If you’ve ever watched the evening news, you’ve probably seen a panel of pundits and spokespeople flawlessly answer difficult questions as reporters grill them for details. Just when you think the reporter asked a question they can’t answer, they reply with an articulate response that makes them look intelligent and well prepared.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably found their ability to answer difficult questions impressive and wished you could do the same. Maybe you’ve been in a job interview and were asked something you couldn’t come up with an answer to – or worse – you’ve been in a media interview and stumbled over a question that took you by surprise.
Being able to direct the flow of questioning from something unfamiliar to something you know well is a crucial skill. Luckily, there’s a time-tested formula for this: bridging. By building a bridge between what’s asked and what you want to answer, you will seem well-spoken, knowledgeable and prepared.
So let’s look at how public relations professionals have been training clients to ace interviews for decades by bridging tricky questions to their key messages.
How to Bridge
Bridging has three stages: the restatement, the transition and the key message. Understanding how to navigate all parts of this process is the best way to guarantee a successful interview.
- Restatement – Once asked a difficult question, restate it using the same words, so the interviewer knows you heard their question. Once you’ve restated the question, express why the question is important to show you understand their perspective. Don’t linger at this stage, but fully reaffirm and demonstrate an understanding of the importance of the issue.
- Transition – Once you’ve restated the question, quickly use a transition phrase to bridge to the messages you want to get across. Let the transition signal that you are about to express an alternative point of view. Transition phrases sound like, “However, the important thing to remember is…” or, “But what I’m most concerned about is…”
- Key messages – After you’ve transitioned, express one of the key messages you hope to get across in the interview that is related to the original question. Take some time beforehand to define three to five key messages that are well thought out, concise and compelling. Don’t be afraid to bridge to the same message once or twice but don’t dwell on the same one.
Whatever the situation – a job interview, a press interview or a tough question in a meeting – the ability to bridge questions is a valuable skill that will help you present yourself in your best light.
Representing yourself and your organization in an interview is a big deal and making sure you’re prepared to answer any question that comes your way is important. But even bridging can have its downfalls when it’s the only tool in your media training kit – just ask Marco Rubio.
While bridging is one of the most valuable tools for a media interview, it’s definitely not the only one. If you’re interested in learning more techniques or want to share your own methods to tackle difficult questions, let us know in the comments below!