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In previous posts, I provided basic information about media interviews. Here is an advanced set of tips.

Again, there are basically two ways in which you can speak with a reporter. You can speak “on the record,” which means that everything you say can be quoted verbatim, or “on background,” which means you are providing information that can be attributed to you, but you will not be quoted directly.

Keep in mind that nothing you say is off the record. If you can’t say something on background, don’t say it.

So, when returning a reporter’s call, start by answering the information questions that he or she asks. You could say the following, for example:

“I’m going to speak with you on background to answer your questions, and then we’ll go on the record so you can quote me, okay?”

“So, here is a little background…”

“Do you have any more questions about this? Okay, let’s switch gears. Now you need something on the record, right?”

Now, let the reporter ask you a question. Take a breath, and answer the question, but answer it using the talking point you have created.

How can you ensure that you stay on message, do not get sidetracked, and offer great quotes and sound bites?

Use flags and bridges.

Flags and Bridges

One of the most difficult aspects of speaking with the media is sticking with your message. How can you talk about what you want to talk about when you are asked questions that don’t allow you to hit your points?

To ensure that you stick with your message, use what is called a bridge. A bridge is used when you acknowledge the question but brings it back to something that you are able to comment on. The following are some examples:

“I don’t know about X, Y, Z, but what I can tell you about is 1, 2, 3.”

“I can’t provide much information on that; I simply don’t have any specifics to share. But what I can say is…”

The cousin to the bridge is the flag.

A flag is a keyword or phrase that tells the reporter that what you are going to say is important. The following are some examples:

“What I think is important is…”

“It is important to note that…”

“Again, I want to reiterate…”

“I want to be very clear when I say…”

Or my favorite: “[Reporter’s name], here is the bottom line…”

The idea here is to tee up your quote.

A useful tip is to always remember to slow down. Most people tend to speak more quickly when they become nervous.

If you get off track, bring yourself back with a bridge or a flag. It’s easy with a little practice.

As a school or district leader, our job is to tell the truth aggressively. Remember that with these tips, the focus is on ensuring that the truth is told.