NO to “No Comment”!
You know the immense disappointment and annoyance you are liable to feel after sending your friend a long text message only to receive a one word reply? An amplified version of that is probably what a journalist feels whenever somebody responds with a “no comment” to a question! Of course, in this case, a lot more is at stake not only for the journalist tasked with a story to cover, but also for the person responsible for making the remark!
Perhaps there is information that cannot be disclosed, perhaps the question posed is something beyond the interviewee’s scope of knowledge, or the topic of discussion is irrelevant to the matter at hand. Or perhaps it’s just a case of clamming up at the last minute under pressure. There are many reasons that may or may not explain why a person would utter those dreaded words.
The most dangerous thing that could happen when responding with “no comment” is that the situation may be taken out of context. Nobody would want the journalist to think that there is something to hide nor would the air of dishonesty do anyone any favours – make a journalist unhappy and be prepared to face the consequences. So how can we avoid such unnecessary suspicion?
Quite simple – Turn up prepared!
If the interview questions were not already furnished before hand, try to anticipate potential or likely questions, and spend some time thinking about delivering the best answer in the best possible way. By planning ahead, responses can be worked on. Besides preparing content, the interviewee would also be able to gauge the amount of time to spend on each answer and establish an appropriate pace to ensure that they are articulate and audible. Areas with insufficient information or inadequate explanations could be worked upon further.
And when you think that you are prepared, prepare some more.
Have reports, statistics, data or visuals that is worth sharing on hand – It is beneficial to have background information on current events relevant to the topic. Chances are, the journalist will be pressed for time and questions would be fired at the interviewee rapidly to ensure that as much information can be extracted within the stipulated (or less!) time frame. Fumbling around and grasping at things to substantiate the answer would not only make the interviewee look unprepared and flustered but it can also be a trigger to making the dreaded comment.
With all these in place, just remember to ANSWER THE QUESTIONS. Like comprehension exercises everyone had back in school, it only counts if the questions are answered. Otherwise, wouldn’t the whole exercise of having the interview be pointless? If the answers provided are satisfactory, there would probably be less unplanned questions asked. Even when armed with well-oiled weapons, curveballs could still be thrown at the poor, unsuspecting interviewee – but at least what has been prepared for can be executed seamlessly. So it is always good to plan things to say, even if nothing can be said. Here’s how:
Always be honest!
If there is only the truth and no lies, there would be fewer things to keep track of. Should the interviewee be unable to provide sufficient information or address a question, be forthright about it. Do not try to dodge questions – it is the journalist’s job to press the question and it is the interviewee’s job to provide answers and insights. The very least thing to do when faced with an unanswerable question is to explain why it cannot be answered.
Replace the negative with the positive.
If faced with a less than pleasant situation or question, offer a substitute. If the interviewee is not able to address the question at hand, offer another nugget of information that may be worthy of attention or veer the conversation in a direction that is more comfortable. Use phrases like “I cannot provide you with such information but what I can tell you is …”
Make alternative arrangements.
Perhaps an opportunity for a follow-up could be arranged; this could be via a phone call or an email or perhaps another interview. It is also advisable to provide contacts or sources where further information pertaining to the interview can be obtained.
These may all seem pretty obvious and simple but sometimes under pressure, things just slip our minds and that is completely alright. Like with most things, interviews get better with experience. Here’s to charming your way through an interview. March forward with confidence and may you never have to utter those terrible twos ever again!