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15 words to answer the most difficult questions

It’s really that simple.

You can answer any difficult questions, by choosing from just 15 words.

Or more specifically, five short answers.

But be patient, we’ll come to that.

Difficult questions

First, consider how you’d answer in the following difficult questions, all of which really happened:

Difficult question #5

how to answer difficult media questions glasgow scotland crowd.

You represent a business in Glasgow, and you’ve just made 50 people redundant.

Journalists from TV and radio line up in your reception, and you agree to do some media interviews.

The first one asks:

“How much do you earn?”

Difficult question #4

You’re an international netball star, and you’re about to talk to a number of school kids about goal-setting.

After speaking publicly about your hard work to gain sponsorship from Head, a young boy in the audience asks:

“Isn’t it true your husband works for Head?”

how to answer difficult media questions glasgow scotland press conference.

Difficult question #3

You are the First Minister of Scotland at a press conference with the purpose of easing public concerns regarding the Forth Road Bridge closure.

A reporter asks the one question everyone’s mind:

“First Minister, when will the bridge re-open?”

Difficult question #2

You’ve worked for a drinks company your whole working life.

You volunteer to promote a responsible drinking campaign, choosing a black tie dinner in the city as your launch event.

Your public speaking venture goes well, before a local MP calls out:

“Have you ever been drunk?”

how to answer difficult media questions glasgow scotland ginger beer.

Difficult question #1

You hold a senior position in government.

You’re due to give a press conference, after one of your junior aides leaked an embarrassing memo.

You’re just about to begin presenting, when a journalist from the Daily Record shouts:

“Will you quit, minister, and if not, why not?”

Direct answers to difficult questions:

You have the following options when faced with difficult questions:



“I don’t know”

“It’s too early to say”

“That’s between me and X”

All of the above difficult questions demand one of these answers.

But of course, rather than stopping there, you need to bridge these difficult questions to an appropriate answer.

So how would they play out?

how to answer difficult media questions glasgow scotland man with question mark on head.

Formulating the perfect answer

Answer to #5

“How much do you earn?”

That’s between me and my employer. In my role what I’m determined to do is make sure anyone affected by this will be given the best possible help to find alternative work”.

Answer to #4

“Isn’t it true that your husband works for Head?”

Yes – he’s been working for them for six years. My sponsorship came about independently of that, as Head recognise I’m one of Scotland’s leading sportswomen, and that’s something they want to be associated with”.

Answer to #3

how to answer difficult media questions glasgow scotland forth bridge.

“Minister, when will the bridge re-open?”

It’s too early to say when exactly the Forth Road Bridge will re-open. First we need to find out what the problem is. Then, and only then, will we be able to give an exact date”.

Answer to #2

“Have you ever been drunk?”

Yes – and I remember all too well how it feels to wake up with a sore head. So my message is drink responsibly, and it’s a message I believe the majority of people agree with”.

Answer to #1

“Will you quit, minister, and if not, why not?”

No, absolutely not. My job is to stay here and sort this out, and that’s what I’m absolutely determined to do”.

how to answer difficult media questions glasgow scotland compass.

Some guiding principles for dealing with difficult questions:

Be honest

Telling the truth is the right thing to do.

It’s also easier to remember.

Check the legality of your answer

Is the information you’re putting across in the public domain?

Check with Police Scotland first if necessary, with the local authority in question or with your Comms department.

Take your time

You are absolutely entitled to take a couple of seconds to think of your response.

Jumping in too quickly can lead you down a road you’d much rather avoid.

Tone is everything

Your Direct Answer can be severe, neutral or even uplifting, depending on the tone.

Find the right tone for your audience.

These rules are designed to help you avoid getting your presentation or media interview derailed.

What you must do is speak authentically and be truthful in your answers.

The combination of directness with authenticity can help you win your audience over.


Andrew McFarlan is a Director of Glasgow-based media training and presentation skills firm Pink Elephant Communications.

You can view his profile here.

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