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On our media training courses we usually put a question about Brexit to our delegates.
It typically comes at the end of an interview on something completely unrelated - a ‘while you are here’ style question, asking how they are preparing for the UK leaving the European Union, or what they think the impact will be on their industry or sector.
Why do we do this? Simply because it is the issue which dominates the news headlines. It also mirrors what journalists are asking all types of interviewees in the real world.
Just this week, for example, Liverpool Football Club manager Jurgen Klopp was being interviewed by the BBC about his team’s Premier League title challenge when he suddenly faced a question about the much wider issue of Brexit.
Given that Brexit’s dominating the agenda again, here’s Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp today on why it dismays him:— Dan Roan (@danroan) January 29, 2019
“It’s common sense. History taught us that if you are alone, you’re weaker than if you’re in a unit..” pic.twitter.com/rxxnjw3O8b
The reality is that everyone who is being interviewed by the media at the current time, whether for broadcast or print, is likely to face questions about this issue.
And this poses some challenges.
Say too much and it can take the focus away from everything that has been said before – I’ve seen more tweets about Klopp’s Brexit answer than anything else he said – and the messages you had hoped to get across.
Jurgen Klopp calls for common sense to prevail on Brexit. https://t.co/hOa5popQxK— The New European (@TheNewEuropean) January 30, 2019
#WednesdayWisdom from Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp:— Cornwall for Europe #FBPE (@Cornwall4EU) January 30, 2019
"The past taught us that as long as all the strong partners are together, the world - Europe at least - is a much, much safer place."
#Brexit #StopBrexit #RevokeArticle50 #PeoplesVote https://t.co/ZjgKNWtkfT
But say too little and you could come across as being defensive and possibly ill-prepared for the impact of leaving the EU.
So how should spokespeople handle this situation?
Make sure you know the organisation’s official line or stance on Brexit.
You don’t what to say anything that puts you at odds with this official approach.
And make sure you are confident using that line in an interview, perhaps putting it in your own words (while keeping the meaning), so that it sounds natural.
As part of your interview preparation it is worth looking back on what the organisation has said about Brexit in past interviews, as well as the views of other organisations in your sector, so that you have a complete picture and reduce the odds of any uncomfortable surprises.
Media training skills
Bridging is a vital media training tool when it comes to dealing with ‘while you are here’ questions. It enables a spokesperson to briefly answer what has been asked and then look to move the conversation back to what they want to talk about.
For example, after an initial response, you could bridge back to your message with ‘but what we are really concerned with today’ or ‘what we are focussing on right now is’.
One approach to take the focus away from your own organisation would be to try to broaden the response.
Instead of talking specifically about your organisation, you could talk more generally about how the sector or industry is preparing and what the impact might be.
This reduces the likelihood of giving away any boardroom secrets.
If you’ve given a good interview up to this point, you don’t want to undo all that good work right at the end.
If you start to sound unclear, unsure, shifty and defensive that is likely to be the audience’s lasting memory of you as it is the end of the interview.
Knowing that these questions are likely to come up and how you will respond is key to avoiding this fate.
Just because the question might be presented by a phrase like ‘and finally’ doesn’t actually mean that there will be just one question on the topic.
We tell delegates on our media training courses that they could face multiple ‘and finally’ questions, potentially pushing them on to increasingly uncomfortable ground.
The key for spokespeople is to know their organisation's top line on Brexit and also have further messages, containing more detail, if pushed by journalists on this subject.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
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