So Many Ways To Stall

Welcome to Embedded, I’m so happy you’ve decided to record with us. Or maybe you are just looking for some advice on handling questions at a conference or being interviewed by a newspaper; welcome. However you got here, let me share a little advice with you about answering interviewers.

When a question is asked, you can take your time answering. You don’t have to say the first thing that leaps into your head. It is ok take a few seconds to review it. Or if you draw a complete blank, there are ways to stall for time as you find the words. Let me share a few of those methods.

If you are talking to a print media journalist or a non-live podcast, you can say nothing. In the podcast, this will get cut so your answers aren’t delayed and silence doesn’t show well in print. Just take your time, quietly thinking. Newspaper journalists especially are very accustomed to this.

Next, for live events, there are a bunch of means-nothing expressions you can say to give your brain an extra bit of time to think. If you turn on an NPR interview show, I bet you’ll hear a stalling tactic about one every three questions:

  • “That’s a good question.”

  • “I’m glad you asked about that.”

  • “That’s interesting, I’ve haven’t thought of it that way before.”

  • “Are you asking … (rephrase question)?”

Once you’ve created some time for yourself, you can think about whether or not you want to answer the question. A media interview isn’t an inquisition and it isn’t a subpoena; just because someone asked you a question doesn’t mean you have to answer it. You can answer the question you wish they’d asked with a technique called blocking and bridging:

  • “That’s an interesting question but the bigger issue is…”

  • “I’m not familiar with that topic, but I do know about …”

  • “I don’t know the answer to that. I could tell you more if you’d ask about …”

This may seem sneaky, underhanded, and political but, as an interviewer, I don’t mind when guests do it. I want to ask you about what you know. If I ask you something you don’t know or don’t want to talk about, it is actually a minor error on my part so I don’t mind the deflection. I’m happy to have you stick to topics you know well and are excited to talk about. I wouldn’t have invited you to be on the show if I didn’t think we’d find plenty of common ground to cover.

So that’s a little bit about stalling. The other important thing is about breathing. Or, really, the other important thing has to do with standing or sitting up straight. See, good posture leads to better breathing which leads to a better voice. If you are comfortable standing for the interview, it will make you sound more confident and stronger. If you are sitting, try not to slouch as that crushes your diaphragm and makes you sound wheezy.

Finally, in addition to breathing, try to smile as you start the interview, even if no one can see you. For voice only, I recommend having a stuffed animal to talk to so you keep a consistent head direction (ideally into the microphone). It also might make you smile at the sheer ridiculousness of talking to a stuffed animal.