We’ve all seen it: a politician squirming, uncomfortably repeating the same answer over and over on national tv, trying to avoid the one question they were dreading.

It’s probably the one thing holding you back from engaging with the media, but there are tried and tested ways to deal with difficult questions.

Be prepared

You don’t have to answer everything just because they ask you. Sometimes you don’t have the expertise to comment, and sometimes you just don’t want to.

Preparation is the best way to handle difficult questions. Think about the broadcaster and programme you are appearing on to help determine if they are likely to be antagonistic. Who will be interviewing you and do they usually take a particular stance that might cause you problems?

Think through the controversial angles to your findings or expertise and consider the difficult questions you might get asked. This gives you a chance to think about how you would respond.

If you can’t see any controversial angles it doesn’t mean there aren’t any. Our team is always willing to help you spot potential pitfalls.

Use a bridging technique

The simplest way to respond to a difficult question on air is to stay calm and use a bridging technique to steer the interview back to your top line.

It’s a simple technique but easily forgotten in the heat of a live interview.

First, take a moment and acknowledge the question. This is important, if you don’t acknowledge the question you’ll look rude.

Once you’ve acknowledged the question you simply turn it back to whatever you want to say with a bridging phrase. Here are some examples:

“I wouldn’t put it like that, if you look at the facts…”

“That’s an interesting point, but I think you’re listeners will be interested to know…”

“That’s not my area of expertise, but what I can say is…”

One word of warning though, in acknowledging the question be careful not to agree to something you don’t believe.

Don’t be afraid to take control

Being an interviewee doesn’t mean you have to be passive. It’s a conversation like any other and you have a role to play in steering that conversation.

If the interviewer is going off on a tangent, you can take control to make sure you deliver your top line. But always remain calm and friendly, there’s no need to be aggressive or argumentative.

Be confident – there’s no need to be afraid

Remember, you’re the expert. Rarely will the interviewer know more than you about the subject.

They have invited you on their show because they believe you have something to say that will be interesting to their audience.

The interviewer wants the interview to go well – it reflects badly on them if it doesn’t.

Want to find out more?

Contact us, or check out some of our other media skills blogs:

Why bother with the media?

How to give a great broadcast interview

How to write for The Conversation

How the Communications Team can help promote your research