Bimbo Banter

When it comes to TV interviews, what’s more important: what you say or how you say it?

  • Leadership
  • September 25, 2014
  • by Katie Sibley

Tabasco smile

Spoiler: It’s what you say.

Why? Because if you make a horrible comment, no one will care that you delivered it with charisma, conviction and perfect eye contact. In fact, if you really put your foot in your mouth, your words will soon be found on Twitter, blogs, headlines and maybe even our infamous BIMBO Memo. In print, your words are without context and your “fine-tuned” delivery skills.

This said, delivery skills are still important. Your biggest challenge? Building trust with your audience. (Note: not the reporter but your audience. The reporter is just a vehicle to reach your audience.) You want to come across as approachable, friendly and knowledgeable. This means sustained eye contact, good posture and a relaxed, uplifted facial expression.

Here’s where this gets interesting. There is one category of questions in which style reigns supreme. This category is mostly comprised of forward-looking questions, questions that ask you to make assumptions or questions you simply cannot answer. “Will you acquire additional businesses?” “Can you predict Q4 sales?” “Are you considering opening stores in new markets?” “What if…” etc.

My clients typically either legally can’t or don’t want to answer these types of questions. So, how do you handle them? The short answer: with our signature “Acknowledgment Phrases” and a smile.

The responses are simple, and any good media trainer could write the script: “I can’t predict;” “It’s too soon to say;” “It’s not that simple;” or Merrie Spaeth’s favorite: “I don’t have a crystal ball.” These short phrases are fine, but what really matters is how you deliver them. You can’t appear to brush off the reporter, or worse, duck the question. This is exactly why style is more important in this rare, but important, scenario.

Take the recent "60 Minutes" story on the family-owned and operated business, Tabasco. In an extremely rare sit-down interview, Tabasco’s CEO, Tony Simmons, was asked questions about private information:

Sanjay Gupta: “Estimates are that sales are close to $200 million a year? Am I in the right ballpark?”

Simmons (with a big smile and a laugh): “You’re probably in the right town.”

Gupta: “Can you put me in a better ballpark?”

Simmons (with a larger-than-life grin): “No, like I said, we just don’t give out private information.”

Simmons gets an A+ in this interview. He avoided disclosing private information, and still came across as the good guy. If he delivered the exact same lines with a blank look on his face or while looking down with his hands crossed, he’s toast. The audience would no longer like him and wouldn’t trust him. Later in the interview, Simmons was asked to predict the company’s sell price and nailed that, too.

When looking for a media trainer or coach, find someone who understands that what you say is more important than how you say it. Also, constantly rehearse and fine-tune your delivery skills; you’ll need them in tip-top shape when asked about the future. When might that be? I don’t have a crystal ball.

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