point

With the greatest respect, nobody is interested in hearing you ramble on for ages – least of all, a journalist on a deadline. Make your points punchy, concise and structured, and you’ll have much greater success than if you talk indiscriminately around a subject.

 

A great way to create structure is through a list – even if it includes just two or three points. For example:

 

Journalist:

“So what do you think are the main market drivers behind the falling cost of offshore wind power?”

You:

“I’d say there are three main drivers, here. The first is the industry’s growing experience – meaning that projects are less risky (and insurance premiums are cheaper!). The second is the acceleration of technology, creating efficiencies. And the third is the direct efforts of companies to cut costs throughout the supply chain.”

 

You can then go on to elaborate on each of these points in turn, before summing up the list again, at the end of your answer.

 

3. Answer the question

Self-evident? Maybe.

But we still see journalists frustrated by an interviewee’s inability – or unwillingness – to answer the question they’ve been asked.

 

If an interviewee doesn’t answer a question properly, it’s usually for one of the following reasons:

  • They go off on a tangent or become distracted
  • They don’t know the answer, but try to give one anyway
  • They don’t want to answer the question – and deliberately try to avoid it 

So that’s three different ways in which it’s possible to slip up. Luckily, we have a solution for each:

Going off on a tangent?

See point 2: ‘Structure your point’ – above. Taking a moment to think about your point, then constructing it carefully – perhaps by use of a short list – will keep you on track.

 

Keep the question in mind while you’re speaking, and – if you really want to make it obvious that you were listening to the question – you can directly refer back to it, when concluding your answer. For example: 

“So, in answer to your question, I’d have to say the main market drivers behind the falling cost of offshore wind are…”

Don’t know the answer?

If you’re struggling to answer a question because you just don’t know the answer, the best course of action is to admit as much. As my colleague David writes in his blog post on 'Interview Questions to Watch Out For', ‘the key is to stick to what you know’. 

The journalist’s time – and yours – will be much better served by moving on to a new topic; one on which you can expertly comment.

Don’t want to answer the question?

Again, honesty is the best policy, here. The journalist won’t appreciate you wasting their time by equivocating – as demonstrated in a recent exchange between Richard Madeley and his interviewee, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson.

 

While you may be unlikely to be interviewed by a famous broadcaster on national TV, Madeley’s frustration will be mirrored in every journalist whose interviewee repeatedly tries to avoid the question they’re being asked.

 

Instead of equivocating, simply state that you’re unable to answer for reasons of sensitivity, and politely ask the journalist to move on to the next question. For a more in-depth look at how to deal with difficult interview situations, take a look at our blog post on the topic.

 

Finally, a piece of advice that has stuck with me: a university tutor, pre-exam season, used to say: “There is infinitely more merit in answering the right question well, than answering the question you wish you had been asked, brilliantly.’

 

To conclude:

Even for the most practiced interviewees, there are ways to improve – and to ensure that the quality of your answers is always top-notch, these three tips –

  • Give concrete examples or statistics
  • Structure your point
  • Answer the question

– should provide a good starting point.

To learn more tips for a successful media interview, see our Ultimate Guide to the Media Interview.