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How to Stay Cool Under Fire

In most situations, the press is satisfied to get the story you want to tell. Sometimes, however, speakers are controversial, and a press conference becomes an opportunity for reporters to open fire. Here are some proven ways to stand your ground if attacked by those in search of a lively story:

  1. If your credibility is challenged, don't get shaky or defensive. Stick up for yourself and reiterate or reinforce your expertise and authority.

  2. If an interviewer asks you potentially lethal questions, answer in a positive manner and defuse the situation. Recently the president of a new race track was challenged because he was presenting a race with a mul-timillion-dollar purse on the same day as the Preakness. The media were on him like flies, accusing him of using his wealth to ruin the gentlemanly tradition of the sport. The president was a clever and experienced media person. Instead of responding to the notion that he was destroying racing tradition, he talked about all the wonderful things his track was doing for racing and for the public.

    As any politician will tell you, reporters' questions aren't always traps; you can turn them into opportunities. You don't necessarily have to answer the question that was asked; you can turn the question around. You can even ignore it completely and talk about something else, though you should be prepared for attempts to get you back on track. Whatever you do, don't allow yourself to be baited by the questioner, and don't react by losing your temper: Displays of anger never look good the next day in the morning newspaper.

    Listen to the media pros being interviewed on "Nightline" or other "Meet the Press"-type shows. They respond momentarily to the question, then immediately go forward and talk about what they want to talk about.

  3. If your interviewer says something that you don't agree with, don't let it go. Correct the impression right away, because silence signals your agreement.

For most people, a media interview is not treacherous. If you are clear about the points you want to get across, and make sure you have a direct way to say them, you'll be home free.


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