We all like to be the slugger who hits the game-winning home run, but sometimes what the team really needs is a player trying for a single rather than swinging for the fences. This is a concept many top executives should take to heart when speaking with reporters.
The way to score when facing journalists, particularly broadcasters, is to hit singles, not home runs. Most reporters have game plans that are fairly simple: They boil down to pitching a question, fielding a usable answer, and then pitching again. From that, a reporter can build a good story.
Particularly on deadline, or during a timed broadcast interview, journalists don’t have the luxury to watch while an executive lumbers around all the bases with unnecessarily long answers to each question. While an internal audience may be obligated to listen attentively as a CEO drones on, the only journalists interested in hearing monologues are those with all the time in the world, usually writers building in-depth features that have deadlines measured in weeks or months, not days or hours. Providing longer, complicated answers with extraneous information also may increase the risk of errors in a story, as reporters on deadline don’t always have time to parse through responses.
When a reporter throws a question, connect with it: respond with as solid and direct a reply as possible, a simple and understandable answer. Get to first base. Then stop. Congratulations! You hit a single. That’s precisely what the reporter needed.
Pause and wait for the next question. Try for another solid hit and repeat that strategy throughout the interview.
You will have accomplished two important things: helping your company because the reporter will probably be in a better position to put together a compelling story and establishing yourself in the mind of that reporter as a good interview—someone they can call upon for succinct, usable quotes. By keeping answers simple, you yourself are also less likely to make mistakes or say something you later regret.
Singles hitting is good practice in all interactions with journalists, but particularly in broadcast interviews, where live conversations typically run no longer than three or four minutes. Broadcast reporters are silently rooting for you to hit a single, so they can toss you another question. Remember TV and radio anchors want and need to be heard during the interview to help their own careers.
The singles-hitting approach may be frustrating to executives who want to talk, say, about their pet project to expand into dozens of new markets overseas or about some recent success, allowing them to (let’s face it) show off a little. No worries, you can try to insert your own agenda by simply asking towards the end of the interview whether the reporter would like to hear about another topic critical to your company’s future success. Most reporters, unless under a very tight deadline, will jump at the chance to get an item that a competitor may not have. This tactic hands the ball back to the interviewer to throw another pitch, very likely the one you want to hit.
There’s nothing wrong with hitting home runs. They’re energizing for the entire team. But when it comes to speaking with the media, you risk striking out if you try to be a slugger every time you’re up at the plate. Stick to the question; cut the verbiage; get to the point quickly and directly, preferably using simple sentences. Reporters will inevitably be grateful and you’ll end up scoring more for yourself and the team.