The bridging technique is one of the cornerstones of media training and an essential tool with which to control a media interview.
Put simply, it allows the interviewee to move the conversation on from a negative or unhelpful question posed by the interviewer.
The person who is being interviewed can then introduce or restate their key messages and shift the interview onto their own agenda.
Once you know what the bridging technique is you’ll recognise it in almost any media interview. Sometimes it’s done well but often it’s done very badly. Politicians often offer lessons in how not to do it as they tend to ignore the interviewer’s questions and simply make their points regardless.
The key to bridging successfully – and the challenge for most people, we find – is to develop a phrase or form of words that will allow you to get from the interviewer’s question to your own key message.
We recently saw the below video in which an Australian journalist explored how politicians, he felt, refused to answer the questions being put to them.
In his opinion they used a phrase along the lines of “that’s a very good question,” to do so. These words, he argued, were what the interviewees used to avoid answering the question put to them. He introduced a media training consultant who explained that this was an example of the bridging technique.
Now, media skills training is very much an art rather than science and different tactics work for different people, but as fellow practitioners we would respectfully suggest that using this phrase is not a good example of bridging at all.
If anything, as an initial comment “that’s a very good question,” actually works quite well for the audience because it gives the impression that the interviewee is thinking carefully rather than just bouncing back with a sound bite. It also buys the interviewee a few moments of thinking time and it compliments the questioner, which is usually a good tactic. That highly talented media performer Barak Obama has inevitably finessed it by adding, “It’s one that I have to struggle with all the time.” The President is suggesting that he’s a deep thinker and that the issues that he faces don’t necessarily have easy answers.
So if “that’s a really good question,” isn’t a good example of bridging phrase, what is? We can’t put words into people’s mouths. Every interviewee has to develop a phrase or form of words that work for them. However something like “What’s most important here is that…” or “The key issue is…” will usually work.
Even better is to bring the conversation back to the target audience if possible. So, for instance, you might want to say, “Look if you’re a small business looking for investment what really matters to you is that…” or “If you’re concerned about your elderly mother getting the best medical treatment you really need to be sure that…”
You could even introduce a personal element. “When I talk to our clients - and I’m meeting them almost every day - they tell me that…” or “Let me tell you why I went into this business…”
If you then start telling a story or giving an example which is relevant to your target audience and has an element of the unusual or surprising in it, you’ll find that in many cases the interviewer will let you carry on as they know that this is good for their audience – and that’s all they care about.
Probably the most important aspect of the bridging technique and the thing that you must take care of before you try any of these phrases is answering or addressing the question in the first place. If you can’t answer it, then tell us clearly and simply why you can’t. Otherwise you must answer or at least acknowledge the question.
You can then bridge across to your key messages, using the words and phrases that you’ve developed with your PR or Comms team and what really works for you.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with more than 35 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. To find out more about our highly practical Media Skills courses, contact us here. Don't forget to subscribe to our blog.