Applied Behavior Science for Health and Happiness
(Don’t) Repeat After Me: The Not-So-Quotable You
(Don’t) Repeat After Me: The Not-So-Quotable You

(Don’t) Repeat After Me: The Not-So-Quotable You

(Don't) Repeat After Me- (2)A few years ago, I had the opportunity to go through media training. Much of the training was common sense: Prepare for your interviews, hone the points you’d like to make, and stay on message. But one counter-intuitive tip had to do with the ways we automatically insert pauses into conversations to buy ourselves time to formulate answers.

Clearly, “uhs” and “ums” don’t sound polished. So what a lot of people do instead to prolong the time they have to think is repeat or rephrase the question they were asked. This doesn’t sound like hesitating or stumbling, but provides a few seconds to think and may help with parsing longer or multi-part questions. But when you are in an interview situation where the explicit goal is for a reporter to gather quotes from you, repeating the questions asked is a no-no.

Why? Well, if you repeat a question, or even a part of the question, it enables people to accurately quote you saying words that aren’t your own. In the case where you might ultimately disagree with a premise in the question, or where the question contains a critique of yourself, your company, or your product, you’ve now expressed those ideas publicly. In a more public forum, like a conference presentation, you may also run the risk of someone remembering your words but not the source–effectively coming to believe that you originated the ideas in the question.

Consider the following (oversimplified) exchange:

Interviewer: Can you explain why your product is poorly made?

Interviewee: Can I explain why our product is poorly made? Well, I disagree with you that it is. It’s a prototype. We’ve identified some issues and are actively implementing improvements. The most important functionality is there, and it will get better every day.

Accurate if misleading media recap: Interviewee said, “Our product is poorly made . . . we’ve identified some issues.”

Better is to avoid restating the question or even reusing the words within it in your response. Consider instead:

Interviewer: Can you explain why your product is poorly made?

Interviewee: That’s an interesting question. We believe our product holds great promise. It’s a prototype. We’ve identified some issues and are actively implementing improvements. The most important functionality is there, and it will get better every day.

Any resulting media recap may still be less than flattering . . . but you’ve effectively avoided the appearance of endorsing anything the questioner has said. You can achieve the same effect of buying time to mentally formulate the answer with fillers like “Thanks for asking that,” “That’s an interesting question,” “I’m happy to talk about that,” and so forth.

It’s been an adjustment to not repeat the questions asked, but a worthwhile one if it gets me closer to my goal of becoming a media star.