What Not to Say in a Media Interview, Phrases and Words to Avoid

February 27, 2018 - Sophie Thompson

During a media interview your aim is to deliver key messages clearly whilst positively representing your organisation. You must ensure that you do not say anything that weakens your messages or, even worse, harms your organisation's reputation. In this article we have outlined what to avoid saying in both TV and radio interviews.

No comment: Never say "no comment". This looks like you're trying to hide something and the interviewer may persist with following this up, either in your interview or with competitors. Instead explain why you cannot answer, for example, “I can’t answer that because I haven’t seen the figures you are referring to” and then use the bridging technique to move the interview towards your preferred direction: "What I can say is..."

Negative language: Don't use negative language even if the interviewer has used it. For example, you could be asked "Is your company greedy?" Rather than using "greedy", a "baited" word, in your response, say "No, that's incorrect/I disagree…"

Evasion: Evading questions and providing responses that don't relate to the question will make you look untrustworthy and this will frustrate the interviewer and audience.

I can't tell you that: If you are not allowed to speak about certain issues don't just say "I can't tell you that." Make sure you explain why you cannot, for example, "At this moment I cannot comment on that as there are legal proceedings in process" or "it would be inappropriate for me to comment."

Jargon and technical language: Avoid using jargon and technical terminology.

Get used to silences: Stop speaking once you have answered the question so your message is not lost. Also, interviewers may use silences in the hopes that you fill them - this could lead you into saying something you might regret.

Politically incorrect statements: Avoid politically incorrect statements, such as, "This is a difficult subject which is why men mainly study it."

Saying what you are not: Avoid saying what you/your organisation is not, for example, if a spokesperson said "We're not all dishonest" the audience may think the opposite as it sounds defensive. Instead, provide examples to show your company's values, such as, "For every item bought, x amount is donated to charity." This suggests your company is caring and it has the benefit of looking genuine because you are not overtly saying: "We're a company that cares."

Lengthy answers: Long and wordy answers should not be used as this can cause confusion and boredom. Instead, use shorter answers as the audience is more likely to remain engaged.

Personal opinions: Don't bring your personal opinions into an interview because you are representing your organisation. If you're asked "What's your personal impression of this?" You can respond with “I don’t think the matter here is my personal view...”

Blaming others: If there is a problem, rather than blaming others and saying who is at fault, discuss what you are doing to solve the issue.

Stick to your messages: Never bring up topics you don't want in the interview - stick to your messages.

Honesty: Be honest and don't hide negative information. Instead discuss the solutions.

Emotionally-charged questions: You may become emotional and want to argue with the interviewer. It's important that you remain calm and collected. Remember that you are there to deliver your messages.

Lecturing: Avoid lecturing the audience about how to run their lives as this will make them less receptive. For example, if you're from an organisation that promotes using sustainable products, try and show the benefits of this rather than telling the audience they must change their lifestyles and start using sustainable products.

Nothing is "off the record": Never say anything in a media interview and expect it to be "off the record" as this may not be honoured.

What not to say in a media TV interview

Pretending to know all the answers: If you don't know an answer to a question, you can use the bridging technique: “I’m unsure about that but what I am positive about is...” Sometimes it may be better to admit that you don't know and explain that you will find out as soon as possible, for example, this would be useful if you were asked for a statistic.

Use our press release/statement: Never refer interviewers to your press release/statement. A media interview is an ideal opportunity to get your key messages across to the audience straight from the source. This is especially useful in a crisis management situation.

Humour: Avoid joking or responding sarcastically because you do not want people to misinterpret what you're saying.

Clarify questions: Don't talk around a question if you do not understand it - ask for the interviewer to clarify it.

Assumptions about the interviewer: Do not assume that the interviewer knows a lot about your topic. Most interviewers cover multiple stories a week so avoid, for example, asking whether they have read your publication or saying "I'm shocked that you don't already know this."

Why are you asking that? Never ask the interviewer why they're asking a question as it looks defensive. Answer the question and then move the conversation on.

Loaded questions: Don't ignore a question if it's loaded, such as, "How many problems has this caused within the company?" Challenge this and move on to your messages.

Speak only on your organisation's behalf: If you are asked "Why do you think x company did that?" Explain that you aren't the correct person to answer. Never answer on another organisation's behalf.

Multiple questions: If you are asked a few questions simultaneously, only answer the easiest question rather than all of them.

Trust us: Avoid asking the audience to "Trust me/us, we'll get to the bottom of this." This makes you sound conceited which is unfavourable with the interviewer and audience. The audience should be able to form a judgement regarding whether they can trust you from the interview.

Rumours: Avoid colluding with rumours by saying "I haven't seen anything that would support this rumour…"

Speculating on hypothetical situations: Never speculate on hypothetical situations ("what if" situations). For example, say you were asked "What will happen if you don't sell enough of these this year?" If you answered with "I'm unsure, but if I had to guess..." the audience may interpret your answer as a fact. Instead, point out that this is speculation: "I wouldn't want to speculate..."

Irrelevant questions: If a question is outside of your area of expertise, explain that to the interviewer and then bridge to your message, for example, "Unfortunately that's not my area of expertise and I wouldn’t want to provide incorrect information. What I can inform you about is…’

Treat the interviewer with respect: Avoid anything that is insulting or questioning an interviewer's professionalism, for example, "The media always misinterpret everything so I don't like speaking to them."

I've never seen your show: Never say that you've never seen/listened to the show as this makes you look uninterested. Ensure that you do your research beforehand.

Criticising the questions: Rather than telling an interviewer "That’s a silly question", use this opportunity to inform them. Once the interviewer has more of an understanding they may ask more relevant questions.

Patronising statements: "I'll simplify this for you" and similar statements come across as patronising for the interviewer and audience.

This is a public relations issue: Never bring up your PR team as it may be assumed that you care about how you look rather than the actual problem.

Asking to see/hear the interview: Never ask to see/hear the interview before it is broadcasted. No interviewer would allow this and asking may ruin the rapport between you.

Starting with "Look" or "Listen": Starting your answer with either "Look" or "Listen" comes across as patronizing and sometimes rude.