After agreeing to an interview, part of your preparation should be focused on how far you are prepared to go if you come under persistent questioning.
This is particularly the case if the interviewer starts pressing you on matters that don’t come under your umbrella, where you should not be commenting anyway or where the interviewer is just trying it on.
The key survival technique when this happens is drawing your line in the sand and not going beyond it.
First, though, you need to be aware of how the interviewing techniques of journalists vary depending on whether they work for a newspaper or a TV or radio news channel.
The former has time on their hands. A newspaper journalist might ask to see you for 30 minutes or speak to you on the phone for the same amount of time – even longer if they are writing quite a substantive piece.
Generally speaking, therefore, a press journalist, if they have a negative or hostile angle they are pursuing, does not have to hit the interviewee hard with this straight away at the top of the interview. They’ve got time to massage or warm up the interviewee in order to gain their confidence, possibly resulting in the interviewee letting down their guard a little. So for 29 minutes of the 30 minute interview, the journalist will ask perfectly vacuous and inane questions – the answers to which will never see the light of day in the journalist’s finished article – only to hit the interviewee with the nasty questions in the last 60 seconds, by when the interviewer has charmed their way into the spokesperson’s confidence.
Broadcast interviewers generally have a different technique, mainly because their interviews last three or four minutes, rather than 30. The TV or radio journalist doesn’t have the luxury of having time on hand to soften up the interviewee. They have to get to the heart of the interview topic, particularly if there is a negative or hostile angle attached to it, from the very start of the interview.
Whichever form of interviewing it is – the more ‘softly softly’ approach often pursued by a press journalist or the ‘straight-to-the-point’ technique of a broadcaster – the same approach should be followed by the interviewee. If you are not prepared to answer a question, for reasons described above, make that clear at the very moment you are presented with the question.
The interviewer will then try to entice you to go further. It’s at this point the interviewee needs to have the courage to repeat the fact that they are going as far as they are willing to and no further.
Interviewees often worry about repeating themselves, fearing it won’t go down well with the interviewer. Tough! Besides which, there are only so many times an interviewer can repeat their question before they start sensing their audience is getting bored.
So, all in all, it’s a war of nerves. Either directly or surreptitiously, your interviewer might try to take you down a road where you don’t or should not want to be going.
Put up the ‘No Entry’ sign immediately and don’t move it until the interview is over.