Performing badly in an interview will always present you with a serious recovery problem, whether you are offering negative quotes to a newspaper or online publication, or stumbling into negative territory in a broadcast interview.
The obvious advice is not to perform badly in an interview but if you engage with the media to any extent, it is bound to happen sooner or later. Nobody – politician, business leader or charity CEO – has consistently performed to the highest standard in media interviews. There are a hundred possible reasons for a bad performance, ranging from lack of preparation or poor briefing to lack of concentration or sheer exhaustion.
If, halfway through an interview, you can clearly detect that things are going badly or about to take a turn for the worse, it is essential to slow down and re-group. If you have done your preparation diligently, you will have at your fingertips a couple of positive key messages. This is the time to turn to them. Cling to them like a shipwrecked sailor clinging to rock. Phrases like “let’s look at the basic issue here…” should get you back onto firmer ground. Or there may be a more specific escape route, for example, “We are now getting into the area of speculation. Let’s get back to what we know”.
Particularly in a live broadcast interview, you the interviewee are in a very exposed position. When you are under pressure, the listener can almost hear your heartbeat. Listeners and viewers can sense when you’re in trouble almost as quickly as you can. They will therefore expect you to mount an immediate rescue operation of some sort and will not be surprised to hear you trying to gain control of the direction of the interview.
How well you do it and how well you convince your audience depends partly on the seriousness of the issue under discussion. But, however serious, there is no alternative. You must, within a matter of seconds, take action to avert a worse situation.