Recently while sitting in a meeting a question came up and the answer caught me totally off guard. The response had absolutely no relevance to the question.
In public relations (PR) being relevant is a critical component to any interview or interaction with the press, partners, clients and employees. Yet, it seems like more and more I see people respond in ways that continue to amaze me with their lack of relevance to the subject at hand.
I’ve written about it in the past, but the key in any media interview is to prepare. I offer clients media training in an effort to help them maximize their opportunity to meet with and interview with the press. This isn’t an exercise in scripting how an interview should go or the response they should give, but rather an opportunity to sit down and remind people of best interviewing practices.
The Internet is full of videos of people making fools of themselves for things they said that made no sense or weren’t relevant. A couple years ago a Mrs. America contestant had her 15 minutes of fame when she responded to an interview question during the pageant and her answer had nothing to do with the question. Not only that, nobody knew what she was talking about or what question she could possibly be asking.
For the purposes of this blog entry and being relevant in an interview, I’ve listed four tips below to help ensure that you’re relevant and don’t make a fool of yourself.
- Listen. This doesn’t mean you’re simply hearing noise. I know somebody that when you talk to them will sit at their computer typing, acting as if they’re listening. When you stop talking there is an awkward pause before the person stops typing, looks up from their computer and gives you a blank stare. It’s obvious that the person hasn’t listened to a word you’d said and you end up having to repeat yourself. Occasionally, the person will attempt to respond as if they’ve heard the question or conversation but it quickly becomes obvious to all involved they weren’t listening. The responses are typically off topic and have no relevance.
- If you don’t understand a question ask for clarification. There is nothing wrong with asking for clarification to ensure you understand the question or conversation. I’d rather ask for clarification that wing it and give a response that makes no sense. A reporter will also appreciate you asking for clarification, especially in a live interview situation.
- If you’re giving an example make sure it’s topical to the question. Citing an example or sharing a story to illustrate your point is good practice. It helps the person your talking to understand your point while creating the scene in their mind. The key is to share a story that clearly illustrates the point you’re making. For example, if you’re talking to a younger person that has never used a typewriter or phone booth don’t use examples that ingrate those things into your story. Similarly, talking about the good old days or how things were when you were young are not good examples. Try to share examples that are relatable. If somebody doesn’t like sports or doesn’t know industry jargon then don’t draw on those things as examples.
- Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS). I learned this in my high school writing class and it’s served me well for more than 20 years. Big words aren’t going to impress people if they don’t understand what they mean. On the contrary, if people can’t understand you they’re not going to listen to you.
By paying attention to the conversation of question and making sure you understand a question, you’ll increase your odds of being able to respond intelligently and be relevant to the conversation. By being relevant you’ll be viewed as a thought leader and somebody that knows what they’re talking about.