No matter the client or the type of business, there are certain questions I get at my media training sessions with some level of consistency. At the top of that list, “when I answer a reporter’s question, how long should my answer be?” If you are looking for some magical answer or a specific word count, you are about to be disappointed. There is no “one size fits all” approach to the proper length of a response to a question from the media. Of course, a lot has to do with the context and complexity of the question. I have heard a huge range of tips from some self-anointed media experts who have advised interviewees to “just say one sentence and stop”, to “just keep talking until the next question”. Neither is correct.
As a general rule of thumb, it is appropriate to answer most questions with a few sentences. Not a few words(too short), and not a few paragraphs(too long). I have found that a few sentences usually satisfies both ends of an interview. It’s usually enough material for the interviewee to adequately answer the question and the reporter has a decent shot at getting a usable soundbite for his or her story. If the interview is “live”, the same rule applies. How often have you seen the uncomfortably awkward morning show live interview when all the host can get are “yes” or “no” responses.
Of course there are always exceptions. As an example, answering in a few sentences may be completely inappropriate for tough controversial questions from an investigative reporter. But more more times than not, a few sentences should do the trick.