I watched in disbelief as the congressional candidate gave a long-winded, pointless answer to the political pundit’s question. While her response lasted less than a minute, it felt like it took up the entire half hour program that was airing on local TV.
I felt like I was witnessing a pivotal moment in this candidate’s campaign, and not in a positive way.
What amazed me so much about the exchange was not how bad the would-be congresswoman’s answer was, but how poorly prepared she appeared to be for the question.
“Why did you decide to run for congress?” was the political reporter’s first question.
How in the world was she not prepared for that? It should have been the easiest question of the interview, the grooved fastball right down the middle of the plate. She should have been waiting for the moment that any semblance of this question was uttered. It was an invitation to take total control of the interview, to dictate the tone and direction of the next 20 minutes. Instead, it was a missed opportunity. The rambling response was far from inspirational:
“Well, again, as you stated, I have one session left (in the state legislature) and I’d have one session left. And we were looking to see what would happen with the new congressional seat and we waited until it had been drawn and we looked at the numbers, looked at the territory and decided it was the right time and the right place to run.”
What? Would that answer inspire anyone to vote for her?
While a journalist loves to ask the tough questions and throw a few curveballs, he or she also has the responsibility to make the same inquiries you or I would make if we were given the chance to speak with the interviewee. So a simple way to prepare for an interview is to think about what the obvious and most popular questions might be.
Anticipating the questions (be they obvious or otherwise) and preparing your answer allows you to integrate your main message into the response. It also gives you the chance to take control of the interview.
For instance, had the political candidate in this case been properly prepared for what should have been the simplest question, she could have stated her mission and established her talking points. This would have laid the groundwork for the rest of the interview. Instead she botched the question and lost control of the interview (not to mention a few votes).
The difference between winning and losing in the court of public opinion is often as easy as preparing for the obvious questions.