A very wise pundit once said: ‘There is no such thing as a stupid question, only a stupid answer.’ And yet today many chief executives and other business leaders do not prepare themselves before being questioned by the press, the government or other key audiences. The same is true of government officials - it is amazing how many times responses by Cameron, Milliband and Obama upset their own supporters.
Executives need to spend the proper time working out the key questions they are likely to face and rehearsing the answers that will be most beneficial for them. Most importantly, they have to understand what the audiences they want to reach think about the subjects they are being interviewed about.
If perceptions are positive, how can the interview enhance them? If they are negative, what can change them? And if they don’t even exist yet, what needs to be said to get the right people jumping on the bandwagon?
And there are key rules about answering questions, regardless of what individual or group you are facing.
1. A good answer answers the question. It sounds obvious, but avoiding it shows you are either unprepared or afraid of the truth.
2. A good answer is stated positively.
3. It is expressed in layman’s terms.
4. A good answer is specific.
5. It is precise.
6. The main point is up front.
7. It does not include more than is necessary.
8. A good answer does not repeat loaded or slanted words used by the interviewer.
9. It uses opportunities in the questions to present your point of view.
10. It doesn’t sound offensive or antagonistic. The last thing you want to do is rile the very audiences you want to communicate with.
When it boils down to it, before any interview, whether it’s with a journalist, at a parliamentary committee, on a conference stage or in front of your own employees, preparation and practice really will make perfect.
Bob Leaf is the former international chairman of Burson-Marsteller