We don’t usually delve into the political arena, but Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul’s rough campaign kickoff is a reminder to public figures from business and entertainment — as well as politics — that preparation and an even temperament are crucial to effective communication.
Paul’s confrontational broadcast interview with Savannah Guthrie on the Today Show, which went viral in social media, was highly criticized by political journalists. Sen. Paul publicly apologized afterward. Even Fox News’ Megyn Kelly (who generally supports Republican candidates) chided Paul for shushing Guthrie.
This type of behavior and public flogging is to be avoided at almost all costs. Here is advice we give our clients when they expect to be under pressure in a media interview or Q&A from investors or other outspoken stakeholders:
- Don’t interrupt a challenging questioner in mid-sentence, especially if their challenge has some merit. Let them finish before you respond firmly, but carefully.
- Interrupting before the question has been framed also makes it appear that you have a trigger temper, don’t want the question to be heard, and that you have something to hide. i.e. Don’t be a bully when you are the invited guest.
- Pause before responding. Give your brain a moment to reset so you can calm down before you say something impulsive that will haunt you later as a negative sound bite, often out of context.
- Be prepared for “gotcha” questions that are crafted to put you in a corner. These can be references to previous contradictory public statements, or to comments from competitors. Train yourself in advance to acknowledge a challenging question or absorb a blow, and then bridge to an appropriate prepared response that puts you back on strong footing.
- Use phrases that allow you time to answer. “I disagree with those comments…” “Let me put that statement into perspective…” “Would you like to know what I actually said and the context…” “Actually…”
Several pundits had predicted such an outburst by Paul based on his previous run-ins with questioners he perceived as hostile. That’s another lesson: perhaps it’s time to take a good hard look at yourself and consider changing your approach before you become a punch line or a punching bag.