When put on the spot during media interviews, spokespeople often fall back on prepackaged phrases that tend to be counterproductive and, at times, downright destructive. With that in mind, PR professionals should train spokespeople to sidestep the following phrases and make their commentary more effective:
1. “I’m glad you asked me that,” or “I knew you were going to ask me that.” This phrase sounds like you’ve prepared a planned response. It leaves the impression that you have a canned presentation and the reporter just asked the very question you were waiting for. Instead, say something like, “This issue is of particular interest to me.”
2. “We are certain” or “we promise.” Avoid being too explicit and absolute.
3. “As I said...” At times, various reporters will ask you the same questions. Avoid inadvertently referring to previous answers in other media interviews. Maintain your energy and continue to express interest, concern and the media outlet’s “exclusivity” during your response. Make each response sound fresh, as though you were answering it for the first time.
4. “No,” at the beginning of a response. The word “no” often seems abrupt and conveys a tone of total rejection. Most sentences are correct without it. Say, “We will not refund the funds to those companies for those reasons that we just discussed.”
5. “That isn’t my area of responsibility.” If you do not know the answer to a question, say so and offer to find out or to put the questioner in touch with someone who does know. As always, follow through on your promises.
6. “That’s all that happened.” You don’t want to sound too inclusive in any response as most issues are evolving, sometimes minute by minute. Avoid being accused of any distortion through omission. Say, “This is what I can confirm at this time,” or “As of 4:30 p.m. today...”
7. “You’ve got to understand that...” This sounds patronizing to the reporter and the audience.
8. “Honestly,” “in all candor,” “to tell the truth” and/or “I’m doing the best I can...” These are weak, tentative responses. Avoid sounding apologetic.
10. “Great,” “huge,” “wonderful,” “awesome” and/or “unique.” Avoid adjectives and superlatives, especially when discussing a hard news story. Don’t exaggerate.
11. “I think so,” “I believe,” “I would guess” or “This is just an estimate, but...” Generally avoid estimates of any kind. It is better to say: “Yes” or “No” or “I don’t know.” Avoid sounding tentative. When you don’t know the veracity of a complete answer, follow the adage, “When in doubt, leave it out.”
12. “You need not worry about those details as it’s far too complicated to understand.” This sounds elitist and denigrates the audience.
13. “Let me get back to you on that.” While at first this sounds like a reasonable response, be careful, as it’s often uttered by someone who can’t make a decision or is unprepared or whom you will not hear from again. It’s better to be definitive by saying, “Call me tomorrow and I’ll have that information” or “I will ask Bill Johnson on our staff to get you that information in the next few days.”
14. “We can’t do that.” While you can’t accommodate all requests, at least provide the reason why. The goal is to be an enabler with a can-do attitude, not a naysayer. Sound open to new ideas, procedures, alternatives and innovative thinking. Instead, say, “I will consider your idea” or “I’ll discuss it with my division chiefs.” If you must turn down a request, do it diplomatically.
15. “No comment.” This makes you sound nonresponsive, evasive and even guilty. By today’s standards, a “no comment” is a comment.
16. “We’re not here to discuss that.” This sounds elitist and should be avoided. Instead, respond with a short answer and bridge to a more salient point.
17. Avoid using “insider” or elitist terms and abbreviations. If a technical term must be used during a general news media interview to be accurate (and there are a few of these occasions), provide an appropriate explanation, perhaps with an analogy. Avoid elitist or obsequious language. For example, “It was such a ‘tony thing’ for the chief Mary Jones to do.”
18. “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” Your agency must change to meet the needs of a changing society. PRN
These tips were written by James Onder, a communications trainer.