By Eric Seidel, CEO
The Media Trainers®
There are tried and true steps you need to take before every interview to prepare you to answer questions responsively, yet on your terms.
1. First, identify your priority audiences based on the medium you are talking to. Audiences are individuals and/or groups that can help you reach your business goals. They must be persuadable!
2. Next, consider all the positive points you’d like to make based on the focus of the interview.
3. Now, flip the coin; what questions can you anticipate? Consider both positive and negative questions, and make sure you include the obvious ones that could come up. Develop positive responses, especially to those negative questions. Being positive keeps you in a more persuasive posture.
4. Rehearse; practice helps you learn to pause and prevent you from answering those negative questions in a defensive or argumentative posture.
Much too often I see executives getting snagged on questions they should’ve anticipated and prepared for, sabotaging their overall message goals and credibility.
In a 60 Minutes segment earlier this spring with CBS correspondent Scott Pelley, Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers made a rational case for the continued use of coal as utilities move toward reducing their carbon emissions. “We can’t abandon coal. We have to find a way to keep it and use it in the future. And that means the ability to clean it up,” he told Pelley.
Rogers and his allies believe there’s a future for continued use of coal through capture and sequestration, which simply means containing the carbon dioxide from escaping into the air and storing it, most likely deep in the earth.
You’ve probably seen the coal industry’s advertising on behalf of clean coal. In part, it says, “And we have to advance new clean coal technologies. If we don’t, we may have to say goodbye to the American way of life that we all know and love.”
Rogers agrees: “We can’t abandon coal. We have to find a way to keep it and use it in the future. And that means the ability to clean it up.”
So, correspondent Pelley asked the obvious question: how much has Duke Energy invested in carbon sequestration technology? Rogers: “We have not invested any dollars in the technology, per say. We have spent a lot of time and money reviewing and analyzing the various technologies…we’re going to co-invest with the government when this technology evolves.” (Click on video below to see this segment.)
Everything Rogers said about cleaning up coal before this one question and answer was compromised. If he and his communicators failed to anticipate the question, shame on them. But, if they did see it coming, there were stronger alternative responses. For instance: “As various technologies are being developed, we are spending time and money analyzing them so that as good stewards of our customers’ and investors’ money we’re in a position to invest in the most promising process that’s developed.” This is a message for target audiences like his customers, investors, industry analysts and, most importantly, fence-sitters.
To make this even easier, all Rogers needed to do was drop the very first sentence to his response. That’s the one that did all the damage. It’s a negative answer that weakens his position and negated all his previous statements.
This is not rocket science, as they say, but getting in front of the media, whether it’s 60 Minutes or your local newspaper, requires anticipation and preparation.