This is a great example of how to handle a tough interview.
Ted Olson, former Solicitor General under President Bush, appeared this weekend on Fox News Sunday, hosted by Chris Wallace. The topic was Proposition 8 in California, and a recent victory by Mr. Olson’s legal team in Federal Court.
In terms of handling a difficult interview, Mr. Olson did an excellent job, no matter where you stand on the issue. Here are a few reasons why:
1. Message – Mr. Olson’s message was clear, and he did not waver. Nearly every answer contained one or more of the following: Fundamental Rights; Bill of Rights; 14th Amendment.
2. Composure/Tone – No matter how hard he was pressed, Mr. Olson never lost his composure, raised his voice, or indicated any sign of being rattled.
3. Pause - The pauses were not long, often only a second, but they were there. It was obvious that Olson was thinking about what he was going to say before he said it. In a few instances, when Chris Wallace was utilizing comments Mr. Olson made in the past, you could see Mr. Olson crack a very subtle smile, acknowledging the trap, and then going straight back to his message.
4. Preparation – There is simply no substitute for preparation, and it is clear that Mr. Olson had anticipated and prepared for every question before it was raised.
5. Backdrop – Sometimes you can control it, sometimes you do not have a choice; this backdrop was very flattering to Mr. Olson as it fit is appearance
6. Appearance - Mr. Olson looked the part – a seasoned, experienced legal expert who regularly argues before the highest court in the land.
7. Silence - Mr. Olson disagreed, but never interrupted. Even more importantly, when he finished answering, he stopped. This is one of the hardest, but most important, things one can do when dealing with a hostile interview – once you have answered, stop talking.
There were numerous other takeaways, including answering a question with a question, using an analogy that involved the host, and utilizing passion in a more subtle way than most of us are used to.
After over 14 minutes of sparring, Chris Wallace paid Mr. Olson the ultimate compliment:
“After your appearance today I don’t understand how you ever lost a case in front of the Supreme Court.”