Practicing the Pivot in a Press Interview

Being interviewed by a member of the media is a terrific opportunity for architects, engineers, and other construction professionals to showcase their ideas, their work, and their teams. Occasionally, though, a question or comment may touch on a controversial subject [for instance, budget or cost issues, negative reactions to a project, or even rumors and innuendos about stakeholders or colleagues] that can catch you flat-footed, grasping for an answer.

First—before the interview—be sure to prepare with a list of the most salient ideas and key messages you want the interviewer to take away from the discussion; pepper them throughout the conversation as it feels natural. Once you have these messages clearly defined, you will have a supply of talking points to reference should you need to steer the conversation from an uncomfortable or unexpected topic shift.

“Bridging” is a technique of addressing difficult topics by refocusing the question back to your core discussion items. You quickly acknowledge the problem and then seamlessly move to talking about a strength that counterbalances any potential weakness. The key idea here is to end each of your responses to a journalist’s questions or comments on a positive note. This keeps you on message and minimizes the likelihood of an awkward follow-up question.

Do this by answering the question you want to answer, not the one you are asked. Start by giving a short response to the question—like “Let me just say” or “What really matters here is” or “What I do know is”—and then bridge to your positive message.

Examples of some positive concepts you might use in your pivot include:

  • What you learned from the project or how the project changed your perspective
  • How the project emphasizes your strategic thinking or expertise
  • How the project reflects or ties into the firm’s core values

It pays to practice this tactic in advance of the interview, particularly if there are any sensitive issues that you anticipate being raised in conversation. Deflecting tricky questions graciously, rather than defensively, will preserve your relationship with a journalist. Adding this conversational skill to your interview practice will not just make you look and sound better but—more importantly—it will aid in getting your most central messages out to the public.