Spokespeople need to be ready for the media's tough questions

In our media training sessions, we tell participants that 90% of the success of a media interview is determined before the reporter asks their first question. It's in the homework you do to prepare for the interview. It's finding out the focus of the interview, researching the reporter's past stories on the topic, developing strong key messages and anticipating the questions you'll be asked (especially the 2-3 nightmare questions you hope you never get asked).

Going into a media interview unprepared is risky. Doing it on CNN is downright dangerous. Recently, Texas legislator Rep. Debbie Riddle appeared on CNN's 'Anderson Cooper 360' to talk about 'terror babies' - a supposed threat in which terrorist organizations send pregnant women to the US to have their children who would be US citizens, but who would be trained abroad to be terrorists and could return to the US without raising suspicion.

When Cooper asked for evidence about the controversial claim, Riddle alluded to conversations with 'former FBI officials'. Unsatisfied with her response, Cooper asked her several more times for evidence of these plots, saying that claims of this magnitude warranted proof. As the reporter continued to press, Riddle became visibly uncomfortable and finally said, "When your folks called me in the preliminary [interview]...they did not tell me that you were going to grill me for this specific information that I was not ready to give you tonight. They did not tell me that, sir." You can view the interview here.

The Lesson: Before your media interview, anticipate questions -- escpecially the bad ones. Take a few moments during your preparation to play the role of the reporter and think of the hardest questions you would ask yourself. Ask trusted colleagues to think of some difficult questions too. Then, figure out how you're going to address those questions if they come up in the interview. In most cases, those questions will never see the light of day. But if they do, at least you'll be prepared.